The National Park Service turns 100 this year, in fact, the NPS just had it’s birthday last week! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than visiting by visiting a park.
Bonus: as we roll out of the summer months, you should find smaller crowds and lower prices for nearby hotels.
Our family loves to find a park when we are on the road. We did just that this summer when we stopped by Carlsbad Caverns. Sure, it was 2 hours out of the way (each way), but it was well worth taking my kids to see these amazing caverns.
Before you go: be sure to check the website to verify the hours and tours available. In our case, I had a small panic attack when I saw that the elevator down wasn’t in service during May and June.
Walking down into the cavern: not a problem. Dragging four kids a mile plus back up? Um, that may not be a lot of fun.
Thankfully the elevators were working by mid-June, and we were good to go.
I booked tickets to the King’s Palace tour. Important to note: you must be 4-years-old or older to go on the Carlsbad Caverns tours. No strollers are allowed.
After we had picked up our tickets at the visitors center, we had some time to explore.
There were a lot of fun hands-on exhibits for the kids to explore. You could spend a good hour in there if you are super nerdy and like to read all the details of this geological wonder.
Seth couldn’t believe it when I explained what guano meant, and gave the same face when he heard the stories of people scooping and hauling bags of it out of the cave years ago.
Yep. Bat poop is a fantastic fertilizer!
We got in line and took a short trip down into the cave via the elevator. It covered a lot of distance in a short period and was a little creepy to think about.
So if you have any issues with claustrophobia, don’t think about it! I don’t fall into the category of someone with a phobia, but I don’t care much for small spaces. I need to follow my own advice!
Thankfully, our cave tour had no tight spots or areas that gave me any concerns. It’s a well-maintained trail with plenty of light and space.
As we waited to start, I looked over, and three of the four kids were hooded and bundled up in their jackets.
Clearly, we are from Arizona. The cave was “freezing” for us. The folks from Boston had a good laugh over that.
Tip: bring a light jacket. It does get chilly down there!
My kids loved the time in the cave. Our tour lasted about 90 minutes, and our tour guide was great! She told a lot of animated stories about how the cave was discovered and gave details on the formations.
Claire was particularly in love with all she saw. Here she is giving me the “What, Mom?” look as she stopped to take some pictures.
You are welcome to take photos, and there is lighting, but as you can tell from my iPhone photos it’s not great for the far away structures.
We took all the pictures anyway!
Twice along the route, we stopped as a group and were instructed to take a seat on the rock railings.
As part of the tour, we experienced complete darkness for a few minutes, with only the tour guide’s voice as stimulation.
I was concerned that Lucy might freak out a bit because she’s 5 and hadn’t had a nap. And sometimes I have no idea how she will react to unknown situations. But no worries: the caves were magical to her, and she didn’t mind the darkness at all!
She was delightful. She answered the tour guide’s questions (was even right a few times!).
I think the 4-year-old age rule is spot on. Any younger and it could be a very long tour for some folks!
After the tour, we were encouraged to look around on our own in the public self-guided areas. We made a right when we meant to make a left, and ended up with an extra hour in the caves.
That’s what happens when you let the teen lead the way!
If a trip to New Mexico is on your list, check out Carlsbad and the surrounding areas. This tour is safe and comfortable for most physical abilities. The paths are wide enough to allow people to pass if you want to take it slow, too!
We stayed the night a short bit away in Artesia and had comfortable lodgings at a Hampton Inn.
Happy 100th Birthday, NPS! My family adores the parks, rangers, and stories. We leave with lots of memories and facts to discuss every time we hit up a new park.Do you have a favorite National Park? What would you suggest for next summer?
Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)