America’s Largest Cavern
Descend into a 14-acre underground chamber.
New Mexico’s Carlsbad Cavern is home to the largest subterranean chamber in the states. It was discovered in 1898 by Jim White, a 16-year-old cowhand (and eventual national park ranger) who used a handmade wire ladder to descend into the black abyss. Named the Big Room, it’s the size of 10 and a half football fields and looks like the inside of a cathedral made of candle wax. Stalagmites and stalactites cling tightly to the swooping ceilings and floors, intermixed with leaning columns, rippled draperies, and delicate soda straws all formed as carbonic acid dissolves the cave’s limestone.
Get a ticket at the visitor center ($6) and head into the gaping cavern along a sidewalk-wide 1.25-mile entrance trail. To see the Big Room, link to the Big Room Trail, another 1.25-mile path winding around and through impossible formations. Beat the midday rush by setting off at 8:30 a.m., right when the gates open. nps.gov/cave