- New Mexico
Explore New Mexico’s caves and caverns, a window into the state’s natural history and cultural heritage.
Marvel at the magnificence of volcanic activity that created some cave sites, and check out others carved deep into stone by ancient cultures using primitive tools. The wonders of New Mexico’s caves and caverns can be appreciated equally by those eager for an easy trek underground or adventurers who welcome vigorous hikes to remote locales. While the jewels in these places are the caves, you’ll equally enjoy wandering the landscapes above ground and visiting nearby towns.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
This national park near the city of Carlsbad is home to the state’s famous Bat Flight Amphitheater. From spring through fall, catch the spectacular show when Brazilian free-tailed bats leave the cavern at sunset each day to hunt for insects. The colony returns just before dawn to dive back into the cave. There are more than 100 caves in the park, and visitors can explore a variety of them by themselves or on ranger-led excursions. A park highlight is choosing from two trails – a short 45-minute trek or the longer 90-minute option – to get to the park’s most-visited place, the Big Room. You’ll marvel at underground formations and artifacts that include a rope ladder from the 1920s.
Otherworldly underground formations in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
El Malpais National Monument
Near small-town Grants, go caving to see formations, plants and bats in ancient collapsed lava tubes. To enter five park caves that are open to the public, you’ll need to obtain a free permit at the visitor center and have the proper equipment, including hiking boots, helmets, flashlights and gloves. The cave passages range from difficult – expect to climb over boulders and squeeze through narrow corridors – to moderate, where reflectors mark the route. Nearby, visit the vintage Ice Caves Trading Post store and museum, then walk under the shade of junipers, firs and Ponderosa pines to reach the Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano, known as “The Land of Fire and Ice.” Cool off inside the cave, which is a brisk and constant 0 degrees C.
Towering trees and rock formations at El Malpais National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
One of the few places where visitors are still allowed to enter cliff dwellings, this park is surrounded by the Gila National Forest and Gila Wilderness, about 1.5 hours from Silver City. Hike a loop trail to rock and wood stairs leading to caves that were once shelters for the nomadic Mogollon Pueblo Culture and date to the late 1200s. Look at the walls they built inside their caves, and take in astonishing views of the canyon below. After exploring the dwellings, go on a 20-minute walk from the visitor center for a well-deserved and soothing soak in the Lightfeather Hot Spring.
Cliff dwellings overlooking the rugged landscape of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument
This sprawling mountain wilderness – including the Organ, Sierra and East Potrillo mountains about 30 minutes east of Las Cruces – is home to notable historic caves such as Geronimo’s Cave and La Cueva Rock Shelter. Ancient cultures lived here 10,000 years ago above volcanic fields where lava once flowed. Look at the petroglyphs carved long ago on canyon walls, peek inside caves where prehistoric people lived and outlaws later hid, and see old villages amid nearly 250 archaeological sites.
View of the Organ Mountains range from its highest point, Organ Needle
Bandelier National Monument
Drive about an hour outside Santa Fe to dramatic canyon and mesa landscapes on more than 13,300 hectares. Be amazed by petroglyphs and cave dwellings with handmade walls on the Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail. Some ancient homes were built near the bottom of the canyons using volcanic tuff blocks. Others are cave-like and called cavates, complete with walled rooms inside. They were carved into the sides of the canyons by Ancestral Pueblo people about 850 years ago. A great way to tour the park is by following the Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, especially on a ranger-led hike through the mesa. The canyon views are amazing, and you’ll see a shrine, native plants and the ruins of rooms that once housed Ancestral Puebloans.
Ladder leading to a cave entrance in Bandelier National Monument
Sandia Man Cave, Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands
About an hour outside Albuquerque in the Sandia Mountains, discover the wonders of Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands. Hike an easy but steep path to Sandia Man Cave, an archaeological site tucked into the side of Las Huertas Canyon. Follow the stairs to a limestone ledge: Your reward will be a window-like view into the surrounding landscape. If you’re wearing the correct caving gear, step inside a place that is culturally and historically significant to the Sandia Pueblo tribe. Arrowheads, animal bones and other daily living items were found in the mid-1930s after modern-era university students discovered the ancient cave.
Peering into Sandia Man Cave framed by views of the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands
Fly into Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) near the center of New Mexico, then rent a car to drive to parks, caves and caverns throughout the state.