Known as the granddaddy of caves, Carlsbad Caverns (www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm) has been a popular national park since the 1930s. Of course in the early days, wheelchair-access was non-existent and visitors had to enter the cave in guano mining buckets. Today things are a lot different, as access upgrades have been added over the years, so it’s now possible for wheelchair-users and slow walkers to enjoy the underground wonders at this New Mexico national park.
Explore the Cavern
Although the the natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns is not wheelchair-accessible, there is an alternative option for wheelchair-users and slow walkers. Accessible parking is available near the visitor center with level access to the building. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the ranger information desk, interpretive exhibits, gift shop, restaurant and accessible restrooms. And there’s even an elevator that takes visitors down to the Big Room – one of the largest underground chambers. Stop by the ranger information desk and pick up a map that outlines the accessible routes, before you hop on the elevator and head down under.
There’s barrier-free access from the elevator over to the Big Room, which features a 1.25-mile paved path, .most of which is wheelchair-accessible. The trails are well marked, and wheelchair-users can roll past the Lion’s Tail, Fairyland, Temple of the Sun and Crystal Spring Dome formations; however the pathways to Rock of Ages and Top of the Cross are too steep to negotiate in a wheelchair. You may also have to double back in a few places, but you can do as little or as much as you like.
All in all there’s a lot to see in the Big Room, and it’s pretty easy to navigate around the spectacular rock formations in this massive cavern. And when you’re done, there’s also level access to some interpretive exhibits, accessible restrooms, a gift shop and a snack bar, which are located near the elevator.
Spend the Night
There are no lodging facilities in the park, but the closest one — Whites City Cavern Inn — is just a 15 minute drive away. Previously this property operated under the Choice Hotels brand as a Rodeway Inn, but it changed hands in 2017.
Access at the property isn’t spectacular, but it’s doable for many folks, and to be honest it does have location going for it. The next closest properties are located in the town of Carlsbad, which is another half-hour drive. Additionally, prices there are more expensive, due to a high lodging demand from the oil field workers.
Accessible parking is located near the office of the Whites City Cavern Inn, with level access to the front door. From there it’s about a 200 foot walk to the accessible room. There’s a ¾-inch threshold at the wide front door, with good pathway access inside. Other access features include low-pile carpet, lever handles and a lowered clothing rod.
The room is furnished with two 27-inch high open-frame queen-sized beds, with an access aisle between them. Other furnishings include a night table, a table with two chairs, a microwave and a refrigerator.
The bathroom is equipped with a roll-in shower with grab bars, a hand-held showerhead and a fold-down shower seat. The toilet grab bars are located on the back and right walls (as seated), and the bathroom also has a roll-under sink. And although the bathroom lacks a full five-foot turning radius, it’s still doable for most people.
Basically you’re paying for convenience, with some doable access, when you stay at Whites City Cavern Inn. If you can deal with the access shortcomings and the lack of upscale amenities, then this property makes a good choice for a Carlsbad Caverns visit.