Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area is a desert oasis located about an hour away from Carlsbad, New Mexico. After driving 42 miles through what appears to be barren desert, visitors will arrive to discover a plethora of covered picnic areas, BBQs, and multiple small waterfalls!
In addition, photographers and cave enthusiasts who have the foresight to acquire a permit can explore the photogenic Sitting Bull Caves nearby.
If you are looking for the best thing to do on a visit to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, grab your swimsuit and spend a day swimming and relaxing at Sitting Bull Falls.
Tips to Visiting Sitting Bull Falls
- Be sure to bring cash as there is a $5 parking fee per vehicle.
- Reach out ahead of time if you want to visit the caves as permits are required. You will need to contact the Guadalupe Ranger Station in Carlsbad.
- Bring sunscreen and a swimsuit if you want to enjoy the swimming hole at the base of the falls.
- Bring beverages in cans and plastic as glass is not allowed.
- Arrive early on weekends as parking can be limited and Sitting Bull Falls is a favorite destination for locals.
About Sitting Bull Falls
Sitting Bull Falls is located in a canyon in the Lincoln National Forest. The walk to the actual Sitting Bull waterfalls is an easy quarter-mile with no elevation change and is wheelchair-accessible. The trail to the top of the falls is only half a mile but does have some elevation gain. The view is not as pretty, but it’s a good option for those who would like to do a bit more walking.
Because Sitting Bull Falls is spring-fed, there is water year-round. In fact, there are two falls side by side, but the second waterfall is quite small.
The area is maintained by the National Forest Service which collects $5 per vehicle parking fees to help maintain the area. The picnic areas are always kept pristine and there are usually rangers present to assist with overflow parking and to answer questions.
While the waterfalls are not particularly large, they are bigger than I expected to find in such a dry and barren landscape at 150 feet tall.
There are also some beautiful caves to explore nearby, but permits are required. Additionally, they can be difficult to get at the moment as the bat populations in the region have been obliterated by “white nose disease” and all precautions are being taken at this point. If you would like to try for a permit and get more information, contact the Carlsbad Ranger Station.
How to Get to Sitting Bull Falls
Most of you will be visiting the waterfalls in conjunction with a visit to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. To get to the recreation area from the city of Carlsbad, you will take Hwy 285 through town, then turn onto Road 137. Alternatively, you can avoid driving through the city of Carlsbad by taking Road 524 on the outskirts of town until it connects to Hwy 285, at which point you will once again be looking for Road 137.
If you are coming in from the east and do not want to go through Carlsbad at all, you can shortcut the route by taking the George Shoupe Relief Route which will connect you to Hwy 285 on the north end of town.
All roads are paved and well maintained, though there may be some dirt patches where construction is ongoing.
Other Things to do Near Carlsbad
While you’re in the area, it is well worth taking the time to discover a couple other local destinations.
Living Desert State Park
For just $5, you can explore see all variety of desert life and learn about how creatures and plants survive in this harsh climate.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
If you are in Carlsbad, I’m sure this one is already on your radar. However, you may want to check out our comprehensive guide to Carlsbad Caverns National Park to help you prepare for your journey.
Sitting Bull Falls FAQs
How long is the hike to Sitting Bull Falls?
The hike to the waterfall is only 1/4 of a mile. A .5 mile trail to the top of the falls is also available.
What is the entry fee for Sitting Bull Falls Recreation Area?
There is a $5 per vehicle parking fee, but not entry fee beyond that.
Can you swim at Sitting Bull Falls?
Yes you can! In fact, this is a favorite swimhole for Carlsbad locals.
How do you get to the Sitting Bull Caves?
You first need to contact the Guadalupe Ranger Station in Carlsbad to inquire about a permit. They will give you directions on how to find and access the caves.
How tall is Sitting Bull Falls?
The main waterfall is 150 feet high.
Are there bathrooms available?
Yes there are, as well as covered picnic areas and some trash cans.
How far is the drive to Sitting Bull Falls (from Carlsbad)?
The drive is about 1 hour and 43 miles from the city of Carlsbad.
Can you bring dogs to Sitting Bull Falls?
Yes! Dogs are welcome at the waterfalls, though they are required to remain on a leash.
If you enjoyed the photos and writing in this guide, you may also find some of the following resources helpful:
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park: EVERYTHING You Need to Know
- Big Bend National Park Pictures: A Guide to Photographing Big Bend
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park: The Ultimate Guide
- 101+ Dream Destinations for your Travel Bucket List
- Travel Lessons from 10 Years on the Road
Final Thoughts on Visiting Sitting Bull Falls
While this little gem was not the most amazing waterfall I’ve ever visited, there was something special about its existence in a place you’d least expect. As I only needed a day to explore the Carlsbad Caverns when I had planned a whole weekend, I was excited to discover this oasis nearby.
If you have not already, be sure to check out our other regional guides and, as always, please provide any corrections or feedback in the comments below!