How To Visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park In Your EV

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Southeast New Mexico isn’t always an easy place to visit in an EV. The big thing is that it’s oil country, just like west Texas (a place that’s separated from southeast NM by nothing but an imaginary line). Until just very recently, it was a total EV dead zone, even if you own the longest range Teslas. Even the vaunted Supercharger network dared not tread into the area yet.

But, things are getting better. Francis Energy and ChargePoint have set up shop in most towns, and there are now plans for Superchargers.

Sadly, the city of Carlsbad is still a town without any EV fast charging. So, visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park can be challenging. Challenging doesn’t mean impossible, though. With a little bit of preparation and planning, you can have a good time visiting almost anywhere, and the Caverns are no exception to this.

A small taste of what awaits in the cave. Image by Jennifer Sensiba.

Before You Make A Plan

If you want to do anything right in life, you’ll want to start with the right tools for the job and the skill to effectively use the tools. The bad news? If you approach a trip to a difficult area the way you approach gas- or diesel-powered road trips, you’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’!

Let’s look at two common ICE trip strategies and why they simply don’t work.

The most common one is to start looking for fuel when the tank is almost empty. With an EV, there just aren’t enough charging stations to get away with that non-plan yet. When the battery gets low, there might not be a station in range.

The other ICE strategy is to guess how far the car will go and then plan to visit some gas stations (hopefully with the best price) when the car will probably be getting low. In an EV, the EPA range figure might be close on some drives, but way off on others. Things like weather, steep hills, and speeding can make you fall way short of the EPA guesstimate (and the guesstimate your dashboard gives you). With a gas car, that mistake means finding a station sooner. With an EV, it could mean calling for a tow.

Instead of non-planning or using EPA figures to guess how far you can go, the easiest thing to do right now is to use trip planning software. I personally use A Better Routeplanner because it gives a lot of configuration options for tricky situations, but many EV drivers swear by Chargeway. Both of these apps/websites take the guesswork out of EV trip planning, accounting for things like weather, steep hills, and the speed you plan to drive. Just be sure to read the FAQs and manual for whichever one you like more.

Once you have a plan from one of these apps, you’ll want to use Plugshare to see if the stations it picked for you are reliable. Basically, if a station has a score of less than 10, you’ll likely want to check the reviews other people left to see what’s going on. If the station looks like a turd, then pick something else and tell your software to use another station or another route to avoid the bad charger.

Finally, if an app says you can’t make it, don’t be afraid to spend a night charging slow somewhere to fill in the gap and keep the road trip going. Some hotels have charging, but other options like RV parks (if you call ahead to verify) can be trip-savers on the back roads.

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Applying This To Carlsbad Caverns

Now that we’re all on the same page with the need to make a solid plan using the tools of the trade, let’s talk about how to tackle a trip to Carlsbad Caverns!

I’ll assume that you can make it to one of the nearest DC fast chargers in El Paso, Van Horn, Pecos, Artesia, or Hobbs. But you’ll need enough power to get from one of those places and then back out again. Plus, you’ll need some power to do your driving around in the area. Carlsbad has no fast charging, so you’ll probably need to find a place to charge while you sleep near the park.

There are several sleep-while-you-charge options in the area. As of this writing, there’s one hotel in Carlsbad with a Tesla destination charger. If you don’t drive a Tesla, you’ll need an adapter to charge there. There are also several RV parks, some with cabins, that you can find on Plugshare. But, call ahead to make sure they’re still allowing charging.

Another great option is Whites City. It’s the little gateway community outside the park gate. The hotel and the RV park are both owned by the same company, so you can stay at the hotel and charge across the street at the RV park. But, the hotel and the RV park are run by different offices, so check with both to make sure you can charge on the day you stay at the hotel!

If you can start your day with a full charge on the day you leave, you’ll have plenty of options for leaving to other places. The nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a great park to fit into the same trip, as is White Sands. But, both of those parks are best visited in the spring or fall. Carlsbad Caverns is good year-round, so you’re good either way!

Finally, if you have an electric pickup or SUV you’d feel comfortable taking on a rough forest road, consider coming to the area or leaving it via the Guadalupe Rim road. It’s a good route between Cloudcroft and Carlsbad if you have the range for it. This gives you the “backstage” areas behind both Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe that most people miss out on! Here’s an image of a Kia EV9 press car I recently took on that route:

Image by Jennifer Sensiba.

Finally, if you want more links and details about the trip, be sure to check out a side project I work on: Charge to the Parks. On that website, there’s a growing number of EV travel guides for major parks in the United States. Here’s the page for Carlsbad Caverns.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba