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Bandelier National Monument is located just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, about a 2-hour drive north of Albuquerque. It could be a half-day or full-day stop, depending on how much you want to see, and how far you want to hike. Our family spent a morning there as part of our western US road trip. We spent the night in Santa Fe on our way down from visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park the previous day, and after lunch continued on to Amarillo, TX on our way back to Kentucky.
There are two tiny campgrounds within the park, and backcountry camping permits are also available. You can learn more about camping within Bandelier NM here.
Most of the year, Bandelier NM runs a required shuttle service from the park entrance down into Frijoles Canyon, where the visitor center and sites/trails are, due to very limited parking in the canyon. After driving so much on our western road trip, we found the shuttle to be a relaxing way to sit back and enjoy the views around us.
You have to go through the small visitor center in order to get to the trails, and it’s always a great place to start at any park. We spent some time learning about the park and the people who used to live there.
We also popped into the tiny gift shop to pick up a few things before hitting the trail, including the $2 trail guide that tells you all about everything you’ll see on the trails.
The Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail
The Main Loop Trail (also called the Pueblo Loop Trail) is the perfect trail for visiting with younger kids. It’s less than half a mile, and you get to see so many cool things!
With our oldest child dutifully reading to us from the trail guide about everything we were seeing, we learned a lot in a short amount of time about the ruins, the alcoves, and the lives of the people who once lived there.
You can do the whole trail in about an hour or so, depending on how much time you spend reading your trail guide and hanging out in the alcoves.
Of course, the coolest part of Bandelier NM are the alcoves, or cavates, carved into the cliffs. There are several in the park that have ladders allowing you to climb up inside and look around.
These alcoves make a great place to take a break from the hot sun. We spent a few minutes sitting in each one, letting our oldest daughter read to us from the trail guide. Some are small and barely fit our whole family, while some have several rooms.
The Alcove House trail is popular with many people who visit Bandelier NM with older kids or without kids. It’s only half a mile each way off the Main Loop Trail, and takes you up a series of four tall ladders to a large alcove carved in the cliff.
There are several other short hikes you can do, and a handful of longer ones as well. You can learn more about all of the hiking trails on the park’s website.
Tips For Your Visit
- Take plenty of water and snacks. They help keep kids happy, especially when it’s hot.
- Don’t forget sunscreen! There is very little shade until the last part of the Main Loop Trail. Hats and sunglasses also come in very handy.
- Definitely pick up the $2 trail guide. It really helps you to understand and appreciate what you are looking at.