Bandelier National Monument
Location: 15 Entrance Rd; Los Alamos, NM 87544
Price: $25 per car
Smashed Penny Machine: No
Bandelier National Monument is located outside Santa Fe. The park is known for the ruins of several villages and cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo culture that once lived in the area. We arrived to Santa Fe around 11 and we decided to grab a quick-lunch in town before heading up to the park. During the summer months, day users of the park cannot drive into the park from 9 AM to 3 PM. The park offers a free shuttle that starts taking visitors to the park at 9 AM and the last shuttle back leaves the park at 5 PM. The shuttle meets at the White Rock Visitor’s Center. There is plenty of parking here, a small information desk, a water fill station and bathrooms. The shuttle leaves roughly every thirty minutes. The shuttle ride took about 20 minutes up the mountain.
As you disembark the bus, a ranger meets you to give you some basic information about the park. If you are a yearly pass holder, this ranger will check your pass. If you need to pay admission, you will need to go inside to the ranger’s station. The main trail called Main Loop starts just behind the Visitor’s Center. Because most the people who just got off your bus will be walking the Main Loop trail, I would suggest checking out the museum and giving people a chance to space out a little on the trail. If you are doing a self-guided tour, I would highly suggest picking up a $2 guidebook from the bookstore. It gives lots of information about the sites you will see.
The main loop trail is 1.2 miles and most of it is a fairly easy hike. The path is flat and accessible for a stroller designed for hiking (i.e. one with big tires) but I think it would be difficult to get a wheelchair or umbrella stroller. Most the trail is not paved. Even though it was afternoon by the time we got to the park we still saw a few mule deer (they are clearly very used to people because it didn’t even bother to stop eating as we walked by). The weather was warm but because the park is high in elevation, it wasn’t super-hot. You should still pack lots of water with you on the hike because the air has almost no humidity so you will get thirst very quickly.
After walking past the main pueblo ruins on the ground the path splits. You can choose to circle back along the shorter nature trail, which remains mostly flat. If you are a little more adventurous and ready to do a more strenuous hike; then you can continue along the Main Loop trail to see the cliff dwellings. The path meanders along the cliff face with several opportunities to actually enter the cavates in the cliff face. The ladders are not very long so it is a fairly easy climb. The rooms are not very large so only a few people can fit in there at a time. If you are there during the summer please be mindful that the people in the cavate need to come out before you go in. Conversely if you are in a cavate, please be mindful that people waiting to enter basically causes a big bottle neck. Basically please remember to be polite.
Once you come down from the cliff dwellings you’ll cross a small creek. Again you have a choice, you can either continue to the left and follow the Main Loop back to the Visitor’s Center or you can turn right and hike to Alcove House. The hike to Alcove House is .5 miles one way (it’s an out and back so you will return to the Visitor’s Center via the Main Loop regardless). Most the hike is fairly easy until you get to Alcove house. Alcove house sits 140 feet off the canyon floor and you have to climb (and then descend) 4 wooden ladders to get there. The path is very narrow and is basically one person at a time with the exception of a couple of landings. This path is not for young kids (the youngest we took up was 5 years old) or anyone that doesn’t like heights. If you your group is split on going up, people could wait either at the trail split (there are several benches in the shade) or those not going up to walk to the cliff base and hang out by the creek (no benches but plenty of shade). The hike out to Alcove house and back is going to take you about an hour depending on the number of people climbing the ladders and how much time you spend on the cliff. Once you reach the top be careful the whole floor of the cliff slants slightly toward the edge and most the floor is loose dirt. There are no guardrails so keep kids close. The view from Alcove House was amazing and completely worth the climb. I would highly recommend it (but you’ve been warned about the climb J ).
After our hike, we returned to the Visitor’s Center. The girls completed their Jr Ranger program and then we waited on the bus to take us back down to the White Rock Visitor’s Center.
Overall: I had never heard of this amazing park before planning this trip. If you are planning to be in the Santa Fe area I highly suggest checking out the park. We spent about 4 hours at the park (that includes commute time on the shuttle). The park was moderately busy. The Main Loop hike was a hike that a casual walker could do. Most of Alcove House was an easy hike except for the part spent climbing. There are several other hikes to do in the park and the park offers a campground as well. This park is very much worth visiting.