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 Carlsbad Caverns National Park
 Surface Activities

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There is much to do above ground at Carlsbad Caverns, including:
* backcountry hiking
* the Bat Flight Program
* other interpretive programs
* and Rattlesnake Springs day use area

In addition, an annual schedule of Park events can be accessed online.


Backcountry Hiking

Leave No Trace. Wilderness is defined in the 1964 Wilderness Act as...an area where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. Please help to protect the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness by practicing these Leave No Trace principles:

  • Stay on established trails–short-cutting and cliff-climbing is dangerous and causes erosion.
  • Human waste should be deposited (not buried) at least 300 feet from any cave, trail, or water source.
  • Pack out all trash-your own and any you find, including toilet paper.
    Camp at least 300 feet away from any cave entrance, road, trail, or water source. Be sure you are out of sight and sound of these areas, as well.
  • Campfires are not permitted within the park boundaries. Use a containerized fuel stove instead.
  • There are no vehicle or RV camping areas in the park. Overnight parking and/or camping is not permitted in any parking lot or other developed area.
  • Do not clear soil or vegetation, or dig trenches around tents.
  • Pets are not permitted on park trails or in the backcountry.
  • For USGS maps: http://mapping.usgs.gov or 1-800-USA-MAPS

Bat Flight Program

Program Information
Prior to the evening bat flight, a talk is given at the cavern entrance by a park ranger. The starting time of the talk varies with sunset—it is best to call the park at 505.785.3012 or check at the visitor center for the exact time. Programs may be canceled in the event of inclement weather. The bat flight talks are scheduled from Memorial Day weekend through the end of September. There is no charge for the bat flight program. In late October or early November, the bats migrate to Mexico for the winter; they return in April or May, depending on the weather.

Best Flights. The best bat flights normally occur in August and September. At this time baby bats, born in early summer, join the flight along with migrating bats from colonies further north.

Return Flights. The daily pre-dawn return of the bats is different from the evening exit flights but are just as impressive. Early risers can see the bats as they re-enter Carlsbad Cavern with spectacular dives from heights of hundreds of feet. Individual bats diving in from every direction may reach speeds of 40 km/h (25 mph) or more.

For Your Comfort and Safety. Flash cameras are not permitted at the Bat Flight Program. Video cameras are acceptable. Flash photography and recharging flash units disturb the bats exiting and re-entering an important maternity roost.

Spaces to accommodate people using wheelchairs are located at the entrance to the amphitheater. Restrooms are available and fully accessible.

Pets are not allowed in the amphitheater area.

Rattlesnake Springs

Water is the lifeblood of the Southwest, especially in the arid desert lands surrounding Carlsbad Caverns. Rattlesnake Springs, a detached unit of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, was acquired by the National Park Service in 1934 for the primary purpose of ensuring a reliable domestic water supply for cavern area development. A water supply pipeline from the spring to the cavern area, which is still in use, was completed in 1935. The water supply for the cavern is from a well that taps the same aquifer as the springs. The springs also provide water for irrigating NPS lands and for water uses on private lands such as the adjacent Washington Ranch.

Over the years the 1,000-meter stream and wetland system at Rattlesnake Springs has been sustained by the remaining undiverted spring flow. Originally a marsh, this area has been altered by human development. Today this green oasis provides habitat for a wide variety of species. The oasis is bounded by the gently rolling Chihuahuan Desert plains, dotted with creosote bush, yucca, mesquite, and snakewood. These plains are framed by the magnificent backdrop of the Guadalupe escarpment. When considered against the backdrop of declining riparian habitat in the desert southwest, this stream/wetland complex constitutes an extraordinary natural resource of state and regional significance.

The area, however, is much more than just a water source for the park or a natural area of note. The spring was used by prehistoric peoples and historic Indian groups, soldiers, travelers, and settlers. When Henry Harrison homesteaded the area around the spring in the 1880s, he developed the spring, built an irrigation system for his fields, constructed an adobe home, and planted trees and orchards. Following acquisition by the National Park Service, the area was further developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during 1938 to 1942. They were responsible for many area improvements including the rock wall of the spring pond, the ranger residence, and the planting of cottonwood trees. Rattlesnake Springs was also used by the military during World War II. During more recent times, the Park Service has further developed the spring area. For its significant role in our nation's history, this area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Because of this special combination of significant natural and cultural features, the Rattlesnake Springs unit has recently been reexamined and inventoried as a potential cultural landscape. A cultural landscape may be described as an expression of human adaptation to and use of the natural resources of an area. All historic landscapes evolved from and depend on natural resources—interconnected systems of land, air and water, and native vegetation and wildlife. Human land use alters many of these systems, either deliberately or accidentally.

While few artifacts remain from the early settlement period, the area provides critical habitat for an extraordinary number and variety of birds, reptiles, mammals, and butterflies. The rural character is still visible today as a mosaic containing open irrigated fields, cottonwoods along the irrigation ditches and the watercourse, ordered fruit trees that line the access road, and the picnic area. The spatial arrangement and organization of the spring area, the continuing land use, and the riparian system are some of the prominent features of this landscape that are reminders of our cultural and natural heritage.

Rattlesnake Springs has a picnic area for visitors with tables and cooking grills in a grassy area under large cottonwood trees. Drinking water and wheelchair accessible toilets are also available. Rattlesnake Springs is well-known to birders, being one of the better spots in New Mexico for attracting birds that are not common to the general area. Camping is not permitted at Rattlesnake Springs.


  Images and text courtesy of National Park Service.





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