Bandelier Backcountry Trail In New Mexico

Here is everything you need to know about the Bandelier Backcountry Trail:

  • Trail System: National Recreation Trail
  • State: New Mexico
  • Length: 30 miles.
  • Type: Hiking
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Managed By: National Park Service
  • Permit Required?: Yes
  • Website:

The Bandelier Backcountry Trail, located in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, holds a rich historical significance that dates back thousands of years. The area has been inhabited by various Native American cultures for over 11,000 years, making it one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in North America. The trail itself traverses through the rugged canyons and mesas, providing visitors with a glimpse into the ancient past.

The ancestral Pueblo people, also known as Anasazi, settled in the Bandelier region around 1150 CE. They built intricate cliff dwellings, multi-story stone structures, and carved petroglyphs into the canyon walls. These dwellings were constructed using volcanic tuff, a soft rock found abundantly in the area. The Pueblo people lived in these dwellings for several centuries, utilizing the natural resources of the region for sustenance and survival.

In the late 1500s, Spanish explorers arrived in the Bandelier area, seeking new territories and resources. They encountered the Pueblo people and established contact, leading to a period of cultural exchange and conflict. The Spanish influence brought new technologies, such as metal tools and livestock, which significantly impacted the way of life for the Pueblo people. However, the Spanish colonization also led to the introduction of diseases and forced labor, causing a decline in the Pueblo population.

Over time, the Bandelier region became less populated, and the ancestral Pueblo people gradually moved away from the area. By the late 19th century, the region was largely abandoned, and the cliff dwellings were left to the elements. In 1916, Bandelier National Monument was established to preserve and protect the archaeological sites and natural beauty of the area. Today, the Bandelier Backcountry Trail allows visitors to explore the remnants of the ancient Pueblo civilization and gain a deeper understanding of the historical significance of this remarkable place.

While On The Trail

Access Points

1. Bandelier Visitor Center: This is the main access point for the Bandelier Backcountry Trail. It provides information, maps, and permits for hiking in the backcountry.

2. Tsankawi: Located about 12 miles north of the Bandelier Visitor Center, Tsankawi is a separate unit of Bandelier National Monument. It has its own trailhead and offers a unique backcountry hiking experience.

3. Alamo Boundary Trailhead: This trailhead is located near the Alamo Boundary, which is the western boundary of Bandelier National Monument. It provides access to the backcountry trails in that area.

4. Ponderosa Campground: Situated within the national monument, Ponderosa Campground has a trailhead that connects to the Bandelier Backcountry Trail. It offers camping facilities for those who wish to spend the night.

5. Upper Crossing Trailhead: This trailhead is located near the Upper Crossing Campground, providing access to the backcountry trails in that area.

6. Frijoles Canyon Trailhead: Located within Frijoles Canyon, this trailhead is another access point for the Bandelier Backcountry Trail. It is closer to the eastern side of the national monument.

7. Cerro Grande Trailhead: Situated near the Cerro Grande Peak, this trailhead provides access to the backcountry trails in the Cerro Grande area.

8. Burnt Mesa Trailhead: Located near Burnt Mesa, this trailhead offers access to the backcountry trails in that region.

These are some of the major access points or trailheads along the Bandelier Backcountry Trail. There may be additional smaller access points or trailheads within the national monument. It is always recommended to check with the Bandelier Visitor Center for the most up-to-date information on trail access and conditions.

Transportation Available

1. Bandelier Shuttle – Shuttle service providing transportation to and from Bandelier National Monument.
2. Los Alamos Taxi – Local taxi service serving the Bandelier Backcountry Trail area.
3. Atomic City Transit – Public bus service offering transportation within Los Alamos and nearby areas.
4. Uber – Ride-hailing service available in the Bandelier Backcountry Trail vicinity.
5. Lyft – Another ride-hailing service operating in the area surrounding Bandelier Backcountry Trail.
6. Bandelier National Monument Tour – Guided tour service offering transportation and exploration of Bandelier National Monument.
7. Rental Car Agencies – Various rental car companies providing vehicles for self-transportation in the Bandelier Backcountry Trail region.


The amenities available at the Bandelier Backcountry Trail include:

1. Restrooms: There are restroom facilities available at the Bandelier Visitor Center and at the Juniper Campground.

2. Parking: There is parking available at the Bandelier Visitor Center for visitors to park their vehicles.

3. Camping Sites: Bandelier National Monument offers camping facilities at the Juniper Campground. The campground has tent sites and RV sites with amenities such as picnic tables, fire rings, and access to restrooms.

4. Picnic Areas: There are designated picnic areas throughout the Bandelier National Monument where visitors can enjoy outdoor meals and picnics. These areas are equipped with picnic tables and sometimes have grills or fire pits.

5. Hiking Trails: Bandelier Backcountry Trail offers various hiking trails for visitors to explore the backcountry. These trails range in difficulty and length, providing options for different skill levels.

6. Visitor Center: The Bandelier Visitor Center serves as a hub for information, exhibits, and educational programs. Visitors can learn about the history, culture, and natural resources of the area.

7. Interpretive Programs: Bandelier National Monument offers interpretive programs and guided tours to enhance visitors’ understanding of the park’s cultural and natural resources. These programs are led by park rangers and cover topics such as archaeology, wildlife, and geology.

8. Ranger Station: There is a ranger station located at the Bandelier Visitor Center where visitors can seek assistance, obtain permits, and ask questions about the park.

9. Water Stations: There are water stations available at the Bandelier Visitor Center and the Juniper Campground for visitors to refill their water bottles.

10. Information Boards: Throughout the Bandelier Backcountry Trail, there are information boards that provide details about the trail, its history, and any safety precautions visitors should be aware of.

Please note that amenities may be subject to change or availability depending on the season and park regulations. It is always recommended to check with the Bandelier National Monument website or contact the park directly for the most up-to-date information.

Nearby Services

1. Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center – Provides information on lodging, food services, and emergency services in the area.
2. Juniper Campground – Campground with tent and RV sites near the Bandelier Backcountry Trail.
3. Los Alamos – Nearby town with various lodging options, restaurants, and emergency services.
4. White Rock – Small community near Bandelier with lodging options, dining, and emergency services.
5. Santa Fe – City with a wide range of lodging, dining, and emergency services, located about an hour away from Bandelier.

Bandelier Backcountry Trail Difficulty Notes

The Bandelier Backcountry Trail offers a moderate difficulty level for hikers. The trail spans approximately 16 miles and features a variety of terrain, including rocky sections, steep ascents, and narrow paths. Hikers should be prepared for some challenging sections that require careful footing and endurance. However, the trail also offers rewarding views of the Bandelier National Monument, ancient ruins, and beautiful landscapes, making it a worthwhile adventure for those seeking a moderate level of difficulty.

Features And Attractions

The Bandelier Backcountry Trail offers a variety of scenic views, historical sites, natural landmarks, and more. Here are some notable attractions along the trail:

1. Frijoles Canyon: This scenic canyon is the main highlight of Bandelier National Monument. It features towering cliffs, lush vegetation, and the remnants of ancient Pueblo dwellings.

2. Alcove House: Located within Frijoles Canyon, Alcove House is a historic site where visitors can climb ladders to reach a reconstructed kiva (ceremonial room) built into a large alcove.

3. Tsankawi: This section of the trail offers a unique opportunity to explore the ancestral Pueblo village ruins and petroglyphs. It provides stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

4. Tyuonyi Pueblo: This ancient Pueblo village was once home to hundreds of people. Today, visitors can explore the ruins and learn about the daily life of the ancestral Puebloans.

5. Long House: Situated in the backcountry, Long House is a well-preserved cliff dwelling that showcases the architectural skills of the ancient inhabitants.

6. Ceremonial Cave: This cave served as a ceremonial site for the ancestral Puebloans. It features rock art and offers a glimpse into the spiritual practices of the past.

7. Bandelier Wilderness: The trail takes you through the Bandelier Wilderness, a designated wilderness area known for its rugged beauty, diverse wildlife, and pristine natural landscapes.

8. Rio Grande: The trail follows the Rio Grande, offering scenic views of the river and its surrounding canyons. It’s a great spot for birdwatching and enjoying the peacefulness of the water.

9. Wildlife: While hiking the Bandelier Backcountry Trail, keep an eye out for various wildlife species such as mule deer, coyotes, rabbits, and a variety of bird species.

10. Natural Landscapes: The trail showcases the diverse natural landscapes of the area, including mesas, canyons, cliffs, and forests. The ever-changing scenery provides a captivating backdrop throughout the hike.

These are just a few of the many attractions and landmarks you can encounter along the Bandelier Backcountry Trail. Exploring this trail will offer a rich blend of history, natural beauty, and cultural significance.

Usage Guidelines

– Pets are allowed on the Bandelier Backcountry Trail but must be kept on a leash at all times.
– Hiking and camping are permitted year-round, but certain areas may have seasonal restrictions due to weather conditions or wildlife activity.
– Campfires are only allowed in designated fire rings or grills and must be completely extinguished before leaving the area.
– Littering is strictly prohibited. Visitors are required to pack out all trash and leave no trace.
– Hunting and fishing are not allowed within the Bandelier National Monument.
– Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the Bandelier Backcountry Trail.
– Overnight camping requires a permit, which can be obtained from the Bandelier Visitor Center.
– Visitors are encouraged to stay on designated trails and avoid disturbing or damaging any archaeological or cultural sites.
– Swimming or wading in the park’s water bodies is not allowed.
– Visitors are advised to carry enough water, food, and appropriate clothing for their hike, as there are no facilities or services available along the trail.

Seasonal Information

The Bandelier Backcountry Trail is a stunning destination located in Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico. This trail offers visitors a chance to explore the rugged beauty of the backcountry, with its ancient cliff dwellings, towering rock formations, and breathtaking vistas. While the trail is open year-round, there are certain times of the year that are considered the best for visiting.

One of the most popular times to visit the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is during the spring season, from March to May. During this time, the weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the 50s to 70s Fahrenheit (10-25 degrees Celsius). The landscape comes alive with vibrant wildflowers, and the trees begin to bloom, creating a picturesque backdrop for hikers. Additionally, the spring season offers a chance to witness the return of migratory birds and other wildlife, adding to the overall experience.

Another great time to visit the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is in the fall, from September to November. The temperatures during this season are also comfortable, ranging from the 50s to 70s Fahrenheit (10-25 degrees Celsius). The foliage begins to change, painting the landscape with hues of red, orange, and gold. This creates a stunning contrast against the ancient cliff dwellings and rock formations, making it a photographer’s paradise. Fall is also a quieter time to visit, with fewer crowds compared to the peak summer season.

It is important to note that the Bandelier Backcountry Trail has seasonal closures in place to protect the natural environment and preserve the cultural heritage of the area. The trail is closed during the winter months, from December to February, due to snow and icy conditions. It is advisable to check the official website or contact the Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center for the most up-to-date information on trail closures and conditions before planning your visit.


1. Wheelchair Accessibility: The Bandelier Backcountry Trail offers limited wheelchair accessibility, with some sections of the trail being paved and relatively flat, allowing for easier navigation.
2. Accessible Parking: Designated accessible parking spaces are available near the trailhead, providing convenient access for individuals with disabilities.
3. Accessible Restrooms: Wheelchair-accessible restrooms are located near the trailhead, ensuring that visitors with disabilities have convenient facilities.
4. Trail Surface: The trail surface is generally compacted dirt, which may pose some challenges for wheelchair users but is generally manageable with assistance.
5. Trail Width: The trail is wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, allowing for easier passage and maneuverability.
6. Benches and Rest Areas: Along the trail, there are benches and rest areas where individuals with disabilities can take breaks and enjoy the surroundings.
7. Assistance Animals: Service animals are permitted on the Bandelier Backcountry Trail, providing support and assistance to individuals with disabilities.
8. Informational Signage: The trail features informational signage with braille and large print, ensuring that individuals with visual impairments can access relevant information.
9. Accessible Picnic Areas: Accessible picnic areas are available near the trailhead, allowing visitors with disabilities to enjoy outdoor dining and relaxation.
10. Ranger Assistance: Park rangers are available to provide assistance and answer any questions regarding accessibility or ADA accommodations at the Bandelier Backcountry Trail.

Safety Information

Info not available.

Conservation Notes

The conservation status of the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is of utmost importance due to its unique ecological features and the need to protect its natural resources. The trail is located within the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, which is managed by the National Park Service. As a designated wilderness area, the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is subject to specific conservation measures to ensure the preservation of its delicate ecosystems.

One of the primary conservation concerns for the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is the protection of its diverse plant and animal species. The trail traverses through various habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and riparian areas, which support a wide range of flora and fauna. Several rare and endangered species, such as the Mexican spotted owl and the Jemez Mountains salamander, inhabit this region. Conservation efforts focus on maintaining suitable habitat conditions, minimizing disturbances, and preventing the introduction of invasive species that could threaten the native biodiversity.

Another critical aspect of conservation for the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is the preservation of cultural and archaeological resources. The trail passes through ancestral Puebloan ruins, including cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and ancient rock art. These cultural sites hold immense historical and cultural significance, providing insights into the lives of the indigenous people who once inhabited the area. Conservation efforts involve careful management to prevent vandalism, erosion, and unauthorized access, ensuring the long-term preservation of these invaluable cultural resources.

Overall, the conservation status of the Bandelier Backcountry Trail is actively monitored and managed to safeguard its ecological integrity, protect endangered species, and preserve its rich cultural heritage. Through responsible stewardship and visitor education, the trail can continue to provide a unique and immersive experience while ensuring the long-term sustainability of its natural and cultural resources.

Leave a Comment