Bandelier National Monument – Everything you need to know for your visit

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Trust us, Bandelier National Monument is one of the things you MUST see when visiting New Mexico. We got you covered with everything that you need to know for your visit.

As we arrived in New Mexico we were amazed about this part of the States! Bandelier National Monument was one of the things we did in our first two weeks while traveling to New Mexico and it is not exaggerated when we say that this sight is one of our favorites so far in this beautiful state!

It was not only feeling spiritual and magical but also pushed us out of our comfort zone. Why? Keep reading about the hike we did!

Where is Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is in the Frijoles Canyon in Northern New Mexico. It is only about 1 hour northwest of Santa Fe and 2 hours north of Albuquerque, which makes it a perfect day trip or weekend getaway!

It is possible to combine a visit to Bandelier National Monument with Los Alamos, which is a short 30-minute drive. While in Los Alamos, be sure to visit the Manhattan Project National Historical Park and the fascinating Bradbury Science Museum.

What is Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier is a National Monument, that features dwellings that were carved into the steep cliff walls of Frijoles Canyon. There are also kivas and countless petroglyphs.

A kiva is a meeting place, where ancestral people got together for ceremonies and rituals. They are usually round buildings and are still used today for social activities.

The Bandelier National Monument is known for the ancient dwellings that can be seen up close. Many of them can be entered by climbing wooden ladders.

Archaeologists have dated human presence in the region going back over 11,000 years, with permanent settlement starting in Bandelier by ancestral Puebloan people by 1150 CE (AD). By about 1550 CE (AD), the settlement at Bandelier, like many other Pueblos in the area, was abandoned.

When to go to Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier is open dawn to dusk year-round, except on Christmas, or on heavy snow days.

We visited in July, which was very hot. If you do visit in the summer, be sure to get there in the early morning as the west-facing cliffs do provide some shade.

If you want to escape the heat, we recommend visiting Bandelier in late spring/early summer, or in autumn.

Tip: Call the Visitor Center to check out current weather conditions to know if it might impact some trails. You can also visit the National Park Service website to get the latest alerts.

Getting around Bandelier National Monument

For part of the year, Bandelier National Monument is only accessible via shuttle. The free shuttle departs from the White Rock Visitor Center and runs daily from 9 am to 3 pm. If you arrive outside of those hours, you can drive your own car. Note that parking at the Bandelier Visitor Center is very limited.

You can access the campgrounds by car; however, all trails are for walking only. The trails are, depending on the hike, either easy, flat, and paved, or more difficult with some steep drop-offs.

Hikes at Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument offers over 70 miles of trails covering 33,000 acres of land. No matter which hikes you choose, we promise it will be rewarding.

Bandelier has a beautiful variety of hikes for everyone. Some of the hikes are paved and flat. Keep in mind that these are sacred spaces. Don’t leave the path, and do NOT climb, stand, or sit on the walls or structures!

Bandelier offers the possibility to climb into cliff dwellings, and it gives you a vision of how Ancestral Puebloan people lived many years ago.

We were at the Bandelier National Monument on a boiling hot day in July and decided to only do the Main Pueblo Loop Trail and the Alcove House and were astonished by the surrounding nature and the cliff dwellings!

If you stay in the park longer and are eager to do more hikes (which we would recommend- but not in July or August – lol), here are the hikes you can choose from:

Short trails:

Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail

Alcove House

Tsankawi

Falls Trail

Frey Trail

Frijolito Loop Trail

Tyuonyi Overlook Trail

Burnt Mesa Trail

Cerro Grande Route

Alamo Boundary Trail

Long hikes:

Frijoles Rim and Canyon Trail

Yapahsi Pueblo

Painted Cave

Our hike at the Bandelier National Monument

We hiked the Main Pueblo Loop and the Alcove House Trail. The average time needed for the Main Pueblo Loop is around one hour. The average time to walk to the Alcove House, including the climb up, is estimated to be 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on how long you stay in the cliff dwelling and your walking pace.

Hiking both trails took us a little bit over 4.5 hours as we stopped several times to take pictures and videos, and just enjoy the view!

The Main Pueblo Loop Trail

The Main Pueblo Loop trail is the 1.4-mile, or 2.2-kilometer loop that took us to the main archaeological sites of the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House. Much of the trail is paved, however, there are stairs to climb if you want a close-up visit of the cliff dwellings.

Map of Bandelier National Monument
Map of Bandelier National Monument

The first stop on the Main Loop trail is the Big Kiva. The Big Kiva was a community meeting place where ancestral Pueblo people celebrated religious and political life. This is still the case today.

The next stop on the trail is Tyuonyi. Tyuonyi was once a 2-story house with over 400 rooms. The people, however, used it mostly for storing food and lived in cliff dwellings like the Talus House. It was probably more secure in the cliffs and provided beautiful views of the Frijoles Canyon.

We climbed up a ladder into one of the cliff dwellings of the Talus House section of the trail and enjoyed the phenomenal view. We tried to imagine what life must have been like back then. Little did we know what unforgettable climb was still to come!

The next highlight on the Pueblo Loop Trail was the Long House! The houses here were built into a long, steep cliff, some of them up to 3 to 4 stories! You could see petroglyphs along the way, and it was fun spotting them and trying to envision how they were painted.

Long House at Bandelier National Monument
Long House at Bandelier National Monument

The Alcove House

After seeing the Big Kiva and Cliff Dwellings, the Main Pueblo Loop makes a turn and goes back to the visitor center. OR you can decide to continue to the Alcove House!

The unpaved path to the Alcove House was an easy stroll through lush green bushes which gave us much-needed shade in the heat of the day. The extra trail off the Main Loop Trail is half a mile one way and is totally worth it. Even if you decide not to climb the steep ladders.

The Alcove House is located 140 feet, or 42 meters high above the floor of Frijoles Canyon. And if you do decide to dare the climb up the steep, long ladders that lean against the rocks, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views. And the satisfaction that you made it!

The way up to Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument
The way up to Alcove House at Bandelier National Monument

Leaving our comfort zone

This is something that definitely pushed us out of our comfort zones! When we saw others fearlessly climbing the long, seemingly never-ending ladders (four of them in total!!), we gained the courage to do it as well. And even though we read the sign that people who have a fear of heights should consider going back and not attempt it, we were determined to get to the Alcove House!

First of four ladders that leads inside the cliff dwelling Alcove House at Bandelier
First of four ladders that leads inside the cliff dwelling Alcove House at Bandelier

Pulling ourselves together we started going up the first ladder. And were surprised how easy it was – if you don’t look down! We knew that the most difficult part was going to be getting back down. But we didn’t want to waste a thought on that just yet!

Once we made it to the top, I had to sit down because my legs were shaking. It was still scary for me to go up that height. I was so proud that not only did I attempt the climb, but that I made it!

The Alcove House was very impressive, and the views were fantastic. We took our time, soaking in the incredible view. And gathering the nerves for the climb down.

View from the Alcove House at Bandelier
View from the Alcove House at Bandelier

The way down from the Alcove House

When it was time for our descent, I felt my heart pounding. I repeated to myself that I can make it! But just after climbing down the first ladder, I knew that this was not going to be a piece of cake. I was so shaky. My shins were hurting because I was pressing them against the ladder for extra stability and security. And my hands were burning because the ladder and railing had become very hot from the sun.

It sounds dramatic, but I was fearing for my life. I didn’t want to slip and fall. There was nothing but a very long drop-off on my right. I kept staring at my feet, focusing on the ladder, knowing that I would freeze if I looked to my right or down.

Going down seemed like hours to me, but we finally made it! James was following, and I could tell by his huge smile how proud he was of me. And how happy he was that I joined him for this unforgettable experience!

Our Opinion

After our Alcove House adventure, we walked back to the visitor center via the second half of the Main Pueblo Loop. The way back was nice and shady, and we even saw a deer.

We were in awe walking in the footsteps of Ancestral Puebloan people and took our time exploring Bandelier, admiring the petroglyphs, and the views, and wondering what life was like here.

If you visit Bandelier, make sure to stay overnight. This way you can experience the sunset and sunrise at this unique place. And even try some more hikes. We regret that we didn’t spend the night and will surely do so next time!

We loved Bandelier National Monument so much. It not only taught us more about the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, but it pushed us beyond our comfort zones, and provided us with memories that we will never forget!

Happy faces inside the Alcove House at Bandelier
Happy faces inside the Alcove House at Bandelier

Bandelier National Monument Facts

  • Bandelier National Monument and the Visitor Center are open year-round.
  • The free shuttle runs from 9 am and 3 pm daily from the White Rocks Visitor Center to the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center.
  • The shuttle takes around 25 minutes.
  • The last shuttle from the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center departs at 5 pm.
  • The shuttle runs every 30 minutes and every 20 minutes during the weekends.
  • Free parking is available at the Visitor Center. HOWEVER, since there is only very limited parking, it is best to use the free shuttle bus. You can arrive before 9 am or after 3 pm with your own vehicle.
  • The entry fee into Bandelier is US $25 per car. Permits can be bought at the Visitor Center or online.
  • Most National Parks or Monuments cost between $20 to $35 each. If you are planning to visit several parks, the yearly “America the Beautiful” pass will save you money. A yearly pass for ALL US National Parks can be purchased for US $80 per car, per year. You can order the park pass online or purchase it at most National Park Visitor Centers.
  • The Visitor Center is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
  • The Main Pueblo Loop Trail is mostly flat, paved, and wheelchair- or stroller-friendly.
  • Pets are not allowed on any of the trails at the National Monument. However, you can leave your pets at the Cottonwood picnic area, the parking lot in front of the visitor center, or at Juniper Campground.
  • If you want to hike the backcountry you will need a wilderness permit. This permit is free and available at the visitor center.
  • Backcountry camping is available with a permit from the visitor center.
  • There are 2 campgrounds within the National Monument: Juniper and Ponderosa Campground.

More Facts

  • Depending on ranger availability you can join free programs about geology, plants, animals, etc.
  • Bears have been spotted in the canyon, and it is important to never feed wildlife or leave food where animals can get it. Not only is it for your own safety but for the safety of the bears and all wildlife!
  • Other residents of the canyon include rattlesnakes, mountain lions, bobcats, elk, and deer. Please respect wildlife!
  • Choose hikes that are within your ability.
  • Respect these sacred spaces. Don’t leave the path, and do NOT climb, stand, or sit on the walls or structures!
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • Be aware of weather conditions.
  • LEAVE NO TRACE!!
Encounter at Bandelier National Monument
Encounter at Bandelier National Monument

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