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10 Best Caves in New Mexico for a Fabulous Adventure

By | Last Updated : 29th July 2021

New Mexico attracts numerous visitors with its diverse landscapes of deserts and mountain ranges. It also features many fascinating caves for you to explore. Whether you are an adventurous hiker or looking for an easy trek to the caves, you can easily find one to make your day worthwhile. With the help of guided tours in some and self-guided tours in others, you’ll get to see wondrous intricate formations within the caves alongside traces of early human settlements.  Besides the natural ones, New Mexico even features an artificial cave created by hand carvings that would indeed leave you spellbound.

1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns in the Guadalupe Mountains is one of the chief attractions found in the national park of the same name. You can explore the cave by hiking the two trails. Among these, the one that is 1.25 miles long will lead you to the Big Room, a massive underground limestone chamber. It is, in fact, North America’s fifth-largest and the world’s 28th largest cave chamber. Here, you will be able to witness numerous unique rock formations varying in size and shape. You would even come across some antique objects like a rope ladder dating back to 1924, perhaps used by explorers.

The second trail, the Natural Entrance Trail, is also 1.25 miles long and pretty steep. Also used by the early travelers, this trail will take you along some beautiful natural formations like Devil’s Spring, the Whale’s Mouth, and Iceberg Rock.

Besides this, you can also be a part of the exciting guided tours to experience the other cave formations in the national park, including King’s Palace, Slaughter Canyon Cave, and Hall of the White Giant. Among these, one of the most adventurous and strenuous ones is the Spider Cave Tour. You’ll have to stoop and crawl on your stomachs to see some fabulous natural formations inside this cave.

Moreover, don’t miss the free Bat Flight Program at the Natural Entrance from late May to October. Watching hundreds of Brazilian free-tailed bats fly out of the cavern in the evening in search of food is an unforgettable experience. If you’re an early riser, you’ll also be able to witness their return in the dawn, which is an equally wonderful sight.

For accessing the caves, you need to purchase an online entrance ticket. If you don’t wish to hike, you can take the elevator from the Visitor Center.

Things to do around here: You can enjoy many fun activities here, like hiking the Guadalupe Ridge Trail and other nearby trails or being part of the Night Sky Programs. Also, the Visitor Center features many exciting exhibits, besides gift shops, a bookstore, and a restaurant, among other things.

Hours of operation: 8 am to 2:15 pm

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2. Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos was an ancient dwelling place of Pueblo Indians between 1150 CE to 1550 CE. The remnants of their homes made from volcanic tuffs and the caves they lived in are present here even today. In addition, many fascinating petroglyphs and other carvings and pictographs made by them will give you an insight into their daily life and culture.  You can visit the Frijoles Canyon to see the various ceremonial structures, rock carvings, and paintings. The Painted Cave housing a spectacular pictograph panel is another beautiful sight to see, reaching which could be a mammoth task, requiring an 11-mile strenuous hike. Hours of operation: 9 am to 4:30 pm

Things to do around here: There are three different campgrounds available in Bandelier, each for family, group, and backcountry camping.  The Frijol Canyon is a perfect place for wildlife enthusiasts. One could frequently spot a deer or squirrel wandering around. While hiking the trails, you could even encounter groups of elk, particularly in winter.

Hours of operation: 9 am to 4:30 pm

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3. El Malpais National Monument

Set in a volcanic landscape, El Malpais falls in western Mexico. Apart from the cinder cones and sandstone bluffs, you’ll find many lava tube caves to visit, including Junction, Xenolith, Big Skylight, Giant Ice, and Four Windows Caves. The caving difficulty ranges from moderate to difficult, so you need to be extra cautious while exploring them.

Once you access them, you’ll be able to see beautiful geological features, hidden ice formations, mossy gardens, and even bats residing there. Before entering the caves, be sure to carry all the caving essentials. Do not forget to get the free caving permit from the visitor center.

Things to do around here: There are many lava formations and hiking trails to explore after visiting the caves. You can also enjoy primitive backcountry camping within the area. There are also other nearby campgrounds where you can spend the night.

Hours of operation: 9 am to 5 pm

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4. Fort Stanton Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area

This national conservation area located at the base of Sierra Blanca is home to Fort Stanton Cave. It is one of the state’s longest, having over 40 miles of mapped passages. One of its main features is the distinctive velvet-textured flowstones. Other colorful and unique crystal formations adorn the cave interiors. In another section, you’ll see the Snowy River, an ancient river bed made of white calcite. However, the cave is presently not open for public access because of the spread of White Nose Syndrome, a harmful fungal disease that kills bats,

You can also visit Fort Stanton, which holds historical importance. It served as a frontier fort sheltering soldiers in the mid-19th century, evident from the scribbling and signatures found there. You can check out the Fort Stanton Museum within this area to know more about the history.

Things to do around here: Other activities that you can indulge in include hiking, horseback riding, camping, sightseeing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and hunting.

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5. Ra Paulette’s Hand-Carved Caves

A series of 14 human-made caves in north Santa Fe consists of awesome sculpting by Ra Paulette. Each cave’s interior differs from the other, giving one a feeling of entering into an enchanted world. While some make way for sunlight to enter through the doors and skylights, others have spaces for benches and candles. These wondrous larger than life beauties sculpted on soft sandstones were carved in a way to create spiritual vibes. Taking a guided tour will allow you to access the caves and experience spiritual retreat alongside cherishing the magnificent artworks. However, some are privately owned; one being sold for more than a million dollars.

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6. Bandera Volcano Ice Cave

This Land of Fire and Ice area on the Continental Divide offers an incredible and contrasting experience to those visiting them. You’ll find two self-guided trails here, one of which will take you to Bandera Volcano. Here you can enjoy the impressive views of the area in and around the caldera, including the lava flows formed thousands of years ago.

The next trail leads to Ice Cave lying within a part of a collapsed lava tube. Inside it, the thick sparkling layer of ice forming naturally for more than 3000 years is a sight to behold. The cave’s temperature does not exceed 31°F, providing a cool environment on a summer day. The Pueblo Indians and early American settlers also came to the Ice Cave, making use of the cold temperatures in many ways. You can view the cave by descending to the viewing platform, which is 70 steps above the cave’s base.

To enter the site, you need to purchase an entrance fee of about $ 12 from the Visitor Center.

Things to do around here: You can enjoy other activities here, such as gemstone mining, sightseeing, and wildlife watching.

Hours of operation: 9 am to 6 pm

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7. Jornada Bat Caves

Jornada Bat Caves is a part of Ted Turner’s Armendaris Ranch in southern New Mexico, housing one of the nation’s largest bat populations. As it is in private property, you need to make a prior reservation to enter here. The cave has two entrances, both of which are not accessible to the public because of the endangered bats residing here. The Mexican free-tailed bats dwell here from March to October. Many other hibernating bats, including spotted bats and Allen’s big-eared bats, shelter here in the warm months. At dusk, wait at the cave entrance to see the spectacular sight of thousands of bats coming out searching for food. You can also spot the Swainson’s hawks gliding overhead, with the hope of capturing bats mid-flight for their meal.

Things to do around here: Wildlife watching, picnicking, camping are some of the other activities you can enjoy.

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8. Fox Cave

Fox Cave near Ruidoso is an attractive spot to stop by while driving your cars along East Highway 70. Opened in the 1950s, you’ll at present find a pretty little gift shop displaying its colorful souvenirs, jewelry, and wares inside it. While browsing around the shop, you can also notice the cave rocks made of micrite, a type of limestone, and fossil-embedded walls. You can also get an idea of people earlier using the cave as a sheltered place by observing the roof covered in soot and smoke telltale to keep the area warm. In the 19th century, it was a hideout spot for Billy the Kid, an American gunfighter who also took part in the Lincoln County War.

Things to do around here: Kids and adults enjoy participating in gemstone mining, and there is a petting zoo also.

Hours of operation: 10 am to 5 pm

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9. Sandia Cave

Within Cibola National Forest, Sandia Cave or Sandia Man Cave sits on the north end of the Sandia Mountains. Many fascinating pieces of evidence found here, such as the skeletal remains of animals and stone tools, reveal the ancient inhabitants dating back to the ice age. There is a 1-mile trail consisting of a concrete staircase, an overhanging limestone ledge, and a spiral metal staircase that will bring you up to the cave entrance. You can enjoy the lovely views of the picturesque mountains near Santa Fe from here. Inside the cave, you can see the ceilings near the opening having a layer of soot from the fire smokes. Don’t forget to bring your flashlights or headlights if you plan to explore the dark passages.

Things to do around here: Besides this, you can enjoy hiking, birdwatching, and nature gazing here.

Hours of operation: Not recorded

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10. Slaughter Canyon Cave

Slaughter Canyon Cave, situated in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, requires a challenging hike over steep and rugged terrain. Within the dark cave, with the help of your flashlights, you can see plenty of beautiful and intricate formations, such as the Christmas Tree, the Chinese Wall, the Mushroom, and a rimstone dam. Out of these, the main attraction is the 89 feet, high Monarch. This impressive stalagmite formation is also one of the tallest columns in the world. A guided tour is mandatory, so don’t forget to make your reservations before coming here. Also, pack enough water and some food. Though you cannot take it inside the cave, it will keep you energized while hiking the desert terrain.

Things to do around here: There are many activities to do within the national park, including hiking, cave exploring, bat viewing, etc.

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Best Underground Caves: Slaughter Canyon Cave, El Malpais National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns

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