10 Tips for Bandelier National Monument

August 12, 2023
New Mexico Nat. Monuments

Bandelier National Monument is a 33,677-acre US National Monument near Los Alamos in New Mexico. The monument preserves the homes and territory of the Ancestral Puebloans known as the Anasazi.

Bandelier is famous for the cliffside dwellings carved into the volcanic tuft. As a visitor you are allowed to climb up ladders into the elevated caves, which is a fun experience. Bandelier is also part of the Jemez Mountains, which is part of the Valles Caldera, one of the seven supervolcanoes on the planet. The region is punctuated by natural beauty and relics of the ancient Americans. There is also an abundance of things to do in the general area near Santa Fe.

The following are what we consider to be worthwhile tips to consider before planning your trip to Bandelier National Monument. We hope you enjoy.

1. Catch the Bus in White Rock, NM

New Mexico Nat. Monuments

Whatever you do, don’t drive to the Bandelier National Monument with the intention of parking your car unless: You have a disability placard displayed on your vehicle, are traveling with pets, are conducting park-related business, or are part of an organized commercial tour groups traveling in a bus or van. 

I’m sure they allow drop-offs, but there is otherwise NO PUBLIC PARKING at the historic site. Rather, the visitor center in White Rock has a shuttle. It’s about a 20 minute ride to Bandelier from there. The shuttle runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 20 minutes on weekends.

Map to White Rock V.C.

Address: 115 NM-4, White Rock, NM 87547

2. Visitor Centers, Gift Shops, and Restaurants

Between the Bandelier National Monument visitor center (at the site), the Western National Parks Association park store (at the site), the Sirphey in the Canyon restaurant (at the site), and the White Rock visitor center, there is an abundance of information and shopping available to Bandelier visitors. This is somewhat surprising given the paucity of information and options at some of our National Parks.

If you have come to learn — or buy swag — Bandelier National Monument is looking out for you.

3. RV Parking at the White Rock V.C.

The White Rock visitor center has a large parking lot that allows RV parking year round. The lot contains 16 RV Spaces with electric hookups (30/50 amp). Sewer dump station available on-site. Sites are first come, first serve. RV space Dimensions: 15 feet wide x 50 feet long. Cost: $20/night.

Bandelier National Monument

4. The Anasazi People

Ancestral Pueblo culture, also known as Anasazi, originated in the Four Corners Area where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado meet. Archeologists believe the Ancestral Pueblo descended from nomadic hunting and gathering peoples who came to the region over 12,000 years ago. 

During the Rio Grande Classic Period (1300’s), their pueblos (homes) grew larger. Some exceeded 600 rooms. Ceremonial rooms called kivas also grew larger, possibly reflecting ritual or social changes.

The Pueblo people left the area in the 1500s, before the Spanish arrived. They settled along the Rio Grande Valley not far from Bandelier. Their descendants live today in nearby pueblos including San Ildefonso and Cochiti. San Felipe, Santo Domingo, and Zuni Pueblos also recognize cultural connection with the area.

5. Climb Inside the Cliffs

This is the best part of the experience! The Anasazi peoples carved openings into the soft, volcanic tuft cliffs. At Bandelier National Park you can climb up wooden ladders into the shallow caves.

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Bandelier National Monument

6. Alcove House Hike at Bandelier National Monument

A highlight of the park is the Alcove House. A two-mile hike to the back of the park gives access to an elevated cave that requires four separate ladders to reach. Climbing the ladders was a huge hit with out group, especially the kids.

7. One of the 7 Supervolcanoes on Earth

Three of the seven supervolcanoes on earth are in the U.S.: Long Valley Caldera in California; Yellowstone Caldera in Wyoming; and Valles Caldera in New Mexico.

The Jemez Mountains are volcanic mountains; eruptions have continued intermittently from 14 million years ago to as recently as 40,000 years ago. The Valles Caldera is one of the largest young calderas on Earth. It formed about 1 million years ago when multiple explosive eruptions occurred that produced an immense outpouring of ash, pumice, and pyroclastic flows. It is considered by geologists to be still active.

Bandelier National Monument exists on the slopes of the Jemez volcanic field.

8. Pueblo Loop Trail at Bandelier National Monument

The Main (Pueblo) Loop Trail is a 1.4 mile loop trail through the archeological sites. Most visitors spend about an hour on this trail. Ladders along the trail allow visitors to climb into small human-carved alcoves. The Pueblo Loop Trail takes you past the Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, Talus House, and Long House.

The Pueblo Loop Trail is best when combined with the Alcove House Trail. For those that want to exert themselves, the park has over 70 miles of trails.

Bandelier National Monument

9. Cave Painting at Bandelier National Monument

While Bandelier National Monument has a wide variety of pictographs, there is but one cave painting, although it is a dramatic one. Be sure to find it as you scan the valley walls.

10. Things to Do Near Bandelier National Monument

The region encompassing Bandelier National Monument is brimming with historical significance and natural beauty. If you have the time check out some of these nearby locations: Valles Caldera National Preserve, Tsankawi Prehistoric Sites, Los Alamos National Laboratory, White Rock Overlook, Poeh Museum & Cultural Center.

If you are willing to drive over an hour, the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is spectacular.

And of course, Santa Fe is close by as well. Here’s a MAP to all the above-listed places.

An Honest Conclusion

Bandelier National Monument

Our afternoon at the Bandelier National Monument was a well-spent four hours. Our kids never complained (far from a given outcome), and we found the history interesting. Climbing up the ladders and crawling in and out of the caves was fun for everyone. And the valley scenery was beautiful!

The visitor center, park store, and restaurant (they have a restaurant!), were all wonderful. The shuttle ride to and from the White Rock visitor center kept everything clean and easy.

We would absolutely recommend stopping by this lesser-known chapter in the USA National Monument saga. The history of our native peoples and their lands is remarkable. The more we learn about them, the closer we feel to our national identity.

If you’re interested in nearby sites in the National Parks System, check out our other articles:

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

White Sands National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!

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