Located in the southeast corner of New Mexico, the town of Carlsbad is perhaps best known for the cavernous national park nearby that shares its name. Bisected by the Pecos River, this town of just 30,000 residents might not seem like it offers much other than overnight accommodation for national park travelers; in fact there are more things to do in Carlsbad than you likely realize.
New Mexico might not seem like it’s part of the Great Plains – and you’re right, for the most part. However, the eastern part of the state is included within the geography of the Great Plains, and that includes Carlsbad.
In this post, I’ll cover some of the top things to do in Carlsbad, New Mexico – including Carlsbad Caverns National Park, of course. After reading, you’ll have a good idea of other ways to fill your time especially if you choose to extend your trip for a day or two in this area. Whether you’re only in town for the caves and bats or want to dive deeper to explore more of southeast New Mexico, you’ll have ideas for how to do so from this post.
Featured image courtesy of Steven R. Shook via Flickr.
1. Hike to Sitting Bull Falls
If you’re not sure about what to do in Carlsbad, New Mexico, start your trip with the mesmerizing Sitting Bull Falls. Set in the Lincoln National Forest, this beautiful oasis gets a lot of attention from locals and visitors. The best way to appreciate the falls is to hike the Sitting Bull Falls Trail. The first 0.7 miles will get you to the base, but you can continue to the top and see the springs that feed the falls.
2. Visit the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park
Photos courtesy of Larry Lamsa via Flickr
Don’t miss the flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan Desert at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. The zoo and gardens have been carefully designed to preserve the surrounding natural ecosystem; all plants and animals are displayed in their native habitats. The zoo has more than forty native animal species, including cougars and prairie dogs, whereas the gardens and greenhouses are full of local succulents that botany enthusiasts will love.
3. Explore the Carlsbad Museum & Art Center
Another thing to do in Carlsbad, NM, is to visit the Carlsbad Museum & Art Center. Created in 1931, this is the oldest municipal Museum in New Mexico. Here, visitors can learn all about Carlsbad’s history and the surrounding communities of southeastern New Mexico and the greater American Southwest. The Museum features a permanent collection that focuses on local and regional history with Native American art and artifacts, and modern, contemporary, and Southwestern art.
4. Explore Downtown Carlsbad
Most travelers will agree that wandering through the streets of a city is the best way to know a new place. Besides the natural marvels, Carlsbad offers plenty of things to do and see in its downtown. Take a walk along the river towards the Pecos River Flume to see the turquoise bridges and Carlsbad neighborhoods, or visit Heritage Park to explore the many historical establishments from the founding days, like the Eddy House.
5. Shop Southwest Style
Who’d have thought that shopping could be one of the things to do in Carlsbad, New Mexico? To shop a la southwest style, you have two options: Mexican 2 Imports and Pecos River Antique Mall. In Mexican 2 Imports, you will find colorful Mexican pottery, furniture, indoor and outdoor decorations. The cute Pecos River Antique Mall has everything you can imagine, from antiques and collectibles to jewelry and candles. The even better news is that both stores have excellent prices!
6. See the Pecos River Flume
Being the only river that crosses itself in America won the Pecos River Flume a mention in Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Located on the northern end of Carlsbad, the Pecos River Flume is a great alternative for history buffs and architecture fans. Originally made of wood, the flume was rebuilt in 1903 to bring water to the dry areas of Carlsbad. To this day, this engineering feat still is a crucial part of the city’s irrigation system.
7. See the Bats at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Visiting the Caverns is one of the top things to do in Carlsbad, NM. Set roughly halfway between Carlsbad and Guadalupe Park, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers plenty of fun activities, but there’s an unusual one you can’t miss: the bat flight. Every year between Memorial Day and October, visitors can witness how the colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats that call these caverns home furiously go out each evening in search of their new prey.
8. Hike up Guadalupe Peak
Hiking Guadalupe Peak is one of the most popular things to do in Carlsbad. But beware that this hike is probably for the brave (and rather fit) travelers. The Guadalupe Peak is actually located in Texas, about an hour out of Carlsbad, and is the highest point in the entire state. Since getting to the top is a true prowess, with the blazing sun and rough terrain, make sure you carry all the necessary items you’ll need for the journey.
9. Explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Home to Guadalupe Peak, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is in Texas – but it’s considered a sister park of the Carlsbad Caverns National Park since both of these are part of the same mountain chain. Here, visitors can enjoy many outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and stargazing. Unlike the Carlsbad Caverns, where camping is only allowed in the backcountry, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers two campgrounds for those who want a nice place to spend the night.
Where to Stay in Carlsbad, New Mexico
If you decide to stay a night to experience some of these things to do in Carlsbad – or you just need an overnight en route to the national parks, here’s where I recommend:
- Post Time Inn – A rennovated motel in the heart of Carlsbad, this property is ultra modern and highly rated. From $93/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- TownePlace Suites by Marriott Carlsbad – The next best option near the city center, this hotel is also good if you want the consistent experience of a national chain. From $119/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
- Stevens Inn – Another motel option, this one is a little further from the city center but has all the basics. From $95/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com
Have questions about these top things to do in Carlsbad, New Mexico? Or additional suggestions to add to the list? Share in the comments!