My parents took us here as kids and my husband and I went back in late 2014. We spent a full day at the caverns, first stopping by the visitor's center and obtaining maps and tour tickets. I recommend taking the natural entrance in to the cave if you have the time. They make it sound like it's a treacherous descent but the entire pathway was paved with railings and had a minor descent in portions on the way down. This takes a good 45 minutes, has plenty of sitting areas, and you can surely go at your own pace. Walking in to the caverns and having the sunlight slowly fade away is much more dramatic than the modern convenience of the elevators. Once we arrived to the main rest area deep inside the cave we had a snack, a drink of water, and then gathered for our tour of Kings Palace which was to last 1.5 hours. You can only tour Kings Palace with the ranger and the cost was $6 per person. Concluding the tour we had just enough time to do the self-guided walk through the Big Room which was another solid hour. I'm glad we brought snacks and ate in their cafeteria otherwise I don't think we would have had the energy for the Big Room portion. It says no outside snacks but I asked the attendant at the cafeteria if we could eat our granola bars and mixed nuts in the designated area and she was fine with it. I recommend reading the NPS's website as it was a wealth of information in planning the visit - tour times and what you can and cannot bring (no strollers, wheelchairs accessible but not in all portions). We were pooped by the end of all three portions but if you have the time to do all three I highly recommend not skipping any of them. We camped at White's City RV Park right at the entrance (see my separate review of this campground) and came back in the evening for the bat flight program which is another "must do." Buy the $7 re-publication of White's account of discovering Carlsbad Caverns. It's a quick and easy read and interesting to learn the history about the caverns from his point of view.
We camped outside the park at White's RV Resort (I have review there as well).
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