This post may contain affiliate links, and I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you—thank you for your support!
We visited Bandelier National Monument on the 4th day of our road trip to New Mexico this summer, and it did not disappoint. New Mexico is better known for the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, but that was a little too far west for our travels this time, and Bandelier was a good alternative. And we still got to add another stamp to our National Parks passport!
Where is the Bandelier Monument?
Bandelier National Monument is located about an hour west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were staying in Albuquerque, so it was just under a two-hour drive the morning we went. Bandelier protects over 33,000 acres, with petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and standing masonry walls that all pay tribute to the Ancestral Pueblo people who once lived there. There are a number of trails and campgrounds you can visit. We started at the Visitor Center by the main entrance and took the Main Loop trail from there up to the Alcove House and back.
Bandelier National Monument Info
15 Entrance RD | Los Alamos, NM 87544
(The park website recommends against relying on GPS.)
Open All Year 9 AM – 5 PM except Christmas Day (December 25) and New Year’s Day (January 1)
Longer Hours (9 AM – 6 PM) during shuttle season (Mid-May to Mid-October)
You must take a shuttle bus to enter the park. I didn’t realize this until I started seeing signs for them on our drive. There is free parking and a courtesy shuttle at the White Rock visitor center. There are certain circumstances in which you can drive to park at the monument (if you arrive before 9AM or after 3PM, disability, access to certain campgrounds). You can find specific parking and shuttle service info here.
7-Day Single Entry Permit (ages 16 and older): $15 per person
Children (ages 15 and under): Free
If you have a National Park pass, you can get into the park for free.
Find a map of Bandelier National Monument here.
Best Things to do During Your Visit
The Main Loop Trail
Renamed as the Pueblo Loop Trail, this 1.4 mile loop trail takes visitors through archaeological sites including the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi Pueblo, Talus House, and Long House. The first section of the trail is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, and wooden ladders further down the trail allow you to climb into small human-carved alcoves called cavates.
The Alcove House
Halfway through the Main Loop Trail you have the option to continue on another half mile to the Alcove House (previously called the Ceremonial Cave). The alcove is located 140 feet above the floor of the Frijoles Canyon and is only accessible by a series of long ladders and stone stairs. The alcove was once home to about 25 Ancestral Pueblo people, and is still home to some really good views.
The park is home to miles of trails, including the Falls Trail, which starts at the end of the Backpacker’s parking lot near the visitors center. This 3-mile round trip to the Upper Falls is not wheelchair or stroller friendly.
The Tsankawi section of Bandelier National Monument is not by the main ruins, but is accessible 12 miles away off of State Highway 4. After parkign in the gravel lot, you can take a 1.5 mile long hike along a mesa, view more cavates, as well as petroglyphs and the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tsankawi. Ladders are a must on this trail.
Bandelier actually spans over 33,000 acres, with over 70 miles of park trails. Longer backcountry trails are an option, and often involve 12 miles of hiking (round-trip). If you’re planning any overnight stays, wilderness permits are required and can be purchased at the visitor center located in the main section of the park. The Frijoles Rim and Canyon Trail, Yapahsi Pueblo, and the Painted Cave all make for great day hikes.
Know Before You Go
- You must take a shuttle to enter the park. If you missed my note on this above, take note now! There are a few exceptions to this rule, but if you’re visiting from May – October, you’ll need to take a shuttle from the White Rock visitor center. Don’t worry––both parking and the shuttle are free!
- Bring plenty of water. Although we’re used to the Texas sun, it got pretty hot while we were out hiking. Fortunately there were shady spots along the way, and part of the Main Loop is on the other side of the creek under the shade of trees.
- There’s a cafe right next to the Visitor Center. We didn’t eat or go in, but it’s there if you and your crew get hungry.
- The Alcove House is way up there. We pressed on to the Alcove House during our visit, but it was a bit much for us. The hike there felt longer than it was, and I got super winded as I started the 750-foot climb up the series of ladders to the Alcove. I only made it up the second one before getting extremely light-headed and nauseous. Know your (and your kids’) limits. There are plenty of lower dwellings you can climb into along the Main Loop trail.
- Print out the Junior Ranger Activity Books before you go. We have yet to get into the Junior Ranger program, mainly because the activity books can be pretty extensive. But most national parks have the activity books available for download online. Going forward, I’ll be printing these out ahead of time so that the kids can look at them during our long drives beforehand, fill out the parts they can, and get excited about where we’re going, too. Find the Bandelier National Monument Junior Ranger Activity Book by age here.
- Dogs are not allowed in the Visitor Center or along the trails.
Overall we all enjoyed Bandelier National Monument. If we visited again, I’d be sure to go earlier in the day (we didn’t get there until close to noon). It’s definitely an all-day excursion.
Find more travel inspiration below
Traveling with Kids | Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Up Your Road Trip Game with a National Park Passport
How to Take Great Travel Photos with Your Phone
Traveling to Colorado with Kids | A Texas Family Road Trip
Texas Traveler Must-See: Amistad National Recreation Area