How to Watch the Bat Flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Every summer evening, thousands of bats emerge from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns for their nightly feed. They seem to be one continuous entity, a cloud of black against the dusky sky. Recognizing this phenomenon, the National Park Service has provided an amphitheater near the cavern’s entrance, thus allowing the visitor to view this event. The National Park is located near Carlsbad, New Mexico, over 150 miles northeast of El Paso, Texas, and is only a few miles west of the town.

Things You'll Need

  • Map of New Mexico
  • Map of Texas
  • Umbrella
  • Water
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Arrive early at the caverns. While waiting for the bat show, take the Walnut Canyon Drive. After reaching the Visitor Center, continue on this road (which is now one-way) as it loops through high desert terrain. Directional signs identify the Rattlesnake Canyon Trailhead. Take this relatively easy and short hike. Spring is the best time to see the desert in bloom; unfortunately, the bat emergence occurs well into the summer.

  • Spend the afternoon touring the caverns. The Big Room is particularly spectacular. There are places to eat at the Visitor Center. Dining early will allow for ample time to walk to the amphitheater. The park service will issue an approximate bat departure time. Try to be there an hour or so before as this seasonal event can draw quite a crowd.

  • Pick a seat near the back of the amphitheater. This simply allows for more viewing time. Be aware that the desert can reach triple digits in the summer so an umbrella or parasol is a must.

  • Listen to the park ranger and his short program scheduled prior to dusk. The program is very informative and a needed prelude to the event.

  • Watch the swallows dart and dive into the cave entrance. These small birds are very quick, using their speed to catch insects. Note the bird’s high pitched whistle.

  • Watch for the early bats to exit. The swallows are aware of this event as well, so they cease momentarily.

  • Notice the steady stream of bats once the exit begins. With this multitude, almost plague-like, you may wonder whether there are any insects left in southern New Mexico.

  • Leave the park when the flight is over. Consider coming back predawn and watching the bats return; it is equally amazing. The predawn return will obviously have fewer observers and may even be a private showing.

  • Avoid the Carlsbad bat flight completely and opt instead to take the spur route to Rattlesnake Springs and access the two trailheads. Spend the day hiking them, waiting until dusk. Take a short walk to the Slaughter Canyon Cave and engage in a private viewing of Slaughter Canyon's own bat flight.

Tips & Warnings

  • Make reservations early. Carlsbad is a small town with limited lodging facilities. There are no campgrounds at the park and only a few at nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park. El Paso offers a great variety of lodging and dining options.
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