Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument

Walking & Hiking


Days are warm but nights are cool to cold.  The first snow of the season may fall by month's end.  This is usually an excellent time for hiking in the park's backcountry.  Fall color starts in the high country and drops to the lower canyons by mid to late month.  Although there is only a little red and no orange, gold is the color of the fall here and it is done very, very well.  Tarantulas may be seen crossing roadways or trails.  Be careful not to accidentally (or purposely) end their precarious search for a mate by running them over or stepping on them.  Reptiles are also very active on these final warm days trying to fatten themselves up for the cold winter ahead. Visitation remains high during the first part of the month as many visitors and buses arrive from Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque.  After Balloon Fiesta visitation drops off sharply and remains slow but steady the rest of the month. 

Frijoles Canyon and Rim Trail

The Frijoles Rim and Canyon Trail is a 13 mile loop that climbs out of Frijoles Canyon near the visitor center, follows the canyon rim, drops back into Frijoles Canyon at Upper Crossing, and returns to the visitor center via the canyon bottom. The trail in Frijoles Canyon crosses the creek numerous times. There are no bridges. Be careful as rocks in the creek can be slippery. Poison ivy, ticks, and stinging neetle can be plentiful on this lush section of the trail.

Getting Around

A paved road leads from the entrance to the campground, Visitor Center, and a picnic area. Access to the archeological sites is by foot. The main trail is 1.2 miles round-trip. Portions of the trail are relatively flat and permit access by wheelchair. Other parts include stairs and a chance to climb ladders into cavates. An additional mile round-trip walk leads to Alcove House which is reached by climbing 4 ladders and a number of stone stairs. Winter weather can limit what areas can be visited.  Approximately 70 miles of backcountry trails are available for day or overnight foot travel (wilderness permit required for overnight use; available at visitor center).

Longer Hikes

Within Bandelier's 33,000 acres there are over 70 miles of trail. Some trails are short easy loops while others can encompasses many miles and steep rocky switchbacks. There are even two trails designated for cross-country skiing in the winter. Longer trails often involve hiking more than 10 miles round-trip. Wilderness permits are available at the visitor center for overnight stays in the park's backcountry. Water is not readily available on most backcountry trails. Check at the visitor center for details.

Stock animals are allowed on some trails (day use only) with a permit available at the visitor center. Pets are not permitted on any park trails.

Tyuonyi Overlook Trail

The Tyuonyi Overlook Trail begins at Juniper Campground and crosses the mesa to an amazing overlook of Frijoles Canyon and Tyuonyi Pueblo. The 2.2 mile round-trip trail is relatively level but prone to be dusty or muddy depending on the season. This trail is an excellent place to see the common plants of the Pinon-Juniper woodland and some even less common ones like Alligator Juniper. The trail passes a number of archeological sites. Please don't climb on the walls or remove artifacts.


Burnt Mesa Trail

The Burnt Mesa Trailhead is located less than .5 miles west of TA 49 on Highway 4. This easy trail is relatively flat and an excellent place to see summer wildflowers, birds, and butterflies. The 2.5 mile (one way)  trail traverses the mesas and ends at a steep drop-off into a side canyon of Frijoles Canyon.


Frey Trail

Before the construction of the entrance road in the late 1930's, the Frey Trail ( 1.5 miles one way) was the main route to enter and exit Frijoles Canyon. The trail begins at Juniper Campground and makes its way to the edge of the canyon where it switchbacks down to the canyon floor (>550' elevation change). The trail provides excellent bird's eye views of Tyuonyi as well as a foot route from the campground to the visitor center. A somewhat strenuous trail at any time, it can be exceeding difficult in summer as there is little shelter from the sun along the trail. Be sure and always carry plenty of water.

Painted Cave

There are two access points to start a hike to Painted Cave: the visitor center or the Dome Trailhead. The round-trip hike from the visitor center is 22 miles up and down steep-walled canyons on switchbacked trails with no reliable access to water. The round-trip from Dome Trailhead, which is located off of Forest Service Road 142, is 14.5 miles. This trailhead can be accessed only by high clearance vehicles. Wet weather or downed trees can make the trailhead inaccessible by vehicle.


 The Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument is located on State Highway 4 twelve miles from the main section of the park. At Tsankawi you take a 1.5 mile walk along a mesa, viewing cavates, petroglyphs and the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. Ladders are a required part of this trail. The trail is very exposed to the elements and should not be taken during localized thunderstorms.  Cold, snowy weather can make the trail slippery so extra care should be taken when visiting in winter.

Unfortunately, Tsankawi is not the easiest place to find. 

  • Coming from Santa Fe you'll turn from State Highway 502 to State Highway 4. Less than 1/4 of a mile past this turn Tsankawi will be located on the left hand side of the road.  There are no signs for Tsankawi on Highway 4. If you get to the stoplight, you've gone too far.  A large gravel parking area adjacent to the highway and a sign on the fence will indicate you've found the place.
  • Coming from Bandelier, Tsankawi is much easier to find. Just past the 3rd stoplight, the gravel parking lot for Tsankawi will be on your right-hand side.


Falls Trail Virtual Tour

The story of the Falls Trail is the story of water. Water that tumbles and flows from snow melt and springs in the Jemez Mountains to the slowly moving Rio Grande (big river) some 4,600 feet below. Two dramatic waterfalls mark geologic transitions along the 700 foot descent from the Visitor Center. The Falls Trail follows El Rito de Los Frijoles (Frijoles Creek or Little River of Beans) 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the end of the Backpacker's Parking Lot to the Upper Falls and then continues another mile (1.4 km) past a second waterfall and finally to the Rio Grande.






Main Loop Trail

The Main Loop Trail is a 1.2 mile loop trail through archeological sites. Ladders along the trail allow visitors to climb into cavates (small human-carved alcoves). The Main Loop Trail takes you past the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House. The first section of this trail is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers; however, the second part contains areas with numerous narrow stone stairways. In winter, this is the only trail on which the snow is removed.

The morning after a winter snow this trail may be closed for a few hours while staff remove the snow from the trail.  A trail closure will be indicated by a sign at the start of the trail.  Please obey closure signs.  Walking on the snowy trail leaves dangerous ice that can remain for months.  Check at the visitor center for details.

CCC Walking Tour Virtual Tour

Bandelier was established as a National Monument in 1916, but until the mid-30's the only visitor facility in Frijoles Canyon was a lodge built in 1909 by Judge A. J. Abbott. Even by 1925 when George and Evelyn Frey acquired the lease to run the lodge, the only way for visitors to access the canyon bottom and the lodge was on foot. Much of the Freys' food came from their garden and livestock, but everything else - visitors, archeologists, supplies, and the Freys themselves whenever they had to get groceries or mail - had to come down this trail.

In 1932, when Bandelier was transferred from the United States Forest Service to the National Park Service, Frank "Boss" Pinkley was the Superintendent of the Southwestern National Monuments. He knew that to make it possible for more people to visit Bandelier, improved facilities and better access into the canyon were necessary. When the Emergency Conservation Work Act in 1933 created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), funding and workers became available to do this work.

The CCC was a Depression-era program designed to produce public works while providing much-needed jobs and work experience for men between the ages of 17 and 26. With the desperate nationwide lack of employment, young men welcomed the opportunity to get room, board, and training. The pay was $1 a day, and at the end of each month they received $5 of that, while the rest was sent home to their families. It is hard today to imagine what a difference that money made to families in rural New Mexico, as well as all over the country. Older, skilled workers, known as LEM's (Local Experienced Men), taught the enrollees marketable skills including carpentry, tinwork, furniture making, carving, and masonry.

As soon as a CCC camp was approved for Bandelier, "Boss" Pinkley began putting together plans for the road into the canyon and facilities for visitors. It was considered very important for park structures to harmonize with the environment and local culture, so a regionally-popular style often called Pueblo Revival was chosen. The Park Service architect, Lyle Bennett, had worked on several other Park Service and CCC buildings in the Southwest and was well schooled in this style.

The first project, the road, was opened as a truck trail in 1933. Over the next 8 years the enrollees built 31 stone buildings for visitor facilities, Park Service residences, offices, the fire tower and entrance station, along with the hand-carved wood furniture and pierced-tin light fixtures to furnish them. Their work also included building trails, helping archeologists stabilize the Ancestral Pueblo sites, and widening and completing the road. In late 1941, the work was essentially complete, and the camp was moved out of Frijoles Canyon. In December of that year, the United States entered World War II, and most CCC enrollees all over the country had soon enlisted in the Armed Services, thus ending the CCC era.

As you tour these buildings, remember they were done in a time of national economic emergency, by young men learning skills under the supervision of local experienced craftsmen. There was little funding for supplies, necessitating the use of local materials, but an almost unlimited supply of labor, resulting in beautiful, painstaking handwork that would be almost impossible to duplicate today. They are a true tribute to the CCC program and its participants.

For complete 14-page walking tour, go to:

Things To Do

Most visitors begin their exploration of Bandelier with a walk on the Main Loop Trail. This short 1.2 mile loop trail starts from the Visitor Center and leads through excavated archeological sites on the floor of Frijoles Canyon. A portion of this trail is handicapped accessible. Other trails in this area include the 5 mile round-trip Falls Trail to the Rio Grande and various trails of different lengths and difficulty leading up to the mesa tops.

The Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument is 12 miles from the main section of the park. At Tsankawi you take a 1.5 mile walk along a mesa, viewing cavates, petroglyphs and the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. Climbing ladders is a required activity at this site. For visitors looking for longer hikes, the Bandelier Backcountry offers countless opportunities for all day journeys and multiple-day overnight backpacking trips. Most of the 70 miles of trails are in the officially designated wilderness areas. Permits are required for overnight stays.

Ranger-guided tours are available to get the most out of your visit to Bandelier. Guided tours of the Main Loop Trail are offered almost everyday. Evening campfire programs are offered on weekends in the Summer. The popular Nightwalk, a silent walk in the the darkness of Frijoles Canyon, is offered once a week in the Summer; contact the Visitor Center for reservations.



Alcove House

Half way through the Main Loop Trail a choice must be made, turn back toward the visitor center or continue another half mile each way ( 1 mile round trip) to Alcove House.  Formerly known as Ceremonial Cave, this alcove is located 140 feet above the floor of Frijoles Canyon. Once home to approximately 25 Ancestral Pueblo people, the elevated site is now reached by 4 wooden ladders and a number of stone stairs. In Alcove House, there is a reconstructed kiva and the viga holes and niches of former homes. Imagine climbing these ladders, carrying whatever supplies were needed, to this lofty home.

After snow falls, the climb up into Alcove House may be closed. The ladders, the stone stairs, and even the walkways to reach this Ancestral Pueblo site can be very icy and dangerous. In winters with abundant snowfall the ladders can be closed for many weeks.  This climb is reopened as soon as it can be done safely. A metal gate and a sign at the base of the stairs will indicate if Alcove House is closed. Check at the visitor center for details.


Nightwalks are special evening interpretive programs offered once weekly during the summer, between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, and twice in the week between Christmas and New Year's. For summer 2008, Nightwalks will be given on Wednesday nights. Programs in May, June, and July begin at 9:00 PM. In August they begin at 8:45 PM. Participants are required to be silent during the one hour walk that allows visitors to step back in time. This walk is not recommended for children or others who can not participate without talking or whispering.  There is a charge for this program ($6/adult and $3/child or senior with pass) and reservations are required (call 505-672-3861 x 517 during business hours).

Tsankawi Trail Virtual Tour

In the 1400's, Tsankawi was home to the Ancestral Tewa Pueblo people. Today their descendents live in nearby San Ildefonso Pueblo. The Ancestral Pueblo people built homes of volcanic rock and adobe (mud), cultivating fields in the open canyons below. Their daily lives of hard work and family left their mark on the land. Low stone walls, carved drawings in the rock faces, and fragments of utilitarian objects are important artifacts left by the Ancestral Pueblo people. For the people of San Ildefonso Pueblo these sites represent much more than interesting glimpses into the past. Although the present-day Pueblo people do not occupy Tsankawi on a daily basis, the site serves an important role in their spiritual lives and provides both tangible and intangible connections with traditions passed down through generations. As you walk these ancient trails remember Tsankawi is a timeless place where echoes of a distant past intersect the present. Parents raised children here. Together they fought the ravages of nature to survive in these now vacant rooms and along these dusty trails. Please treat this place with the same respect you would treat anyone's home.

Backpacking in Bandelier

There are over 70 miles of trail within Bandelier National Monument. Trails tend either follow mesa edges or transect canyons and mesas. Some of these trails can include steep switchbacks and long drop-offs. Trails can be very icy in winter or early spring. Some trails marked on older maps are no longer maintained and may be impossible to find. Be sure to check on trail conditions by calling the visitor center at (505)672-3861 x 517.

A permit is required for any overnight stays in the backcountry.  Permits are free and can obtained anytime the visitor center is open, except in the last 20 minutes before closing.

Water availability is very limited in the backcountry. Adequate water should always be carried. Water from streams or springs must be treated before use. Water from the Rio Grande should never be used as drinking water as most portable filters do not remove items such as pesticides.  Dehydration can be a major problem any time of the year because the air tends to be extremely dry.

Winter weather includes storms, snow, and very cold temperatures (lows from 10' to -10's). Many trails can be extremely icy. Spring weather is very variable and can change quickly. It is also the season for strong winds which often accompany a rapid change in temperature. Summer is warm, with temperatures on the open mesas being extremely hot (> 100). In late summer, thunderstorms are often a regular occurrence in the afternoons. Lightening associated with these storms can make travel on the mesatops very dangerous.

Rattlesnakes are not uncommon especially in the riparian areas and on rocky slopes. Mountain lions, black bear, and bobcats are residents in the park. Be prepared for a possible encounter. Always hang your food to keep it away from scavengers like raccoons and ringtails.

A map is an essential backpacking item. On a plateau cut by steep canyons trails meander, switchback, and follow topographic features. A detailed topographic map of the park is available from Western National Parks Association for $9.95. It can be purchased upon your arrival, ordered on-line, or can be ordered by calling (505)672-3861 x 515.

Short Trails

Within Bandelier's 33,000 acres there are over 70 miles of trail. Some trails are short easy loops while others can encompasses many miles and steep rocky switchbacks. There are even two trails designated for cross-country skiing in the winter.

Stock animals are allowed on some trails (day use only) with a permit available at the visitor center. Pets are not permitted on any park trails.

Falls Trail

The Falls Trail starts at the end of the Backpacker's Parking Lot near the visitor center. The trail descends 700 vertical feet in its 2.5 mile length passing two waterfalls and ending at the Rio Grande. A beautiful trail in any season, this trail is not cleared of snow in the winter. There are steep dropoffs along the trail and places where hikers must hop the creek. Keep children close at all times and watch for wildlife. Take plenty of water. Water from the creek should not be drunk without first treating it.


The Falls Trail was affected by a flashflood in late August, 2007. Several bridges were destroyed and the trail was washed out in many places. In the months that followed trail crews, some paid and some volunteer, worked to repair the damage. Now, there are only a few reminders of the devastation caused by this short-term but powerful event.

A second flashflood in late January affected the area of the Falls Trail below Lower Falls. If hiking in this area, watch for blue flagging to stay on the trail.

A group of feral cattle, including several large bulls, have been encountered in the area at the mouth of Frijoles Creek (where the Falls Trail ends at the Rio Grande). These bulls have exhibited some aggressive behavior. As with native wild animals, do not approach them. Please report any hostile behavior.

Alamo Boundary Trail

Alamo Boundary Trail is a relatively easy hike from FS 289 to the boundary between the monument and the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The trail is only 1.3 miles each way but it also connects with the Coyote Call Trail on the Valles Caldera. Elevation change on the Alamo Boundary Trail is only 400'. This a trail is a great place for solitude.

Yapashi Pueblo

Yapashi Pueblo is located 6 miles from the visitor center at Bandelier.  The hike to Yapashi is strenuous, passing through Mid-Alamo Canyon (>500' elevation change in less that 1/4 mile).  Except in a spring after a snowy winter, water is rarely available along this route.

Cerro Grande Route

The Cerro Grande Route winds its way up to the highest point in the park, Cerro Grande Peak (10,199 ft). The preferred route is marked by yellow diamonds and is fairly steep. Two miles each way (4 mi round trip) this route passes through the mixed conifer forest and is an excellent place to see wildflowers in mid to late summer. The view from the summit of the Valles Caldera and lower Bandelier is also quite spectacular. Remember, as this trail is begins at high elevation and ends at even higher elevation snow may be present through many of the seasons. In late summer, thunderstorms can pose a serious threat. Before hiking be sure you are prepared. There is no water available along this route.

Frijolito Loop Trail

Frijolito Loop Trail begins in Cottonwood Picnic Area, just across the bridge from the visitor center. The trail climbs out of Frijoles Canyon via a steep switchback path, crosses the mesa past an unexcavated archeological site (Frijolito Pueblo) and then drops back into Frijoles Canyon on the Long Trail. Total distance is 2.5 miles. This trail is fairly strenuous and can be extremely icy in winter. There is no water available anywhere on this route.

Hiking in Bandelier

Bandelier National Monument has over 70 miles of trail within its boundaries and many more miles that connect out into the adjacent Santa Fe National Forest Lands. The most popular of these trails are the Main Loop Trail and Alcove House Trail (click on the Short Trails highlight to the right) which are accessed from the visitor center in Frijoles Canyon. These trails take you to many Ancestral Pueblo sites.

The Falls Trail is another trail that is very popular. It takes you past two beautiful waterfalls and ultimately to the Rio Grande. There are no archeological sites on this trail.

Bandelier also offers opportunities for much longer hikes. Permits are available for overnight stays in much of Bandelier's backcountry.

Main Loop Trail Virtual Tour

The Main Loop Trail provides access to the main archeological sites in Bandelier National Monument. There is evidence of people being in Bandelier National Monument area that dates back 10,000 years. The Ancestral Pueblo people settled in Frijoles Canyon building the stone dwellings that you will see. From this trail you can access the account parking, the picnic area, the Alcove House, the Frey Trail and Juniper Campground.