When Is the Best Time
The best time of day to visit Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico is in the morning. In peak season, you will avoid the crowds by arriving early as well as the heat during the day.
Tip: Spend the night before in a nearby hotel (via booking.com) to save time and to avoid crowds.
We hiked every trail at Bandelier National Monument in different seasons. Thus we can provide you with many helpful tips in this article.
How Much Time to Spend
The average visitor spends about three hours at Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico. It’s possible to see the major sites within that time frame, including the Main Loop Trail and Alcove House.
However, to see more intriguing ancient sites and hike other trails, we recommend planning at least half a day for your visit. A full day is required if you’d like to hike the longer trails.
7 Best Hikes Short Hikes
The hikes and walks around Bandelier National Monument are truly intriguing. You will see many captivating historical artifacts, as well as fascinating wildlife like mule deer, Abert’s squirrels, and mountain lions.
Tip to avoid the crowds: Start your hike early when visiting in peak season to avoid crowded trails. Exceptions are hikes like the Tsankawi trail, which can be found in a more remote location and are less busy.
Take a look at some of the best short hikes at Bandelier National Monument:
1. Main Loop Trail (Pueblo Loop Trail)
- Distance: 1.4 miles
- Time: 45 – 60 minutes
The Main Loop Trail (also called the Pueblo Loop Trail) is a short must-do hike at Bandelier National Monument. It’s a quite easy 1.4-mile loop trail taking you through the archeological sites.
For most visitors, this trail is a 45-minutes to one-hour walk. We did it in about 40-45 minutes. It is a great chance to learn about the history and the legacy of the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited this land a long time ago.
The trail is not difficult and can be done with the whole family. The first part of this trail is more horizontal and can even be accessed by wheelchairs and strollers.
If you climb the wooden ladders along the trail, you can see the fascinating inside structure of the ancient cliff dwellings. You can climb into so-called cavates, which are small human-carved rooms built by the ancient Pueblo people (see photo). This is an intriguing experience and we loved to do that.
Tip: Buy the $2 trail guide at the Park Store. It’s a must since the 21 numbered stops along the trail are described there.
This trail may be closed in winter for a few hours after a snowfall. However, it’s the only trail on which the staff removes the snow.
2. Falls Trail
- Distance: 8 miles
- Time: 3-4 hours
The beautiful Falls Trail hike starts at the end of the Backpacker’s Parking Lot, very close to the visitor center. The trail descends to the Río Grande through a gorge with two waterfalls. The scenery on this side of the valley is barren and wild. But, there is no shelter in case of rain or thunderstorms, and the rather rocky trail becomes slippery at some parts.
The hike is gorgeous at any time of the year. However, the trail is not cleared of snow during the winter season and can become icy. When we went one winter, this hike was too dangerous.
There are some steep dropoffs along the trail. Be careful during the hike. Bring enough water in the summer months. Unlike the Main Loop, this trail is not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.
3. Alcove House Trail
- Distance: 1.2 miles (total round trip)
- Time: 1 hour
The Alcove House Trail shares its first section with the Main Loop Trail. When hiking the Main Loop Trail, you can decide at one point to continue 0.5 miles to the fascinating Alcove House. This is a unique cave found 140 feet above the ground of Frijoles Canyon. It would help if you weren’t afraid of heights, as you need to climb some steep wooden ladders and stone stairs to enter the house. However, you can also enjoy the view of the Alcove House from below. Without that climbing part, it’s quite an easy hike.
The trail is usually accessible year-round but can be icy and dangerous in the winter months. When there is a lot of snowfall, the ladders to the cave might be closed by the staff for weeks.
4. Frey Trail
- Distance: 4 miles
- Time: 3 hours
Named after George and Evelin Frey, who operated a lodge here in the 1920s. This trail was the only access to the Frijole Creek valley until the park road was built. It leads from Juniper Campground to the canyon rim above the cliff dwellings, where it joins the Ruins Trail that descends into the valley.
The hike offers a stunning sight on the Tyuonyi Village. The way back is very steep and strenuous. In the summer – between May and October – you can hike down easily and take the shuttle back to the trailhead instead of hiking back. Regardless, bring enough water, as it gets scorchingly hot in the summer.
5. Tsankawi Trail
- Distance: 1.5 miles
- Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Tsankawi is an impressive hike with a wide view over the area with many canyons. The trail is located a little farther from the main area of Bandelier National Monument. You can find it twelve miles outside the main entrance on State Highway 4. As it’s not as popular as the other hikes, it’s much easier to find a free parking space at the trailhead during the day.
Along the trail, you can view cavates, petroglyphs, and the ancient village of Tsankawi. Ladders are not optional here. You have to climb at least one wooden ladder during the hike. Do not hike when thunderstorms are announced in the summer. In the winter season, be careful as the trail can get slippery.
6. Tyuonyi Overlook Trail
- Distance: 2.2 miles
- Time: 1.5 hours
The Tyuonyi Overlook hike offers a spectacular view of Frijoles Canyon and Tyuonyi Pueblo. The trail starts at Juniper Campground and leads to the canyon rim past some smaller unexcavated ruins. On the trail, you will see some interesting archeological sites. The hike involves no elevation gain, but it can be muddy after snow or rainfall.
7. Burnt Mesa Trail
- Distance: 2.5 miles
- Time: 2 – 2.5 hours
The Burnt Mesa hike is easy, and the trail is mostly flat. It’s our hidden gem and a great trail to avoid the crowds due to its remote location: Trailhead Location Burnt Mesa. It’s also an excellent trail for wildlife viewing in the winter (you may spot elk) and for wildflowers in the summer or the fall. Just be careful as it gets muddy from melting snow.
Top Tip: If you’re looking for a unique hiking season guide, visit our Best Time to Hike article. It contains must-know hiking tips for every season and time of day.
Visitor Review by Ganesh:
I visited this place in New Mexico (find out about the best times) during the Thanksgiving weekend, on the way to Albuquerque Airport from Great Sand Dunes National Park (another story), and was blessed with the sighting of a herd of Mule Deer, not once but twice. The first one was on the way to Bandelier National Monument when I was accompanied for a couple of miles by this large (~100) herd of deer running parallel to my car, but I chose not to stop and click, just enjoying the experience. Then in the monument, on the way to Alcove House, we saw another big herd (could have been the same) and this time I got some nice photos.