Visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a bucket-list item you should check off at least once. Yet, focusing solely on the caverns means missing out on the unique experiences the surrounding Carlsbad community offers.
Here’s a guide to 12 activities in Carlsbad that will make your trip to truly memorable.
Beneath the Guadalupe Mountains lie the caverns, but there’s also an abundance of scenic vistas around the mountain ranges themselves.
EXPLORE THE SCENIC ROUTE
One: For outdoor enthusiasts, consider a drive along the Guadalupe Backcountry Scenic Byway, which starts 12 miles north of Carlsbad. This route climbs approximately 3,000 feet, showcasing cream-hued limestone formations interspersed with prickly pear cacti and spiky evergreen sotol.
Two: This road leads you into Guadalupe Mountains National Park, home to the world’s largest Permian fossil reef, a rich ecosystem of plant and animal life, as well as historical narratives of the Mescalero Apache, the Butterfield Overland Stage, and the individuals who helped establish the park.
PLUNGE INTO SITTING BULL FALLS
Three: The scenic byway also guides you to the Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area. Immerse yourself in the waterfall’s refreshing pools or explore various trails surrounding it. Complete the experience with an alfresco meal at a historic pavilion.
PEDAL OR Hike ALONG LA CUEVA TRAILS
Four: Whether you’re into mountain biking, horseback riding, or hiking, the La Cueva Non-Motorized Trail System offers over 15 miles of well-kept pathways. The trails offer challenges suitable for riders and hikers of all skill levels. Take a leisurely stroll to observe local flora, fauna, and avian species.
EXPLORE THE CHIHUAHUAN DESERT AT THE LIVING ZOO
Five: Gain insights into the Chihuahuan Desert’s ecosystem at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park. The park is home to over 40 indigenous animal species and an extensive collection of native plants. Wander through on a self-guided walking tour offering panoramic views of the Pecos River Valley. The pathway features shaded seating areas, washrooms, and hydration stations for a comfortable outdoor excursion.
ENJOY EXPLORING CARLSBAD HISTORY AND ART
Six: The Carlsbad Museum was founded in 1931 as a cultural and educational institution. It collects, preserves, exhibits, and interprets artifacts, documents, and works of art relating to the prehistory of Carlsbad, the surrounding communities of southeastern New Mexico, and the greater American Southwest.
Seven: If it’s art you crave, you’ll find plenty in Halagueno Arts Park. Works by local sculptors and artists reflect the spirit of Carlsbad. Sculptures of a roadrunner, coyote, box turtles, cottontails, and more stand guarded by the Emerald Dragon, a scrap-metal sculpture.
Eight: These and other art installations are all part of the Pearl of the Pecos Arts and Culture District. Carlsbad is a rural community, and the “Pearl” is centrally located, walkable, and considered the “heart of Carlsbad” as the area is populated with locally owned art galleries, creative businesses, restaurants, and boutique hotels.
PLAY A ROUND OF GOLF
Nine: Golfers will find an 18-hole Championship course at Lake Carlsbad Golf Course. It features a 6,220-yard fairway on a 72-par course. Golfers can also tee off on the nine-hole, par 3 course. Not ready for the big time? Check out the new miniature golf course!
Play in Brantley Lake
Ten: Brantley Lake State Park is a haven for aquatic activities. Take part in boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, and swimming. It also offers hiking trails and birdwatching opportunities, and features both developed and primitive camping sites, along with restroom facilities with showers. When you fish, you’re likely to catch species such as largemouth bass, walleye, white bass, channel catfish, trout, sunfish, bluegill, and crappie.
Eleven: Don’t miss the Lake Carlsbad Recreation Area where you’ll find an array of park trails bordering the Pecos River. Amenities in this park zone include splash pads, tennis and pickleball courts, volleyball, paddleboat rentals, and a seasonal water park.
SLIDES AND POOLS FOR ALL AGES
Twelve: For wholesome family fun, try out the various water slides, lazy river, and the zero-entry area for kids at Carlsbad Water Park.
VISIT THE HISTORIC PECOS RIVER FLUME
Thirteen: Before calling it a day, check out the Pecos River Flume, also known as the river that crosses itself. This 497-foot structure was designed to carry up to 9,000 gallons of water per second across the river to irrigate parched agricultural lands. Although it’s been a century since it was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not and it’s no longer functional for irrigation, the flume still exists, uniquely crossing over itself.