Bandelier National Monument
Petroglyphs, ancient dwellings in rock cliffs, and ruins left standing tell a story of early days of a culture long ago. Bandelier offers a unique perspective of what life was like long ago for native people. Spend the day or camp to experience the many trails, waterfalls, and cliff dwellings.
Northwest of Albuquerque near Los Alamos, NM
We have been to Bandelier National Monument numerous times with our kids. We enjoy bringing out of town guests here as the monument offers such a unique look at how life may have been on this land so very long ago. Indigenous people inhabited the area around Bandelier from approximately 1150 A.D. to 1550 A.D. These people eventually moved from this area to various other pueblos along the Rio Grande.
We have visited in early summer as well as in winter. We once did a night walk on a frigid December evening with some adults and older children in our group, and it was truly magical. Night Walks are only offered a few evenings per year during the summer and winter months and not recommended for children, as participants are actually asked to remain silent during the duration of the walk in order to appreciate more fully the experience of stepping back in time. Great stargazing opportunity!
Upon arriving, we always stop at the welcome center for a trail map and use the restrooms before we head out on the main trail. The kids love to explore the little gift shop with a big assortment of jewelry, pottery, t-shirts, and toys. There is also a snack bar on site that serves sandwiches, snacks, and drinks.
The trails are easily marked and most will enjoy the 1.2 mile roundtrip paved Main Loop Trail. This trail allows you to see a lot of the ruins. Only the paved bottom portion is stroller friendly. As the trail winds around the walls of these early dwellings, kids will spot ladders propped up against the ancient rock walls. Make note that this area has little shade so make sure to have water and sunscreen. The ladders make a great incentive for little ones as you start climbing in elevation along a well maintained trail. Naturally formed stairs will take you up to a series of cavate (caves) that you can climb right up into. The interior cave rooms are small, so you will have to take turns climbing up and exploring the smoke blackened ceilings and plastered walls within the caves. These cavates are delightfully cool in the warmer months and provide a nice little break from the sunshine. The trail eventually loops back around to the visitor center or continues to the additional one mile trail leading to Alcove House.
There are all kinds of wonderful hikes in Frijoles Canyon that range from 5 miles to 12 miles and longer. Make sure to check the Park Service website for updated information on trail details and closures. On the Main Loop Trail, you will see quite a bit including the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House (on the optional 1 mile extension of Main Loop Trail). On the return half of the trail, you can cross a bridge over Frijoles Creek and walk back to the visitor center on the opposite side of the creek (or river depending on monsoon rains).
Our kids love the bridge and playing along the creek and it is always refreshing to encounter some shade. Leashed pets are only allowed in the picnic area, parking lot, and campgrounds at Bandelier. In addition to camping, there are motel options in nearby White Rock and Los Alamos.