From the twelfth to the mid-sixteenth centuries, a large population of Ancestral Pueblo people flourished among the cream-and-tan cliffs and piñon-juniper-forested mesas of the slopes of the Jemez Mountains. The dramatic setting, now Bandelier National Monument, showcases sheer-walled canyons dividing the long mesas of the Pajarito Plateau. When the people moved on, they settled in villages along the Rio Grande known today as Cochiti, Santo Domingo, San Felipe, and San Ildefonso Pueblos. Their present-day descendants maintain close traditional ties with the dwellings on the mesa tops, cliffs, and canyon bottoms throughout the monument. The best-known sites are found along an easy self-guiding trail in Frijoles Canyon, just behind the park Visitor Center.
Seventy percent of the monument is designated as Wilderness. With 70-plus miles of trails and elevations from 5300’ at the Rio Grande to over 10,000’ at the top of Cerro Grande, Bandelier offers a variety of scenery and habitats. Hikers will inevitably encounter challenging terrain, sweeping mesa tops, lush canyons, and isolated archeological sites. Hiking choices vary in distance and difficulty, with choices including: four miles one-way to the 600’ deep gorge of Alamo Canyon; six miles one-way to the ancestral pueblo of Yapashi; a 22-mile loop to Painted Cave in Capulin Canyon; about seven miles one-way to the densely forested upper part of Frijoles Canyon, repeatedly crossing El Rito de los Frijoles (Bean Creek). Two westbound trails leave the monument to enter Dome Wilderness.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Bandelier Wilderness.
The Bandelier Wilderness is located within Bandelier National Monument and adjacent to the Dome Wilderness that is administered by Santa Fe National Forest.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates National Park Service wildernesses) - Public Law 94-567 (10/20/1976) To designate certain lands within units of the National Park System as wilderness; to revise the boundaries of certain of these units; and for other purposes.
Visitors planning to camp overnight in wilderness should register their travel plans and receive a backcountry permit from the visitor center in Frijoles Canyon. The 2011 Las Conchas Fire and epic flooding in September 2013 has washed away the trails in the canyon bottoms. Due to the continued risk of flooding for several years, these trails will not be repaired until that risk is reduced. The canyons are not closed but increased backcountry skills are needed to find where trails pick up to climb out of the canyons.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Many wilderness visitors underestimate the amount of water they need to carry for personal consumption in Bandelier Wilderness. This wilderness setting is relatively high altitude and arid all year. During orientation at the Bandelier visitor center, consult with the ranger staff regarding recommended drinking water needs.
Safety and Current Conditions
There is an increased risk of flooding in the canyon bottoms due to the 2011 Las Conchas Fire mentioned in the General Trip Planning Information section. Thunderstorms are often very localized and rain in the mountains can produce a flash flood in a canyon many miles away. Be aware of rain falling in the mountains upstream from you. If there is a flash flood, move to higher ground. It often does not take more than a few feet of climbing to get out of harms way. DO NOT enter a flooded stream. You will not be able to see the bottom and it may be much deeper than you expect.
The 7.5" of rain that fell in five days in September 2013 has left many of the trails in rough condition. Navigating park trails requires fitness and orientation skills that were not always needed in the past. Trail maintenance and rerouting is being planned but will take years to accomplish. Please talk to the ranger staff to be sure you understand the challenges that are present.
Visitors should familiarize themselves with recommended actions on encountering mountain lions, bears and rattlesnakes by visiting the Bandelier visitor center in Frijoles Canyon.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.