How to Spend the Perfect Day at Bandelier National Monument

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Bandelier National Monument offers plenty to keep visitors occupied. The park is home to one of the largest cliff dwellings in North America. Rich geological diversity, fascinating cultural history, and striking scenery make this desert wonderland a fantastic choice for hikers, explorers, and outdoor enthusiasts. It was home to ancestral Pueblo people from 1150 CE to 1550 CE. The ancestral pueblo had a human presence within the area for over 11,000 years.

Knowing how best to spend your time here can be challenging with such an impressive range of hikes available. We’re sharing exactly how to spend the perfect day visiting Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, where you can explore the ancestral Pueblo village and see excavated archeological sites.

Bandelier National Monument New Mexico Travel Guide

Exploring Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico
Exploring Bandelier National Monument

If you’re looking for a day outdoors, soaking up amazing scenery and getting to know the fascinating history of this area, look no further than the 70+ miles of trails at Bandelier National Monument. Don’t worry; we’re not hiking all 70+ miles in one day. Instead, we have put together some best things to do at Bandelier National Monument to ensure you get the most out of your visit in one fabulous day.

Land Acknowledgment: Bandelier National Monument and the surrounding area have ties to 23 tribal nations. Visit the Bandelier National Monument website to read more.

Perfect One Day Itinerary For Exploring Bandelier

  • Hike the Main Loop Trail (Pueblo Loop Trail)
  • Hike the Alcove House Trail
  • Have a picnic lunch or snack
  • Browse the Visitor Center
  • Head to Camp or Back to Santa Fe

Hike the Main Loop Trail (Pueblo Loop Trail)

You don’t have to wander far to see how impressive Bandelier National Monument is. Hike the Main Loop Trail (Pueblo Loop Trail) along the canyon walls.

  • Trail Name: Main Loop Trail (Pueblo Loop Trail)
  • Distance: 1.4-mile loop
  • Time to hike: 45 minutes to 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy (caveat – there are some stairs)

Trail Details: Some of the trail is paved, and some is a nice wide pebble path that takes hikers by archeological sites, pit houses, and cliffside dwellings such as the Long House and Talus House.

Travel Tip: You can buy a trail guide at the visitor center to do a self-guided tour of the archeological sites. There are kivas and small alcoves to admire.

The geologic formations are awesome to see throughout the canyon (Frijoles Canyon).

Hike to the Alcove House

The Alcove House is 140 feet from the bottom of Frijoles Canyon. Inside the Alcove, there are archeological ruins and incredible views. You can see remnants of the kiva.

  • Trail Name: Alcove House Trail via Main Loop Trail
  • Distance: ½ mile each way from the branch of the Main Loop Trail
  • Time to hike: 45 minutes to 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Hard – multiple wooden ladders, steep drop-offs, heights

Trail Details: Once you get to the furthest point of the official Main Loop Trail, there will be a place to branch and get on the trail that leads to the Alcove House (cave-dwelling). It is another ½ mile each way to get to the Alcove House. You have to climb ladders to get into the cove.

AllTrails rates the Alcove House Trail as easy, but the ladder climb is definitely something folks want to be careful and thoughtful about while climbing up and down. It is very steep.

Why We Loved This Hike: This is one of the most remarkable hikes we have done in New Mexico. Though it is short, it makes for an exciting adventure because you have to climb up multiple tiers of wood ladders to reach the Alcove House Ceremonial Cave.

If you don’t mind heights and like a little bit of an adrenaline rush, this is an awesome trail.

Have a Picnic Along Frijoles Creek

Enjoy the forest and surrounding area after hiking. There are multiple places to picnic within the park.

Be sure to bring your own food, snacks, and water. The park is located in a rural area, and there are not many options for food. There is a small park store within the visitor center.

Explore the Visitor Center

Long House Bandelier National Monument New Mexico
Long house along the Big Loop Trail

When we visited during the fall of one year, a Native American drum team sang for visitors. It was beautiful. Hopefully, you can catch this experience during your trip. The visitor center also has a small museum.

Camping at Bandelier National Monument

There are two campgrounds within the park. Practice responsible camping etiquette to protect local wildlife. There are bears in the area, so you will want to have bear-proof food containers.

Juniper Family Campground

The Juniper campground is located just off Highway 4 near the park’s entrance.

Campsites are first-come, first-serve. There are no electrical hook-ups or showers. However, there is a restroom with running water.

Pets are allowed at the Juniper Campground (link to recreation.gov).

Ponderosa Group Campground

The Ponderosa campground is another place to camp at Bandelier National Monument. The campground is small, and reservations are required.

Check out recreation.gov to book. The campground is only open seasonally.

More Trails at Bandelier National Monument

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Tyuonyi village

The park has over 70 miles of trails to explore. If you’d like to hike more, there are longer and shorter trails to check out.

List of Short Trails

  • Frey Trail
  • Bandelier National Monument Falls Trail
  • Frijolito Loop Trail
  • Tyuonyi Overlook Trail
  • Cerro Grande Peak Trail
  • Burnt Mesa Trail
  • Tsankawi Trail
  • Falls Trail

Get more information on the short hiking trails and trail conditions from Bandelier National Monument.

Visitors can also participate in one of many ranger-led tours. A guided tour from the visitor center to the Tyuonyi Pueblo is available from July through September.

List of Longer Hikes

  • Painted Cave Trail
  • Yapahsi Pueblo Trail
  • Frijoles Rim and Canyon Trail

Check out more information on the longer trails at Bandelier National Monument.

Backcountry Hiking

Find more information on backcountry permits if you’re interested in backcountry hikes and camping. The park offers guided tours and backcountry tours.

Tips for Bandelier National Monument

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Views from the Alcove House

1. Get to Bandelier National Monument early. If you’re visiting during the summer, it can get hot, so it’s best to start hikes earlier in the day. Do you need to take the shuttle? More on the shuttle below.

2. Explore the hiking trails and visitor center.

3. Keep it casual. Wear comfortable clothes to hike in and dress appropriately for the weather. Don’t forget the sunscreen. You’re at a higher elevation.

4. Bring food, water, and snacks. The park is in a pretty rural location with limited cell phone reception. So you will want to bring your own food, water, and snacks.

5. Have a backup plan if the campgrounds are full. You might want to stay in Santa Fe.

Directions to Bandelier National Monument

From Santa Fe: Bandelier National Monument is about an hour’s drive. Head north out of Santa Fe on US-84 and exit onto NM-4W. There are lots of signs, and you can also use Google Maps. Google Maps will lead you to the main entrance.

 From Los Alamos: Bandelier National Monument is about 20 minutes south of NM 4-E.

Are you planning a road trip? Then, you might enjoy reading about 10 FREE apps for outdoor trip planning to find epic hiking, camping, and road trips!

Bandelier National Monument Map

Other Questions You May Have While Planning Your Trip

How much does it cost to go to Bandelier National Monument?

It is $25 per car to enter the park. The park is part of the National Park Service, and the annual America the Beautiful Pass is accepted.

Is there a shuttle bus at Bandelier National Monument?

Yes. From May through October, Bandelier can get very busy, and there is limited parking at the main parking lot. So, most visitors will need to park at the White Rock Visitor Center outside of the main entrance and take the shuttle to the visitor center, where you can access the Main Loop Trail and Alcove House Trail.

The White Rock Visitor Center address is: 115 State Road 4, White Rock, New Mexico 87547

When is the best time of year to visit?

If you don’t like crowds, go in the fall around mid-October. When we visited, we did not need to take the shuttle. Instead, we were able to park at the parking lot at the Frijoles Canyon visitor center (backpackers parking lot area).

The weather is gorgeous in northern New Mexico during mid-May; however, this is also when the crowds begin to pick up.

The spring and fall are great times of the year to hike and explore.

Is Bandelier National Monument worth visiting?

You should absolutely visit Bandelier National Monument. The area is incredibly gorgeous, and stopping to hike just two of the recommended trails above will give you memories of a lifetime. We think seeing the cliff dwellings is one of the best things about hiking in Northern New Mexico.

Are you exploring the Santa Fe area? Check out our article on the best day trips from Santa Fe.

What are the Bandelier National Monument hours?

Double-check the main park website for operating hours before planning your trip. The operating hours can change due to weather and holidays.

Also, be sure to check for any trail closures.

What is the elevation at Bandelier National Monument?

If you’re visiting the park from the flatlands, consider that the park’s highest point sits at an elevation of 10,199 feet. Be sure to take it slow when adventuring in higher altitudes.

Is Bandelier National Monument open year-round?

Since the park is located at a higher elevation, it can occasionally close due to snow. Therefore, be sure to check the operating status of the park before planning a trip.

Are dogs allowed at Bandelier National Monument?

Pets are not allowed on any of the trails or buildings. However, pets are allowed at the campgrounds.

Be sure to keep a close eye on your furry friends. The park is home to rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and bears.

Have Fun Exploring

We hope you have a wonderful trip exploring this incredible monument in northern New Mexico.

We think it is always fascinating to see ancient cliff dwellings in the southwest and trek along hiking trails that may have been precisely where ancestral Pueblo people once walked before. Can you imagine climbing up to some of these places every day or living in cave dwellings?

Thanks for reading.

Ashlee + Pablo


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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.

14 Comments

  1. Clarice on February 8, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    I’ve been wanting to check out some of the cave dwellings in NM for a while now – they look fascinating! Great tips here – I definitely think I’d want to visit during the shoulder season.



    • Ashlee Fechino on February 9, 2022 at 3:10 pm

      Hi Clarice! Shoulder season is the perfect time to hike at Bandelier National Monument 🙂



  2. anatureescape on February 3, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    We love a trail with a ladder!



    • Ashlee Fechino on February 4, 2022 at 12:43 pm

      Then you will LOVE hiking to the Alcove House! Have fun 🙂



  3. anatureescape on February 3, 2022 at 6:33 am

    We love a good loop trail, so the Pueblo trails looks perfect. Thanks for sharing!



    • Ashlee Fechino on February 3, 2022 at 1:23 pm

      Hi there – We hope you have a great trip visiting Bandelier. There are so many awesome hikes to do here!



  4. Bea on February 3, 2022 at 12:53 am

    Love that there’s a shuttle bus! One less thing to worry about. We would love to visit New Mexico in 2023 and we absolutely love hiking. I’m saving this for when we go. Thanks so much for the idea!



    • Ashlee Fechino on February 3, 2022 at 1:23 pm

      Hey Bea – Have a great trip to New Mexico in 2023! Thanks for reading. Happy hiking!



  5. Brittany on February 2, 2022 at 1:58 pm

    This is such a helpful post! I live in Arizona, and I’ve hardly spent any time in New Mexico. I’d love to spend a weekend in Santa Fe and visit the Bandelier National Monument. Thanks for sharing!



    • Ashlee Fechino on February 3, 2022 at 1:22 pm

      Brittany – you’ll love exploring Bandelier National Monument and the Santa Fe area. It is a gorgeous area!



  6. Lita on February 2, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    We were just near there! If only I had seen your post before we left the area. That looks like a very cool monument to go exploring, we have yet to go see any cliff dwellings and I really want to! Thank you for sharing.



    • Ashlee Fechino on February 3, 2022 at 1:22 pm

      Hi Lita! You’ll have to check out the hikes at Bandelier National Monument next time you are in the area. So fun!



  7. Burt Randall on January 20, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    This sounds like fun…when we, as a family, were younger, we would go camping and hiking every other weekend, in the summers. We lived out west. THANKS for this article , Ashlee + Pablo !!



    • Ashlee Fechino on January 20, 2022 at 5:14 pm

      Hi Burt! Thanks for sharing about your camping and hiking trips growing up out west. Sounds so nice 🙂