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Best Things to Do in Carlsbad, New Mexico

When you think about Carlsbad, New Mexico, chances are you’re mind immediately leaps to thinking about it’s namesake caverns at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. But if you’re planning a trip to this iconic Southwestern town, you might be wondering what some of the other attractions and activities are in the surrounding area. Well we’ve got you covered! Stick around, as Viewcation presents: The Best Things To Do In Carlsbad, New Mexico!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

As per usual, we’ll go ahead and tackle the most popular attraction first, as we’re willing to bet that a fair amount of you clicked on this video just to learn about this one world-famous destination. That being said, make sure you stick around to see what else makes Carlsbad just a unique vacay locale.

The caverns are obviously a must-see attraction for any adventurous traveler. They’re essentially a subterranean art gallery jam-packed full of breathtaking sculptures crafted by the hand of Mother Nature herself over the course of roughly 4 million years.

The first nation inhabitants of this region of the Americas, the Mescalero Apache, knew about these caverns for hundreds if not thousands of years, but they were ‘discovered’ by a local cowboy who thought that he saw black smoke rising in the desert back in 1901. When said cowboy went to go investigate what he had seen, he realized that what he had seen wasn’t smoke at all but was actually a thick, black cloud of bats! Ever since then, the Carlsbad caverns have been a staple for tourists. Every year, about a half million visitors come to see them in person. Sure, they look pretty impressive in photos and videos, but that doesn’t hold a candle to what it’s like to experience them with your own two eyes!

Fortunately, the National Park isn’t your usual heavily congested tourist destination. There are more than 100 equally impressive caves to explore, comprising an underground wonderland that spans more than 3 miles.

Caves may sound a bit claustrophobic or even treacherous to some, but the Carlsbad cavern system is very accessible, unbelievably vast, and features caves that are suitable for spelunkers of all skill and experience levels.

The caves are especially popular with not only human tourists but also with the population of more than one million bats that call them their home. The bats love to sleep in the cool, shady caves during the day, but come nightfall, it’s a sight to behold to see them as they all suddenly leave the caverns in droves and disappear into the black of night. If you’re interested in witnessing this impressive natural display, you can easily get tickets to the Bat-Flight show. There is even a sizable amphitheater that’s been built to accommodate up to 200 guests.

Aside from the somewhat steep “Natural Entrance” trail, the caves are fairly accessible and family-friendly. If you’re seeking a bit more of a challenge, consider taking a guided tour. Tours are tiered into various difficulty levels, with the tours designated as ‘lower’ ones being the more challenging ones.

Since there are so many tours to choose from, you should have no problem finding one that fits your experience level and tastes. A word to the wise, though, some of them can be legitimately claustrophobic, so make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into before booking.

Sitting Bull Falls

Due south of Carlsbad, just about an hour’s drive from downtown, you’ll find the Sitting Bulls Falls. This sparkling oasis almost looks out of place in the dry, torrid desert. The walk to the falls is fairly easy. There’s a paved trails that leads directly to the base of the impressive 150-foot falls that gush along the golden sandstone canyon walls.

When visiting the falls, it’s easy to forget that you’re still in the middle of the sizzling, sandy desert. But if you’ve spent the day already working up a sweat hiking on any of the surrounding trails, a visit to Sitting Bull Falls is exactly what you need to cool off. Everybody is permitted to go for a swim, so don’t forget to bring your bathing suit and maybe a towel.

On the walk in, you’ll see many natural wonders to pause and take in. The path is perfect for photography, plant and animal identification, and birdwatching. So, if you’ve got them, bring your camera or binoculars. The majority of visitors make the hike to the top of the falls to appreciate the dramatic view. There are also several lovely pools at the top to help you cool down.

No one is quite certain why it was named Sitting Bull Falls, as it has no relation to the celebrated Native American leader. We do know, however, that the original Apache name for the falls was ‘gostahanagunti’ which translates roughly as hidden gulch.

Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park

For folks that aren’t acclimated to desert living, the Living Desert Zoo is a fabulous place to get acquainted with the flora and fauna of the Chihuahuan region. It’s fascinating to get an up-close look at the various species of plant life found in the region. One of the trails featured here gives visitors a glimpse at fauna such as Yucca, cacti, and desert flowers. As far as animals go, visitors can see creatures like mountain lions, antelope, and bison doing their thing in their natural habitat. Fortunately, some of the smaller predator animals of the desert, such as snakes and lizards, are displayed in smaller enclosures.

Additionally, the zoo showcases several other species of animals that aren’t native to this region of the planet, such as camels, giraffes, zebras, and many others. There are also numerous hiking tours that you can choose from as well as a full-fledged safari experience.

For the children, there’s a hands-on discovery center. Other attractions include a conservation center and a wildlife hospital.

Carlsbad Museum and Art Center

Conveniently located in central Carlsbad,  this museum is open seven days a week with zero entrance fees. There are several permanent exhibits as well as a variety of rotating exhibitions that educate visitors about the regional history of Carlsbad.

In the art center wing of the facility, visitors can take deep dive into the creative realm of the desert world. You can also see genuine American Indian artifacts and artwork as well as a nice medley of modern and contemporary American Southwestern art. One of the most famous pieces on display is the “Taos Ten” painting which came from a Taos, New Mexico, artist colony.

Lake Carlsbad Beach Park

Regardless of whether your hoping to go for a nice relaxing swim or simply trying to have a picnic with your family, this beach park is an excellent place to go to cover all of your outdoor needs. The park is located along the banks of the Pecos River and it’s covered with a sprawling tapestry of walking trails, beaches, and fishing spots. You can even participate in watersports like water skiing, skidooing, and paddle boating if that’s your thing.

The park is located on about 120 acres of land, and there are plenty of shady areas to choose from that feature amenities like grills and picnic tables. It’s most popular with locals as a swimming spot, but even if that’s not your cup of tea, you should have no problem finding something that will be right up your alley.

The Artist Gallery

When you’re in town, don’t forget to swing by the Artist Gallery to pick up a piece of local artwork to take back home. This broad, spacious, and well-lit area has exhibits that are dedicated to local jewelry, pottery, painting, and mixed-media works. If you choose to purchase anything that catches your eye, you’ll be supporting local artists in a way that ensures that they’ll be able to continue in their craft. But even if you visit just to browse, you’ll be sure to find at least something that tickles your fancy and enriches your appreciation for the arts.

Pecos River Antiques Mall

Calling all vintage and antique enthusiasts. If you’re interested in finding a hidden gem in a “cave” full of treasures, this is the place for you. Not everyone is going to jive with this place, but for those that love flea markets and vendor malls, this is one of the best places in Carlsbad to go hunting for rare, discontinued, handmade, and antique goods of all kinds. Just be advised, the market is enormous, so be prepared to spend at least a few hours rifling through all of the stalls if you’re really serious about taking home a one-of-a-kind souvenir.

Carlsbad Community Theater

This theater has long been a hub for local thespians and theater appreciators. The theater regularly hosts shows and matinees, but the schedule is constantly changing, so you’ll want to consult with their online schedule before your visit. If you’re trying to get a break from the harsh desert heat or simply in search of a little evening entertainment, there’s no better place, in our opinion, to see some quality, live, local entertainment.

Unfortunately, we’re going to have to cut this video short. There are literally dozens of other things that we love about Carlsbad, but since we’re just about out of time, we’ll have to save those for another time. Even so, we did get a chance to talk about some of our favorite attractions in and around Carlsbad – especially the most popular and famous ones.

Before we sign off, we wanted to give you a chance to let your voice be heard. In the comments, let us know what you’re most excited to see or do on your upcoming trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico. If you’ve already had the pleasure of visiting this great Southwestern city, what are a few of your favorite attractions?

As always, thanks for watching, and happy travels!