Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The vastness of the New Mexico drylands
The vastness of the New Mexico drylands

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is best known for its spectacular underground resources. A less popular destination for park visitors is the rugged backcountry. Elevations within the park backcountry rise from 3,596 feet in the lowlands to 6,368 feet on the escarpment. The backcountry at Carlsbad Caverns is part of the northern Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem, with desert shrub and grassland vegetation predominant. Small pockets of juniper woodland are found at the highest elevations in the southwestern third of the park. Several primitive hiking trails traverse washes and steep canyon walls in the Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness Area, 13,406 ha (33,125 ac) of generally inhospitable terrain.

Guano Road

The Guano Road is 3.5 miles one way and takes two to three hours to hike. The trailhead is located at the Bat Flight Ampitheater by the entrance to Carlsbad Cavern. The Guano Road descends 710 feet and exits the park at Whites City. Camping is not permitted in this area of the park. USGS 7.5" quadrangle: Carlsbad Caverns.

Juniper Ridge Trail

Beginning within the last mile of the Desert Loop Drive just past marker 15, this trail makes a gradual climb to the north boundary of the park. Once at the north boundary the trail goes west to the edge of Crooked Canyon. The cairn-marked trail is approximately 3.5 miles one way with an elevation change of 800 feet. USGS 7.5" quadrangle: Carlsbad Caverns.

Rattlesnake Canyon Trail

The trailhead for Rattlesnake Canyon is located at marker 9 on the Desert Loop Drive and ends at the park boundary. The trail is six miles round-trip. Beyond the park boundary is private property. Please do not trespass. The primitive trail is well defined in most areas, a bit overgrown in others, and marked with rock cairns. From the Desert Drive the trail makes a steep descent into the canyon, for a total elevation change of 670 feet. Once at the old ranch foundation a short 0.25-mile side trip can be made to Stone Spring. USGS 7.5" quadrangle: Serpentine Bends.

Slaughter Canyon Trail

Slaughter Canyon is a large canyon with several branches. The trailhead is located at the Slaughter Canyon Cave parking area. The cairn-marked trail follows Middle Slaughter Canyon along the canyon floor. The route criss-crosses the canyon many times making it is easy to lose the trail. Once the trail turns into North Slaughter Canyon it ascends to Guadalupe Ridge. Knowledge of topographic maps is imperative for hikers using this trail as there are many cairn-marked side trails. The route is six miles one way with an elevation change of 1,850 feet to the ridge top. USGS 7.5" quadrangles: Grapevine Draw and Serpentine Bends.

Yucca Canyon Trail

The Yucca Canyon trailhead is located southwest of Slaughter Canyon. The trail is a well defined footpath that is 11 miles one way and makes a 1,520 foot elevation change. Once on the ridge a trail following a fenced deer exclosure leads to Longview Springs. Continuing along the trail, the Double Canyon overlook can be reached by making a short side trip. There are no marked trails in either branch of Double Canyon but it is highly scenic. USGS 7.5" quadrangles: Grapevine Draw and Gunsight Canyon.

Guadalupe Ridge Trail

Starting at the Scenic Loop Drive the trail climbs steeply making an elevation change of 2,050 feet. The hike offers views into Slaughter Canyon and Rattlesnake Canyon. The 11.8-mile trail follows an old road and continues to the parks west boundary. The connection to Lincoln National Forest is impassible by vehicle. To complete the entire route it is recommended that an overnight trip be planned. Camping permits can be obtained free of charge at the parks Visitor Center. USGS 7.5" quadrangles: Serpentine Bends and Gunsight Canyon.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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