One of our most majestic and intriguing national parks, New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns are just begging to be explored. The park was established in 1930, though its incredible geological formations–stalagmites, stalactites–date back approximately 250 million years. In some ways, it’s the ultimate history lesson! The Caverns’ location is impressive by itself; they sit underneath the Chihuahua Desert and the Guadalupe Mountains. Even if you never make it into any of the caves, their Southwestern surroundings are totally worth the trip.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Travel Guide

You can opt to discover the park’s treasures on your own with a self-guided tour, or let one of the experts show you around. With more than 117 caves throughout the Caverns, it can be a bit overwhelming for a first-time visitor! Regardless of which option you choose, you can’t miss the Big Room, a 4,000-foot long limestone chamber that lives up to its namesake as one of the largest in the world.

Stalagtites and StalagmitesA word of warning to those that don’t appreciate creepy creatures: the park is home to over one million flapping, flying Mexican free-tail bats. And if you’re afraid of the dark, the Kings Palace might not be your best bet. The deepest point of the cavern is located in this section, and tours frequently go lights-out to give spelunkers the full, spooky effect. However, brave souls will be rewarded with views of some of the most amazing natural wonders in the entire park.

Mix things up and check out the Left Hand Tunnel, which has a variety of awe-inspiring sights, from speleotherms and shallow pools to ancient fossils and more. For a truly unforgettable experience, historic lantern-lit tours of the passageway are available as well. When you’re down there, take a second to remind yourself that all of these attractions lie beneath a vast desert, and they become even more beautiful to behold.

Adventurers can climb out of their comfort zones and into the Lower Cave, where they’ll descend by rope and ladder onto the gorgeous trail below to admire cave pearls and shimmering pools. The Hall of the White Giant, a cave that’s just as intense as its name, is another advanced option for true daredevils. Filled with steep terrain, dark passages, and tight spaces, it’s not for the faint of heart, but the challenge is well worth it for climbers that are willing to go the distance.

Explore underground geological formations at Carlsbad Caverns.