Driving From White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Looking to visit both White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns National Park and unsure of the drive along the way? There are many roads and highways in New Mexico, and this stretch connecting the parks was a little different than all the other roads we were on.

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We recently took a trip down to New Mexico where we visited both White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns national parks. Both were incredible and very unique and both are worth a visit.

Some kids get very carsick and some kids have to “go” at some of the most inopportune moments, so we like to know what the drive will be like before we set out. This guide will help you plan as well as far as curvy, windy roads and any towns along the way for roadside stops.

So check out this guide for driving from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns for your next family trip to New Mexico’s national parks.

pinnable image of driving route and where to stop from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns, 4 images: pure white sand with blue sky, cavern ceiling in the dark, footprings in white sand, tall formation inside a cave

Transportation Options

There are a few transportation options for getting from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns, though I’ll tell you now that the best way to get from one park to the other is to drive.

But alas, here are your options.

Fly from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

Taking a flight from Las Cruces (near White Sands) to Carlsbad is not an economical or time efficient choice, but it is possible.

Flying on Advanced Airlines allows you to take the flight. I would say “short flight”, but it’s anything but short.

You’ll end up having to make a layover in a larger city (like Albuquerque or Phoenix) before being on your way to the next park. And you’ll pay a hefty price for it.

Take the Bus from White Sands to Carlsbad

You can also take a Greyhound from White Sands to Carlsbad, though you’ll have to make it to the Alamogordo bus station (from White Sands) to begin your trip.

The Greyhound trip lasts about 6 hours and requires you to switch busses in El Paso. In addition, it costs more than what you would spend in gas driving.

But, if you don’t want to drive, this is an option.

Basic Info: White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

Distance from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns- 182 miles

Time to drive from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns- 3 hours 15 minutes

Closest beginning/ending towns- Alamogordo to Carlsbad, 146 miles, 2 hours 40 minutes

Holiday Inn hotel. White flat front with red sides, covered pull in area at front door, cloudy day with plenty of blue sky

Where to Stay Near Each Park

As noted above, there are cities close to each park that are best to stay in.

For White Sands, Alamogordo is around a 15 minute drive away from the park. We stayed at the local Holiday Inn and found it comfortable and clean. Plus they had a decent hot breakfast available (and an indoor pool!).

If that’s booked or you’re looking for camping or RV, there are plenty of other options as well.

For Carlsbad Caverns, the biggest city nearby is Carlsbad. This is around 25-30 minutes from the park entrance. We stayed at the Fairfield here which was also clean and comfy, had a hot breakfast and outdoor pool.


Route from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

Here is the route from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns as well as a few towns along the way.

road from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.  Road is paved with a turn coming up.  Thin trees along the side with pretty cloudy gray skies

The road toward the end of the mountain section

There are plenty of things to do near White Sands if you have extra time. Otherwise, hop in the car and begin your drive.

Through the Sacramento Mountains

Starting in Alamogordo, you’ll head east on US-82. This is the majority of your drive.

US-82 begins going up through the mountain area and really provides different scenery than we saw anywhere else during our New Mexico trip. The road is paved and in good condition the whole way.

That said, it twists and turns a bit. If you have a carsick-prone person in your car, you’ll want to take some Dramamine before beginning this drive.

If car sickness doesn’t affect you, then this part of the drive is actually quite beautiful. You’ll feel like you’re in a totally different place after being in the car just a few minutes as you drive through the Sacramento Mountains.

As you go through the mountain road, you’ll pass through two towns that aren’t big, but will be a place to pull over if needed.

The first is Cloudcroft. It made us think of small little mountain towns in Colorado, like on the way to St. Mary’s Glacier. Just a quaint, quiet town with a few restaurants, a park, and coffee shops right off the road.

small building on side of road with a mural painted on the side and big colorful letters that say "MAYHILL", the name of the town

The next small town you can stop in is Mayhill. It’s much smaller than Cloudcroft, but has a gas station and country store right off the route.

The windy mountain roads will level out after about an hour or hour-and-a-half and turn into flatter, straight roads.

After you get through the small towns, you’ll drive through plenty of beautiful farm and ranch lands. You’ll likely see horses, cows, and deer.

driving on a road with a car in the distance, a small median in the road, and various city items like tall lamp posts in the distance.

Artesia- largest town on the way

After 2 hours of driving, you’ll be in the town of Artesia. This is the largest town you’ll go through during the drive. It’s out of the mountain area and has plenty of city amenities. Fill up with gas if you need, use the restroom, grab some snacks or lunch.

Artesia is where you’ll finally turn off of US-82 and start heading south.

If you don’t need any services in Artesia, you can bypass going through the downtown area by turning right/south on S 26th St, curve onto Fairgrounds Rd, and then head south on 285/7 Rivers Highway.

If you do need services, you can drive through the town of Artesia and then head south on 285.

As you get closer to Carlsbad, you can stay on 285 or turn right onto NM-524 (N Happy Valley Rd) depending on which part of town your hotel is in.

Carlsbad is a larger town and took a while to drive through. But you can access grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and anything else you might need.

Tip: We were glad we stayed at the south end of town as it cut down drive time when we went to the caverns. Driving through town adds some extra time due to its size and all the stoplights.

Alternative Route from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns

As an alternative (and for a chance at another national park), you could take the south route from White Sands and make a stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Guadaluple Mountains is just over the border of New Mexico in the state of Texas.

This route is pretty basic with the exception of passing through El Paso.

To take this route, total driving time will be 3-1/2 hours from White Sands –> Guadalupe –> Carlsbad Caverns and the distance is 227 miles.

For just an extra half-hour of driving, this is a great route to take and check off another great national park.

the road from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns, looking out to an open field with a small mountain in the background and an animal eating in the brown field

Where to Stop Along the Way (main route)

Besides the towns mentioned above where you could stop for a rest, there are a couple worthwhile places to get out and enjoy along the first-mentioned route from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns.

Bridal Veil Falls

The first is to stop shortly after you enter the canyon area as you head out of Alamogordo. There is a road (with signage) that will lead you over to Bridal Veil Falls. Watch for the sign as you start to see the first town along the mountain road. It’s only roughly 20 minutes into your drive from Alamogordo.

Bridal Veil Falls is a short (about 2-1/2 miles) easy hike to a beautiful waterfall that drips over the rippled edge of a canyon wall. It’s not a full-force waterfall, so seasons may vary on what you see.

There are a few trailheads along the road to Bridal Veil trailhead, so take your pick for some great views.

Sacramento Mountains Museum

Whether looking for a better place to live, timber to build a railroad, or just for leisure, the 1800’s brought people into the Cloudcroft area of the Sacramento mountains. At the Sacramento Mountains Museum you can discover old train cars, old regular cars, and an old chapel (originally built as an office, then church, now a historical place under the museum’s ownership).

Walk through the Pioneer Village as you discover this quaint little town amongst the trees in Cloudcroft.

Be sure to check current hours before visiting.

driving point of view with flat, straight road ahead, a McDonalds sign high in the sky in the distance, a  few cars on the road and a small buildings along the side


After you are through the mountains, the next best place for a break is in Artesia.

Catch a quick rest stop and lunch, or take an hour to visit some places in town.

Summer opens up the outdoor Artesia Aquatic Center for a nice cool dip. Families can go bowling at Artesia Lanes during the afternoons and evenings.

For an easy break, you could also walk around to find the meaningful statues that craft a story of the history of Artesia in the downtown area.

For a quick runaround, head to Eagle Draw Park which features a huge greenbelt and walking trail, not to mention a playground for the kids.

On the Artesia Mural trail you’ll be able to take a mural walk (both on and just off Main Street) and enjoy the Public Art Mural Program of Artesia. Most are on Main St with a few just off Main Street, though there are many murals all around the downtown area.

After Artesia, you’re only about 40 minutes from Carlsbad. And once you’re in Carlsbad, it’s a short 25-30 minute drive to the caverns.

How Far Apart are Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands National Parks?

Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands are around 3 hours apart from one to the other. The drive from one to the other takes you through a rolling, windy mountain road through a few small towns, and also some basic, flat highways.

Can you visit Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands in the Same Day?

No, do not visit both Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands on the same day. The two parks are 3 hours apart and you’ll really want to soak in the experience of each. Allow a few hours at white sands to play and hike around. Once you are Carlsbad Caverns, you will need a few more hours to hike through the caverns. Since it is time consuming, you need to plan separate days for each park.

White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns Driving Route

All-in-all, the drive isn’t too bad. A few key takeaways from this are

  • Make sure to take Dramamine if you get carsick
  • Have plenty of water available if you decide to get out and take a hike
  • Make sure you aren’t low on gas. There are a few stations in the mountain area, but not many.
  • The biggest city you’ll drive through is Artesia

And lastly, enjoy the drive. Being able to see both of New Mexico’s national parks is a blessing. Both White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns are incredibly beautiful in very different ways, so it’s wonderful that they aren’t terribly far from each other.

You can easily see both parks in one trip!

So enjoy your journey and drive from White Sands National Park to Carlsbad Caverns!

👉🏼 Check out the Best Places to Stay Near Carlsbad Caverns

pinnable image of driving route and where to stop from White Sands to Carlsbad Caverns, 4 images: pure white sand with blue sky, cavern ceiling in the dark, footprings in white sand, tall formation inside a cave

Don’t Forget other Great Parts of New Mexico:

14 Great Things to do in Santa Fe with Kids (plus check out this family-friendly walking tour of Santa Fe)

Guide to 17 Family Activities in Albuquerque

Where to Stay near White Sands National Park

Best Things to do NEAR White Sands National Park

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