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Hiking in Bandelier National Monument

Hiking in Bandelier National Monument is a great idea if you plan a trip to New Mexico and look for the best hikes in New Mexico. Exciting trails in the Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos and Santa Fe can be found. Moreover, you will see ancient cave dwellings on rock cliffs and masonry pueblos. People lived there for more than 11,000 years. So, hiking in Bandelier National Monument is a fantastic adventure and a perfect idea for a trip. In this article, we share experiences and tips from this park.

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hiking in Bandelier National Monument

What is Bandelier National Monument?

Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico is a 33,677-acre site that protects the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans, who occupied this area from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

President Woodrow Wilson designated Bandelier a national monument on February 11, 1916, and named it for Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss-American anthropologist who researched the area’s cultures and supported the preservation of the sites.

The canyon walls contain numerous cave dwellings, petroglyphs, and pictographs that date from this period. Surface dwellings include the remains of two large villages, Tyuonyi and Tsankawi. The Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi) lived here from around 1150 AD to 1550 AD. The main construction activity in Bandelier began after 1300 AD.

Anasazi built homes from blocks of volcanic tuff, which is soft. There were also sources of hard basalt rock from which they made axes and hammers. Tools were used to form the tuff blocks.

The beams supported the roof when axes were used to fell large Ponderosa pine trees. These Indians were agricultural. They planted corn, beans, and squash. From Yucca plants, they made soap and shampoo.

By 1540, when Francisco Vazquez de Coronado arrived from Mexico, the Indian people had already started to leave the canyon for new homes on the Rio Grande. The people of Cochiti Pueblo are the most direct descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon. Likewise, the San Ildefonso Pueblo people are most closely linked to Tsankawi.

Are you interested in Pueblos & the Native American community in New Mexico? Check out our post about the famous Taos Pueblo.

Our Experiences

My partner Chris and I had the opportunity to hike Bandelier during one of our New Mexico road trips. This place utterly enchanted us. We share tips based on our personal experiences. All photos presented in this article are ours.

Ancestral Puebloans houses in rocks in Bandelier National Monument

Where is Bandelier National Monument?

Bandelier National Monument is located 40 miles from Santa Fe, 12 miles from Los Alamos, 70 miles from Taos, and about 100 miles from Albuquerque. So, it is perfect for a day trip from Santa Fe or Taos.

Directions from Santa Fe

From Santa Fe, the fastest route runs through US-84 W and NM-4 W. The drive will take you approximately 50 minutes. It’s a perfect idea as a day trip from Santa Fe. My partner Chris and I took this trip when we explored the Santa Fe area.

Directions from Albuquerque

From Albuquerque, you have two roads to choose from. The fastest route goes through I-25 North. It’s 104 miles and about 1 hour 45 minutes driving.

The longer road runs through the mountains. It’s 97 miles and takes over 2.5 hours to drive. From I-25 N, continue toward US-550 W / Bernalillo. Then follow the signs ‘US-550 / Sandoval County Station’ in Bernalillo and merge onto NM-165 W / US-550 N. After 55 miles, turn right onto NM-4 E.

Where to stay in Bandelier National Monument?

Hotels near Bandelier National Monument

Staying in Santa Fe is the best accommodation option. It is one of the most beautiful towns in the Southwest, so we honestly recommend this place. In our separate article about the Santa Fe itinerary, you will find the best lodging options, places to visit, restaurant recommendations, and more.

But if you want to stay as close as possible to Bandelier National Monument, choose Los Alamos.

Bandelier National Monument Camping

There are three different ways to camp in Bandelier National Monument. Juniper Family Campground is a campground and is intended for small groups of 10 individuals or less.

Moreover, two campsites in Juniper Campground are designed to handle small groups (10 – 20 people). Sites are first come, first serve, and no reservations are taken. It is located just outside the main park entrance. For more information can check on their website.

Ponderosa Group Campground is a group campground for groups larger than 10 individuals. It is located on State Route 4, six miles west of the park entrance and near the turnoff to Los Alamos, State Route 501.

This campground is located at 7600 feet. You must have a reservation for the Ponderosa Group Campground. You can make your reservation at www.recreation.gov, or you can call 1-877-444-6777. But check other rules on the camping website.

The third option is backcountry camping, which is also available but with a permit. You can obtain a free permit at the visitor center. The closest backcountry camping zone is approximately 2 miles from the visitor center.

Bandelier National Monument Shuttle

Parking in Bandelier National Monument is small. So, it might be challenging to get a space during the high season. Furthermore, depending on the timing of your visit, you may be required to take a FREE shuttle down into the canyon and the park’s visitor center.

Shuttle Bus is required from May 14 – October 14. It stops at the White Rock Visitor Center outside the park (a 25-minute ride), and Bandelier’s Juniper Campground (10 minutes to the park). Detailed information and shuttle timetables are available on the park’s website.

stunning landscape view of New Mexico from Bandelier National Monument

Hiking in Bandelier National Monument

There are over 70 miles of hiking trails in Bandelier National Monument, ranging from easy walking paths to multi-day treks. However, pets are NOT permitted on any park trails. Below are short descriptions of some of the best hikes in Bandelier National Monument.

walls with old houses
Chris on the ladder hiking in Bandelier National Monument.
old houses in the rock walls in Bandelier National Monument

Main Loop Trail

Frijoles Canyon contains many ancestral pueblo homes, kivas—ceremonial structures—rock paintings, petroglyphs, and pictographs. Some of the dwellings are rock structures built on the canyon floor, but others are at the canyon wall. A 1.2-mile (1.9 km), paved “Main Loop Trail” from the visitor center affords access to these ancient ruins.

It is a must-do trail in Bandelier National Monument. It is the best way to learn about the history and see the legacy of the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited this land between 1150 and 1550 A.D. The trail leads you through archeological areas, including the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House.

Climbing short, sturdy wooden ladders, you can see the cliff dwellings and details of ancient structures. The trail is easy and great for kids, but part of it requires you to navigate numerous stone stairways and narrow walkways. It’s also the most popular hike in Bandelier so that the path might be crowded.

Main Loop Trail

Alcove House Trail

A trail extending beyond Main Loop Trail leads to Alcove House. It is a Ceremonial Cave, a shelter cave produced by erosion of the soft rock. Furthermore, it contains a small, reconstructed kiva that hikers may enter via the ladder.

The Alcove House Trail begins at the west end of the Main Loop Trail and extends 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to Alcove House. The Ceremonial Cave, the alcove, is located 140 feet (43 m) above the floor of Frijoles Canyon. This pueblo was the home of around 25 Ancestral Pueblo people.

At the end of the hike, there is an optional climb on a series of wooden ladders to the actual Alcove House. So, you can climb or admire Alcove House from below. It’s an easy trail, perfect for families.

Alcove House Trail in Bandelier National Monument

Frey Trail

The Frey Trail starts at the campground amphitheater and is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) one way. Its elevation change is 550 feet (170 m). The Frey Trail extends between the Juniper Campground and the center of Bandelier National Monument, where it joins the Main Loop Trail.

It is a less crowded hike, so it’s worth your effort. The Frey Trail starts at the campground and hikes down into the canyon, where the trail connects with the Main Loop Trail. The shuttle bus stops at Juniper Campground. It is a quiet, peaceful hike with scenic views and wildlife watching.


Falls Trail in Bandelier National Monument

The Falls Trail starts at the east end of the Backpacker’s Parking Lot near the visitor center. It’s over 1.5 miles long and descends 400 vertically to the Upper Falls. There are no archeological sightings along the way, but there are steep dropoffs along the trail and plank bridges across the creek. In the winter, it can be extremely icy.

Frijolito Loop Trail in Bandelier National Monument

The Frijolito Loop Trail is a more strenuous hike. It is 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long one-way and starts in the Cottonwood Picnic Area. Using a switchback path, it climbs out of Frijoles Canyon. Once on top of the mesa, it passes Frijolito Pueblo. Then, it returns to the visitor center along the Long Trail.

old houses carved in rock walls in Bandelier.

When to visit the Bandelier National Monument?

The Bandelier National Monument is open year-round from dawn to dusk except during heavy snow days or other emergencies. So, before you go, check the park website to ensure it’s open.

We went hiking in Bandelier in December. It was cold but sunny, perfect weather for a hike. If you are going in the summer, take a plentiful water supply. Monsoon season is from mid-June to mid-September. Spring and Fall are the best, in our opinion, because the Park is less crowded and the temperatures are pleasant.

How to prepare for hiking in Bandelier National Monument?

Whether the trail is short or long, easy or demanding, you must always be prepared for your hike. Accidents happen, or the weather can change dramatically in a few minutes. That’s why we pack carefully, even for shorts and leisurely walks. Check out our detailed Day Hiking Packing List before you hit the trail.

First, wear proper hiking shoes. Do not attempt these hikes in flip-flops or even flimsy shoes. You need sturdy shoes with a good grip and tread. Hiking poles might also be useful during these hikes.

Pack yourself in a comfortable backpack. You should have a hiking backpack with a lap belt so that it relieves your spine while climbing.

Watch your body while hiking. Even experienced hikers have weaker days. If you start to feel dizzy, disoriented, or nauseated, take a rest. Take plenty of water for your hike. Drink water, eat a salty, high-protein snack, and rest as long as you feel better. If you are cold, put on extra layers and eat. If you are hot, drink more water and rest. Protect your body from the sun, so take a hat and sunscreen.


  1. We saw a lot of interesting things when we visited New Mexico.  But we unfortunately missed Bandelier National Monument.  Good to know that parking is limited inside. So we may need to take a shuttle in. Or a group tour from Santa Fe.   Love that there are a range of hiking paths at different experience and fitness levels.  Fascinating to see the cave dwellings and wonder how people lived in those times.  

  2. This would be amazing to see in person! I appreciated the history on it! It’s crazy to think about how old it actually is!

  3. Bandelier Is so fascinating, I love any chance to see how people lived centuries ago. There’s just not enough general knowledge about how the Native American peoples lives. Besides being a beautiful landscape to hike and explore, I would love to visit Bandelier and see these dwellings in person. 

  4. We have a lot of those rock cave houses in Turkey. I suppose back in previous generations, making your home in a rock was a really safe place to settle yourself, that way you could see danger coming from a long way off, and nobody could creep up behind you! 

  5. Bandelier looks to amazing! I would love to visit some day. To see all of the caves would be so amazing! and to get insight into how people used to live.. even its it does look quiet claustrophobic! Amazing to think how old this is. I hope i get to visit one day

  6. I think it would be awesome to visit the cave dwellings and actually see inside them! I love learning about the history around the people who used to live in areas like this.  It’s very helpful to know the best ways to get there, and I think a guided tour would be great to learn more (I’m not much of a hiker anyway so I’d be there to learn). 

  7. I have a friend living in Santa Fe and he’s been inviting me to visit the place since a long time now. Hiking the Bandalier National Monument looks like one more reason why I shouldn’t miss Santa Fe. Intriguing to read about Ancestral Puebloans. As someone interested in history & culture, this place is definitely a must-visit for me. Rock paintings, petroglyphs & pictographs??? I’m sold. I need to visit here! Good to know that the trail is easy and can be done with kids too. 

  8. What an excellent guide on New Mexico, I would love to visit Bandelier and attempt hiking it one day! 

  9. Bandelier National Monument looks marvellous. The trails look so interesting and I would love to visit the place just to hike. Thanks for that important list of items to carry along with you while camping. It is important to hydrate yourself. Glad you explored this place.

  10. I have never heard of the Bandelier National Monument, but I put it immidiately on my wish list. I love it if you can go hiking and at the same time explore some history and archeology. Good to know that you have to take the free shuttle bus from the parking area some times of the year. I will have to check for the longer hikes in the area, as I prefer multi day treks to short treks.

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