Bandelier National Monument: Hike To These Awesome Ruins On The Main Loop Trail (+ The Alcove Ruin!)

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Way back in March on our trip out to Utah for the summer, we traveled through New Mexico. You may remember having seen a post a couple of months ago about the Falls Trail in Bandelier National Monument, well this one is all about the main draw to the park: the ruins on the main loop trail. I was super excited about visiting Bandelier just outside of Santa Fe after seeing pictures of it all over Facebook and the vintage NPS postcard featuring the Alcove Ruin. But, before we get started:

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Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:

  • Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
  • If you find artifacts, do not take them.  Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
  • If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can.  Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter.  Mesa VerdeEdge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
  • And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks!  I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to fo sho.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, back to the ruins at Bandelier National Monument! That is why you’re here after all, right? Well, we set out at a reasonable hour from Santa Fe (and by reasonable, I mean probably like, noon at the earliest) to get to Bandelier National Monument because if you’ve been here any amount of time you know we’re not early risers.

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It was about an hour from Santa Fe and our first stop was one of the overlooks on the way in. It was overlooking a small canyon, well, small compared to what I’m used to but actually still impressive, with nice snow capped mountains in the distance.

As usual, we had to stop at the visitor center first to get patches and postcards, but this was also kind of the beginning of our Deneen Pottery mugs. I already had the one from Great Basin and we got one from the Arches and Badlands in the fall so this was the third and now we have like, nine. But we were here to see the ruins so off we went.

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The trail leaves from the visitor center and takes you along the base of the cliff which has dwellings built along almost the whole thing. I think I was just way out of shape (winter and all that) because I was so out of breath on this hike but it really is an easy one that I shouldn’t have been that tired on. The trail was pretty busy in mid-March and this was when all the virus stuff was just starting in the US (two whole cases in New Mexico at this point) and we were a little worried so we didn’t go into any of the dwellings on this trip.

We also just didn’t want to wait in line to get into them, either. But it was so cool getting to see all the logs in the walls and dwellings that were still there and others that are, well, more ruin that room. We even saw a couple of petroglyphs and one that looked like a T-Rex! You know I love me some dinosaurs.

Now we were at the end of the main loop trail and had to decide if we wanted to keep going and climb up to the Alcove Ruin. We figured we might as well since we had no idea when we would be back here and we’re already almost there, so why not?

This is where we’re faced with the most climbing and the longest ladders. There are three ladders to get up into the alcove that the ruin is in, hence the name, Alcove Ruin. After some waiting to go up while people came down, we finally made it to the alcove and, well, it was fine. The only thing in here is this one ruin that is a circle rock wall with a hole in the top but It’s blocked off so you can’t go into it.

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Was it worth the hike up to the Alcove Ruin? Yes because I know if we didn’t do it I would have kept wishing we did, but it was also not quite as exciting as I hoped it would be. The view from up there and on the way up was veery nice though and I’m really glad we did decide to go up.

So, we headed back down and kept going on the other side of the loop to get back to the car. Then, once we got there, we had to decide if we wanted to keep going and do the Falls Trail, too. Obviously, we did and it was so worth it! If you are hiking here, the sand it really more like light dirt and you’ll probably get a little dusty on at least the main loop trail.

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Where is Bandelier National Monument?

Bandelier National Monument is just 56 minutes northwest of Santa Fe. It’s an easy drive and makes the perfect day trip. It could be combined with a visit to the Tent Rocks, but it would be a whole day since that is an hour southwest of Santa Fe, so it would be about four hours of driving if you wanted to go to both. I would do one a day so you’re not rushed but if you’re limited on time, you could do both.

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Can you go in the ruins at Bandelier National Monument?

You can go into some of them and you’ll be able to tell which ones because there will either already be people in them or it will be obvious because it won’t be blocked off. If you can’t go into them or up to them, there will bee a fence in front of them. Please don’t go into anything you’re not allowed to and don’t touch anything you’re not supposed to. But you already know that, dear friends.

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How long is the hike to the ruins in Bandelier National Monument?

The Main Loop Trail (also known as the Pueblo Loop Trail) is a 1.4 mile loop trail with a couple of log creek crossings that takes you along the ruins built agains the base of the canyon wall. They just line the whole things and it’s so cool! There are a few ladders you’ll have to climb as well as some steps. You can go in a few of the dwellings here, too, which is pretty cool.

If you want to see the Alcove Ruin, which is the one on the Bandelier vintage style post card, it adds a bit to the hike. This makes it a 2.6 mile loop with 252 feet of elevation gain that feels like a lot more than just 252. There are more, longer ladders to get up to the Alcove Ruin.

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What to bring on the main loop trail

Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side.  They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.

Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry!  I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese.  There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the strong desert sun.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons or the Tent Rocks, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this. Definitely bring layers and something warm if you’re visiting between October and April.

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So, is Bandelier National Monument worth visit? Yes! We loved it, especially the Falls Trail and I would highly recommend a day trip here if you’re visiting Santa Fe. It might be pretty hot in the summer but it would be perfect to visit in the fall, winter, or spring.

Have you done the main loop trail at Bandelier? Do you want to go visit? What did you think of it?

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