#9 – Bandelier National Monument – Los Alamos, NM

  • Scenic Views
  • Photographic Opportunities
  • Road Conditions
  • Trail Hiking Level
  • Adventures
  • Wildlife

Park Stop #9 – Bandelier National Monument – Los Alamos, NM

Just outside the town of Los Alamos is the fabulous Bandelier National Monument. Covering approximately 50 square miles of the Pajarito Plateau (33,677 acres), the monument protects ancestral pueblo structures that date back two eras, in total from 1150 to 1600 AD. The monument is named for Adolph Bandelier, a Swiss-American anthropologist who researched the cultures of the area and supported preservation of the sites.

Over 70% of the monument is wilderness, reaching from the Rio Grande at about 5,000-foot elevation to over 10,000 feet at the peak of Cerro Grande on the rim of the Valles Caldera. There are three miles of road, and more than 70 miles of hiking trails. With human history extending back over 10,000 years when nomadic hunter-gatherers followed migrating wildlife across the mesas and canyons, Bandelier is a must see for anyone interested in the ancient history of the southwest. Ancestral Pueblo people built permanent settlements dating back to 1150 AD. In the mid-1700’s Spanish settlers made their homes in Frijoles Canyon.

In February 1916 legislation to create Bandelier National Monument was signed by President Woodrow Wilson. In 1925 Evelyn Frey and her husband, George, arrived to take over the Ranch of the 10 Elders that had been built by Judge Abbott in 1907. Between 1934 and 1941 workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) worked from a camp constructed in Frijoles Canyon, they built the main roads, miles of hiking trails, the visitor center and a lodge. Interesting to note is that for several years during World War II the park was closed to the public and the Bandelier lodge was used to house Manhattan Project scientists and military personnel.

Operating Hours - General Info

Bandelier National Monument is open daily, year round, from dawn to dusk except during heavy snow days or other emergencies. Frijoles Canyon, Tsankawi , and all park trails are open to recreation from dawn to dusk. Visits May-October between 9am and 3pm require visitors to use of the shuttle from White Rock visitor center – there are exceptions see NPS website for details.

Located about 12 miles from the town of Los Alamos, just past White Rock off New Mexico 4 on the left, is the entrance to the monument. A paved road leads from the entrance to the campground, Visitor Center, and a picnic area. Access to the archeological sites is by foot. Visitor Center hours are:

Winter Hours – 9 AM to 5 PM

Summer Hours are – 9 AM to 6 PM during shuttle season (mid-May to mid-October).

NOTE: Backpacking permits are required for overnight use and must be obtained up to 1 hour before closing at the Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center for any overnight stays in the park’s backcountry.

Non-commercial vehicle entry fee is $20 per vehicle; $15 for motorcycles (2 people) with no per person fee. A per person fee of $10 is charged for those arriving by foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus. America the beautiful passes are accepted, and there are discount passes for military, seniors, and those with permanent disabilities. Most holidays are free entrance.

Except for service animals, pets are allowed only in designated areas, which include campgrounds and some picnic areas. Pets are not allowed on any of the trails. All animals must be leashed or tied up at all times.

Location Coordinates: 35°46′44″N 106°19′16″W

Things To Do

Hiking, backpacking, camping, interpretive programs and several guided tours. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are available in the winter months. Bandelier has a Fall Festival planned for 2017 as well as “Opera on the Rocks” once per year in the fall. Boating on the Rio Grande can also be done nearby. The NPS web site has detailed information on all of these activities.

Permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry of the monument. Evening campfire programs and night sky programs are offered on weekends in the summer. Not to be missed is the “Nightwalk”, a silent walk in the darkness of Frijoles Canyon, that is offered once a week in the summer.

The significant elevation change within the monument supports quite a diverse range of wildlife, plants species, and geological formations. Beautiful rock formations abound and don’t be surprised to happen upon mule deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and all manner of birds while hiking or camping. The ancestral ruins within the monument are simply fascinating even with the ladder climbing that must be done to see them all.

Hiking Trails

The main trail is a short 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.

Exploration of Bandelier is done on foot with many opportunities for short of long hikes. A short 1.2 mile walk on the Main 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.

Another fairly short trail is the 3 mile round-trip Falls Trail to the beautiful Upper Falls and then there are various trails of different lengths and difficulty leading up to the mesa tops. The Tsankawi section of Bandelier is 12 miles from the main section of the park and can be reached by car. 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. Some other shorter hikes include Frey Trail, Frijolito Loop Trail, Tyuonyi Overlook Trail, Burnt Mesa Trail, Cerro Grande Route and the Alamo Boundary Trail.

 For visitors looking for longer hikes, the Bandelier Backcountry offers countless opportunities for all day journeys and multiple-day overnight backpacking trips. Some of the more popular trails are Frijoles Rim and Canyon Trail, Yapahsi Pueblo, and Painted Cave.

Camping & Lodging

Jemez Falls Campground – Open May- October – Nearby

The campground is located in a stunning Ponderosa Pine and forest meadow near the East Fork Jemez River. Jemez Falls, largest waterfall in the Jemez Mountains, is close by. The campground has 52 camp sites with picnic table and fire ring. Paved access which allows trailers and RV’s up to 40 feet. Vault toilets, no dump station available. Drinking water is available. $10/vehicle/night for single unit.

Juniper Family Campground – Open all Year – In the Park

Located near the entrance to the Bandelier National Park, just off Highway 4. After passing through the park entrance station take the first right turn. Juniper Campground rarely fills to capacity and are first come first served, no reservations are taken, and rarely needed. There is also a small section of walkout campsites ($12/night). Cost for family camping is $12/night with a fifty percent discount for holders of federal senior or federal access passes. Fees are paid at a self-registration kiosk located near the entrance to the campground.

A restroom with running water is centrally located in each campground loop. Each site has a picnic table and a grill. There are no electrical hook-ups or showers available. Most sites are appropriate for tent, RV, or trailer camping. Several sites can accommodate vehicles as long as 40 feet.

Ponderosa Group Campground – Open all Year – Nearby

With only two beautiful camp site this campground is designed for groups larger than 10. Demand is high for this campground so be sure to make reservations early. 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 and is usually free of snow from mid-April through mid-October. Water is not available during any months with freezing temperatures. Cost for a site in this campground is $35/night or $35/day-use for a reserved campsite.

Food & Gas

Bandelier Trading Company offers a nice selection of gifts and food for your visit. Offering water, soups, sandwiches and other light fare you should be able to find what you need to keep you going. There are gas stations and a variety of restaurants in Los Alamos. Home to Los Alamos Laboratories, and with stunning views of its own, the town has a lot to offer for restaurant choices.

Best Time To Visit

Late spring to early fall.

Each season offers a different experience: budding springs, moderate summers, the golden colors of fall, and powder snow winters. The busy season in Bandelier runs from May-October.

The climate is usually dry with July and August as the rainy months with a possibility of short but intense rain each day. 

During the summer daytime highs average in the 90s (F) while nighttime lows can reach into the 50s (F). During the winter daytime highs can be in the 50s (F), while nighttime lows can reach into the teens.

Drives & Scenic Overlooks

There is one main entrance road into the monument with a few scenic pull outs along the way.  

My Trip Report

Bandelier is a really cool ruin surrounded by an amazing landscape. This is worth a full day and overnight stay! You could also use this as a home base for other activities in the area. 

Have you been to Bandelier National Monument? Did I leave any must-dos or must-see sights off the list? Let me know in the comments below.

By The Numbers

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Pets Allowed?
Pets not allowed on trails but ok in campground and picnic areas – service animals are permitted

We Are The Parks - Get Involved!

We all have the responsibility to help protect and preserve this important legacy. Here are five things you can do to minimize your impact and help protect the parks for future generations:

  • Follow the Rules. A new story about bad behavior in our national parks comes out almost every day. With people regularly doing things like walking on geothermal features, getting far too close to wildlife, illegally using drones, and vandalizing priceless natural and cultural treasures, NPS resources are stretched. We can all help the NPS and protect valuable natural resources by following established rules.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles. With visitation to NPS sites at an all-time high, it is even more important for all of us to be good stewards of the places we visit. An easy way to reduce your personal impact in learning about and practicing Leave No Trace principles.
  • Petition & Vote. In addition to supporting petitions and sending letters to your congresspeople. Consider the preservation, protection, and adequate funding of public lands when voting for local, state and federal officials consider. If these things are a priority for you as well, check in with your local and national conservation organizations to see how politicians in your community view the protection of public lands before you cast your votes.
  • Get Involved. There are many ways to volunteer including artists-in-residence and citizen science programs.
  • Support. Consider making a donation to the National Park Foundation. The NPF is the official charitable partner to the National Park System.