Hiking Trails in Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument - Anthropology

Early Inhabitants - A Brief History of the People

The area that is now Bandelier was first inhabited over 10,000 years ago by pre-historic human ancestors. These early groups survived by following game herds, living the lives of nomads and leaving little trace of their existence. Over time, underground pit structures have been found, indicating that a transition into a more settled lifestyle. Other artifacts discovered from this era include obsidian arrowheads and rough knives, another sign of the hunter mentality of these people. Evidence of this pre-historic group lay mainly along the Rio Grande River located in the southern section of Bandelier.

About 600 - 900 years ago, between the years of 1100 – 1500 AD, Bandelier thrived with life of the Ancestral Pueblo, an innovative and socially advanced society. Mainly inhabiting the area now known as Frijoles Canyon, the Pueblo utilized the entire area surrounding the canyon to harvest crops, for hunting and for dwellings. The Pueblo established a more permanent presence with the construction of an elaborate housing system. Inhabitants took advantage of the canyon wall’s natural ‘swiss cheese’ façade, building houses which extended out from the canyon wall itself. These housing rows extended up the canyon wall and were multiple stories in height. Beautiful ruins of these structures exist today just behind the Bandelier Visitor Center on the Main Ruins Interpretive Loop Trail.

At about 1550, the Pueblo began to leave Frijoles Canyon for unknown reasons and moved south to establish pueblos along the Rio Grande River. Scientists believe that the arrival of the Spanish in the late 1500’s caused the Pueblo to leave their ancestral home. The Spanish were rapidly colonizing New Mexico and changing the landscape both physically and culturally. Could the colonization of New Mexico have brought disease to the area? Because there is no written history of the Ancestral Pueblo, only oral history passed down from generation to generation, can provide any insight. Around 1770, Spanish settlers arrived in the Bandelier area with land grants and set up homes in Frijoles Canyon.

In 1880, Adolph F.A. Bandelier, a self-taught anthropologist arrived in New Mexico. Under the sponsorship of the Archeological Institute of America, his goal was to trace the history, customs and ways of life of the southwestern, Mexican and Pueblo peoples. That same year, men from the Cochiti Pueblo, most notably, Jose Montoya, guided Bandelier through the Frijoles Canyon area. With its mix of unique archeological cave-ruins, towering canyon walls and the abundance of flora, Bandelier was immediately struck with awe. He even included the canyon as the backdrop for his novel, ‘The Delight Makers’ which depicted pre-Spanish Pueblo life.

Bandelier eventually left the area in 1892 and headed south to study the indigenous cultures of Peru and Bolivia. Ending his studies in Seville, Spain, Adolph Bandelier died in his late 70’s in the year 1914.

Bandelier National Monument - Wildlife

With Bandelier's wide range of ecosystems it is the perfect home to a variety of wildlife. Mule deer, Abert's squirrels, lizards, and a number of bird species are the most commonly encountered animals on a visit to the park. Some birds make Bandelier their year-round home while some are seasonal and others only migrate through the park.


Bandelier National Monument is home to over 55 species of mammals including sixteen species of bats, mule deer, Abert's squirrels, and mountain lions. Other mammals such as Bighorn sheep and Grizzly bear used to roam the park's canyons and mesas but were eradicated by human activities.

Black Bears of Bandelier

Black bears (Ursus americanus) are omnivores, eating almost anything including nuts, insects, small mammals, fruit, etc. Black bears are not all black. They vary in color from black to reddish brown to blond. They are good tree climbers and will quickly climb a tree when faced with danger (that often includes encounters with humans).

Black bears are not commonly seen in the park, however; there is probably a larger population living in the lush canyons and higher elevations meadows than sightings would indicate. On occasion a bear, or bears, finds its way into the most heavily visited area of the park. When that happens it is important that the bear remain wild and not become used to people and the food items they introduce into the park.

In the summer of 2007 a young black bear, probably about 2 years old and on its own for the first time, began frequenting the visitor center area and nearby picnic grounds. Tactics to dissuade the young bear from visiting populated areas were used. These tactics including chasing and yelling at the bear, throwing rocks, and pepper spraying the bear. It seems these tactics may have finally worked and the bear is rarely seen now. This is both good for the bear, who may have gotten in trouble with too much human contact, and for visitors.

Coyotes of Bandelier

Coyotes can be found in all parts of Bandelier. Members of the canine family, it is not unusual to discover they have many characteristics similar to the family's pet dog. Coyote are born scavengers and, although secretive, don't shy aware from living in close contact with humans. In the park, it is important that campsites and picnic areas be kept clean, to discourage these wild animals from frequent contact with visitors. Coyotes are active year-round. They live singly, in pairs, or in extended family groups known as packs. Coyote communication may take the form of yips, barks, and of course, howls. In Bandelier, coyote have gray to tan to yellow fur. Coyotes are significantly larger than foxes and can be mistaken for a large dog like a German Shepard. The tell-tell giveaway are their pointed muzzles and those intriguing yellow eyes that are heavily ringed by black.


Eons ago when ancestral bats sought the shelter of darkness as protection from predators their future reputation as creatures of mystery and evil was born. Hampered by this reputation and numerous misconceptions, these flying mammals have encountered a new and even more dangerous enemy: MAN.

Thirteen species of bats live within Bandelier National Monument. The most commonly seen species is the Mexican Free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis). Frequently a colony of these bats roosts in the cave above Long House on the Main Loop Trail. In 1986, about 10,000 Mexican free-tails and some little brown bats (Myotis yumanensis) moved in and continued to use the cave every summer until 2002.


Reptiles may not be cute and cuddly like mammals or sing pretty songs like birds but they play their role in Bandelier's ecosystem. Bandelier's reptiles come in a number of shapes and sizes. What they all have in common - their inability to regulate their body temperature- they're cold-blooded.


Of the lizards, Whiptailed and Fence are the most commonly seen in the park. Collared lizards and Horned lizards are plentiful but more common on the dry, rocky mesatops than in the canyons. All are most likely seen sunning themselves on a rock, tree trunk, or pueblo wall when the temperatures are warm but not hot. Favorite food for all lizards is insects.


Birds add color, movement, and sound to all areas of Bandelier National Monument. Birds such as Steller's Jays, Canyon Towhees, and Mountain Chickadees stay year-round whereas Turkey Vultures, Western Tanagers, and Black-headed Grosbeaks are "summer only" residents. Sandhill Cranes rarely land in the park but make their presence known each fall and spring as they migrate overhead.

If you are looking for a specific bird, it is important to know the habitat it likes. Some birds are common only in the park's lush riparian areas while others prefer the drier mesatops.

Bandelier National Monument - Ecology

Frijoles Creek begins on the snowy slopes of the 10,199-foot-high Cerro Grande Peak. Carving its way down through the Pajarito Plateau for over fourteen miles before entering the winding Rio Grande, Frijoles Creek drops about 4,000 feet. This dramatic change in elevation on the Pajarito Plateau creates climate differences that support a wide diversity of life. This diversity made the area livable for the Ancestral Pueblo people, providing them with food, medicine, clothing, and supplies.

Rio Grande and Delta Wetlands

In the arid environment of New Mexico, rain and snow are what ultimately sustain all life. The Rio Grande flows through Bandelier supporting a wide variety of plants and animals. It was important to the Ancestral Pueblo people for fishing, drinking water, and farming.

Locally the river is heavily influenced by the presence of Cochiti dam built in the 1970s. The flow of the river has slowed, the temperature of the water has risen, and sedimentation has increased. The introduction of non-native fish species threaten native fish populations such as the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. The Rio Grande is still a very important habitat for many birds such as the sandhill crane, killdeer, and bald eagle. Animals that once roamed the shores of the river but were eliminated by human activity may someday return.

Canyon Riparian Areas

Creek-side environments, called riparian zones, are particularly rich areas due to the availability of water. Lush shrubbery and overhanging deciduous cottonwood and alder trees provide food, precious shade, and habitat for insects, amphibians, and small mammals. these in turn attract predators - rattlesnakes, birds, coyotes, and bobcats.

The Ancestral Pueblo people knew the value of these places as sources of both food and water. These areas may be seen as ribbons of bright green along the canyon bottoms.

Pinon-Juniper Woodlands and Savannahs

Once you move up in elevation from the Rio Grande and canyon-bottom streams, you will find pinon-juniper woodlands and savannahs. Pinon pine and juniper trees live here because they are well adapted to drought conditions. This plant community provides essential food for the pinon jay, cottontail rabbits, and pinon mice. With its calorie-rich nuts, the pinon pine provided an important though sporadic ingredient in the Ancestral Pueblo diet. Junipers provided edible berries and durable wood for toolmaking.

Soil erosion is a major problem in this zone due to past practices of livestock overgrazing and fire suppression. Severe droughts in the early 2000s caused large-scale die-offs of these trees across the Pajarito Plateau. These two factors have dramatically altered the pinon-juniper communities in Bandelier.

Ponderosa Pine Forests

Ponderosa pine forests are found at middle elevations on the Pajarito Plateau where increased snowfall and summer rains create wetter conditions. The Ancestral Pueblo people used these trees as roof beams for their homes and hunted the mule deer which thrive in this community. Ponderosa pine forests provide important habitat for a wide range of species such as Abert's Squirrels, Red-tailed Hawks, and Western Bluebirds to name just a few.

Before European settlement, ponderosa pine forests were more open than we see them today. Widely spaced trees towered above rich grasses and occasional clumps of Gambel's oak. Frequent, naturally-occurring surface fires kept the forest healthy and open. Since 1977, major crown fires have burned many of the park's large stands of ponderosa pine creating open grasslands in many areas.

Mixed Conifer Forest

Like a mountain oasis in an arid land, mixed conifer forests of Douglas fir, white fir, and spruce generally thrive at higher elevations where it is cooler and wetter. Compared with the ponderosa pine forests, these communities are more diverse and lush. A rich undergrowth of forbs, grasses, and shrubs makes this a popular zone for foraging by wildlife. Black bears and elk are common.

Although the higher, cooler elevations of Bandelier were not practical for farming, the Ancestral Pueblo people hunted and gathered seasonal foods here. More than 100 years of fire suppression in these mixed conifer forests has resulted in over-dense forests at risk for large crown fires (fires that spread into the tree canopy, often killing the trees).

Aspen Groves

Nearly pure stands of aspen trees can be found on the highest slopes in Bandelier, particularly in moist settings. Outside of the riparian areas, aspens support the highest diversity of life in the park. They are an important food source for animals and insects that are able to easily digest aspen wood and leaves. The fast-growing, short-lived nature of aspens creates a recycling system that frequently replenishes the soil. Woodpeckers, foxes, and colorful wildflowers make their homes here. Today, aspen is used in the making of traditional pueblo drums.

The presence of aspens can indicate that a fire has recently occurred in the area. They grow quickly in areas that have been burned by high-intensity fire because of the increased availability of sunlight. Conifers quickly encroach on aspen groves when fires has not regularly occurred - something that is readily seen in the upper elevations of Bandelier along Highway 4.

Montane Grasslands

Finally, in the highest mountain areas, montane grasslands and meadows are found on flat, wet areas with poorly drained soils and on the slopes of high, windswept ridges. At the edges, where the grasslands meet the surrounding forests, a great diversity of life thrives: many birds and mammals are attracted by the food resources of the grassland with the protective cover of the forest close at hand.

On the Pajarito Plateau, the montane grasslands surround valuable obsidian sources. Ancestral Pueblo people traveled through these areas and collected the wild plants and berries on their way to quarry obsidian for tools. Today, the encroachment of trees is leading to the disappearance of montane grasslands and wet meadows in Bandelier.

Bandelier National Monument - Flora & Fauna

The range of elevations in Bandelier's landscape of mesas and canyons creates a diversity of ecosystems, populated by numerous species of plants. Water, most in the form of winter snow or late summer afternoon thunderstorms, is a major key to the survival of these plants. A wet season or a series of wet seasons can spur the growth of plants not seen for years or even decades. Cyclic fire, browsing by wildlife, and insect infestations are some other factors that affect the range and variety of plant species in an area.


Although in general appearance cactus seem all thorns, when they bloom, what a beautiful sight. Claretcup cactus with their red-orange flowers, Prickly pear with its yellow or sometimes pink blossoms, and Cane Cholla with their hot pink flowers are eye-catching indeed. Many of these succulents were also important to the Ancestral Pueblo people.


Bandelier's wildflower season usually lasts from mid-April until the first heavy frost (usually mid to late October). The volume and diversity of flowers in any given season is heavily dependent on precipitation. A winter with heavy snows often heralds a spring of abundant blooms as does a late summer with repetitive local afternoon showers. Some flowers bloom all season long, often becoming less abundant during the hottest part of summer only to resurge with the start of the rainy season. Other wildflowers can only be found during limited seasons and in specific areas of the park.


Yucca, a member of the lily family, was an extremely important native plant used by the Ancestral Pueblo people. It supplied food in the form of blossoms, fruits, and roots; fiber for weaving sandals and rope; soap and shampoo from the roots; and the ends of the sharp, pointed leaves made excellent needles for sewing. Two forms of yucca, Banana Yucca and Narrow Leaf Yucca, are common within the park.

Bandelier National Monument - Camping


There are three different ways to camp in Bandelier. Juniper Campground is our family campground and is intended for small groups of 10 individuals or less. Ponderosa Campground is a group campground for groups larger than 10 individuals. Backcountry camping is also available with a permit that can be obtained for free at the visitor center. The closest backcountry camping zone is approximately 2 miles from the visitor center.


Juniper Family Campground is located near the entrance to the park, just off Highway 4. After passing through the park entrance station take the first right turn. There are 3 loops in Juniper Campground. As Juniper Campground rarely fills to capacity, only one or two of the loops may be open at any given time and no reservations are taken. The campground is open year-round except in cases of heavy snow or other emergencies such as wildland fire. Cost for 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.

Juniper Campground Facilities
-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.
-A dump station is located on the road to the campground and there is a pay telephone at the restroom in Loop A.
-During summer, a campground host is posted at a site between Loops A and B. They have firewood available for sell.

-Generators may be used only from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
-Clean up your campsite before leaving. Food and trash left behind attracts wildlife.
-Picnickers may use campsites for day use but must leave by 4:00 PM.
-Pets must be kept on a leash at all times and are not allowed on any park trails.
-Quiet hours are from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.
-Firewood collecting is not permitted within the park.
-There is a limit of 3 tents, 2 vehicles, and 10 people per site.
-Check-out time is 11:30 AM.


Ponderosa Group Campground is 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 not open during the winter. It is usually available from mid-April through late October. Unlike Juniper Family Campground, reservations are required for Ponderosa Group Campground. Demand is high for this campground, which only has two sites. Make your reservation by calling (505)672-3861 x 534 as early as possible. Cost for a site in this campground is $35/night or $35/day-use for a reserved campsite.

Facilities and Restrictions
There are picnic tables, fire grates, and small cooking shelters. Pit toilets are provided but there are no restrooms with running water. Ponderosa Group Campground is for tent camping. Only one vehicle in a group may be an RV. There is a minimum of 10 people per site and a maximum of 50 people. Check-in time is 4:00 PM and check-out time is 11:30 AM the following day. Day-use is from 11:30 AM - 4:00 PM.


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.

Permits Required
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.

Bandelier National Monument - Contact

Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance Road
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Visitor Center: 505-672-3861 x517
Visitor Information Recorded: 505-672-0343
Group reservations: 505-672-3861 x 534
By Fax: 505-672-9607

Park Hours

Frijoles Canyon and Tsankawi are open to recreation from 7 AM - 7 PM. Other day use areas (Cerro Grande, Burnt Mesa, Alamo Boundary, etc) are open from dawn to dusk. Backpacking permits must be obtained for any overnight stays in the park's backcountry.

Visitor Center Operating Hours

Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (May 24, 2008) through the Monday of Labor Day weekend (September 1, 2008))

Winter: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (When mountain Standard time is observed; November 4, 2007 - March 8, 2008)

Spring/Fall: 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (March 9, 2008 - May 23, 2008 and September 2, 2008 - November 2, 2008)

Park and Visitor Center are open daily except: Closed December 25 and January 1.

Bandelier National Monument - Directions

By Car

Visitors traveling on I-25 (ie From Santa Fe): Take Interstate-25 exit 282B (St Francis/ US HWY 84/285) for Santa Fe. Travel north on HWY 285 for 19 miles; you will go straight through the city. Exit onto State HWY 502 near the Cities of Gold Casino in Pojoaque. Travel west 11.5 miles, follow the signs to Bandelier and merge onto HWY 4. Travel west on HWY 4 for 11.5 miles, through the town of White Rock. The Bandelier Monument entrance is on the left side of the road.

Scenic alternative route for those going north on I-25: Near Bernalillo, take Interstate-25 exit 232 (Rio Ranch) for US HWY 550, continue for 23.5 miles. At San Ysidro, exit onto HWY 4. Travel northeast over the mountains for 54 miles to the park entrance which will be on the right side of the road. This is a good paved road that passes by the Valles Caldera National Preserve. However, it does go above 9,000 feet in elevation and is not advisable in winter weather.

Visitors traveling from Taos: Take NM HWY 68 (Paseo del Pueblo Sur) south for 47 miles. In Espanola, turn right onto East Paseo de Onate (N HWY 285/84); travel 3/4 mile on this road across the Rio Grande. At the light, turn left onto HWY 30 (Los Alamos HWY) and travel south for 8.5 miles. Bear right onto the HWY 502 ramp and travel west for 2 miles. Then merge onto HWY 4 and travel west for 11.5 miles, through the town of White Rock. The entrance to Bandelier will be on the left side of the road.

Public transportation to the monument is not available.