Best Winter Weekend Getaway at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

By Susan Brown

Best Winter Weekend Getaway at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The town of Carlsbad is considered the gateway to this fantastic network of caves that became a national park in 1930. Going below the earth’s surface is certainly an otherworldly experience worthy of exploration, but there’s plenty to do topside, too, throughout the region. Here’s how to make the most of your winter weekend getaway at Carlsbad Caverns in beautiful New Mexico. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, NM

The southeast portion of the state is anchored by this spectacular natural phenomenon that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the Big Room, one of the largest underground chambers in North America. There are two self-guided trails that descend 750 feet, a little over a mile (there’s an elevator that makes the trip a little faster), plus a number of ranger-guided tours into areas with limited access. Take a jacket, it gets cold in this subterranean world where stalactites hang from the ceiling and stalagmites rise up from the floor.

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Carlsbad RV Park and Campground, Carlsbad, CA

Camping at the national park is only allowed in backcountry areas. The sites are primitive. Pick up a free permit at the Visitor Center before heading out. The closest full-service options are in the Park’s namesake town of Carlsbad. This one features RV and tent sites, plus rustic cabins. It’s conveniently located just outside the park and other local attractions. If the weather calls for it, pack a bathing suit for a dip in the pool.

Guadalupe Ridge Trail

If walking either of the two trails that descend into the Caverns isn’t enough, there’s plenty of hiking in the surrounding Lincoln National Forest. This long 100-mile trail connects with other trails and loops between the northern edge and the western side of the Park. Take along plenty of water, you won’t find any along the trail.

Lake Carlsbad Beach Park, Carlsbad, NM

While there are fish in various springs around the Caverns, fishing is not allowed. If you’re angling to catch something, however, this recreation area, “the Pearl of the Pecos,” is stocked with rainbow trout, largemouth bass and bluegill. Everyone over the age of 12 needs a license. The cost varies depending on whether you’re a resident or visitor.

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Seven Rivers Waterfowl Management Area, Artesia, NM

From about mid-October through the end of January, the season opens for duck and goose hunting. This area, just north of Carlsbad, is part of the Central Flyway zone for migratory birds that brings waterfowl to the Lower Pecos Valley area. The area is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation, so all federal and state regulations apply relevant to permits, shooting hours and bag limits. Additionally, approved nontoxic shot is required when hunting in this refuge.

Hackberry Lake Off-Highway Vehicle Use Area

This 55,000-acre OHV recreation area, located just northeast of Carlsbad, is open to motorcycles, sand dune buggies and other OHVs. Trails take riders up-and-over low hills, through small draws, along the bottom of deep arroyos, up steep climbs and across rolling sand dunes. No fee required to ride this area. Just note, this is a primitive area—no restrooms or drinking water, so make sure you are prepared.

Becky’s Drive-In Restaurant, Carlsbad, NM

If you grew up eating at drive-ins, then this bit of nostalgic charm is a welcome treat. If you’ve never had a burger and fries delivered by a car hop, then you must stop here. The large menu at this small-town restaurant is traditional drive-in fare. Burgers, fries, shakes, homemade onion rings, hand-dipped corn dogs are favorites, but the grilled cheese, BLT, chicken or steak sandwiches run a close second. Note, this is a cash only restaurant, so come prepared.

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Carlsbad Museum and Art Center, Carlsbad, NM

Take a break from the great outdoors and spend a little time at this, the oldest municipal museum in the state. Established in 1931, it’s home to both permanent and temporary exhibits that showcase local and regional history, Native American art and artifacts, southwestern artists and crafts people, as well as modern and contemporary art. The museum’s most impressive display is the McAdoo Collection of Taos Ten paintings, works by painters of the Taos Society of Artists. Admission is free.

Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park, Carlsbad, NM

Ever wonder what a javelina looks like up close? Or a gila monster? After a stop here, you will wonder no more. This native wildlife zoo houses more than 40 animal species, plus hundreds of native Chihuahuan Desert plants. There are year-round interpretive programs for families, hiking trails, picnic areas and a visitor’s center overflowing with information, things to see, do and touch and a well-stocked gift store. No camping areas and no pets allowed.

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Christmas on the Pecos, Carlsbad, NM

Something that ought to get you in the holiday spirit is the Christmas on the Pecos holiday boat tour. You’re sure to be dazzled by the magical display of Christmas lights glowing on the dark lake. Although Carlsbad’s southwestern landscape is beautiful to view, it’ll certainly be nice to take in the reflections of lights for something different. This mystical boat tour is a local tradition for many. Once you enter the “fairyland of twinkling lights” you’ll see why it draws such a crowd.

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