Bandelier National Monument in Los Alamos, New Mexico was the highlight of our week long adventure in the area (full itinerary coming soon!). This park’s most famous feature are the ladders you can use to climb up into the cavates carved out of the landscape. My kids were delighted to explore and we spent the better part of a morning climbing and learning; I thought I’d share some of the tips we were glad to know or wish we’d known before we visited.
We visited in the second week of May, right before the shuttle started, and had no problems with crowds or parking after arriving around 8:30 AM, it worked out great.
Tips for Visiting Bandelier National Monument with Kids
- From mid May to mid October, driving and parking options are limited. There is a shuttle bus during the busier season, so you need to plan accordingly, check their website for current updates and times. I would highly recommend getting up and early enough to hit the trails before 9 am!
- If you’re going during the busy season, and especially during mid-day, plan for lines to climb the ladders and a slow pace through the (narrow) main trail.
- No dogs (or pets) are not allowed in buildings or on trails, only in the campground and parking lots.
- Afternoon thunderstorms are common, plan accordingly. Flash flooding can be a risk; check with the rangers or their site for predicted weather conditions and safety advice.
- There are fees to enter the park, depending on what you’re driving. We opted to buy the national park pass, which admits us all over the US.
- They have a really fun, free, Junior Ranger program, with booklets broken up into Pre-K, 2-3,4-6,and 7+ grade levels, download the booklets here if you want to preview them or save the park system the paper.
- Check their schedule for ranger programming before you go, on their website.
- We hiked the main trail (easily accessible behind the visitor’s center, 1.2 miles round-trip) and continued on to the Alcove House Trail (additional mile or so tacked on). The main trail does have portions flat enough for a stroller, but it is very narrow and quickly would become impassable, I would recommend only taking a baby carrier if you want to be able to climb up. We took one of the trail guides that gave tidbits of history and facts at numbered signs, which was a great add-on.
- The Alcove House Trail explores a different terrain with creeks, beautiful trees, and views. The website says you reach Alcove House by “climbing 4 ladders and a number of stone stairs” but fails to mention that those 4 ladders are extremely vertical, and you are eventually 140 feet above the air. If you do not like heights, you will not even get up the first one without some stomach gymnastics. I do not like heights but did not want to hinder my kids; and it was a nerve wracking experience despite them being very capable and doing great. You can see an aerial view that better depicts the climb on their website; I’m glad we did it but don’t want to do it again!
- There are several other trails we didn’t explore but it’s worth mentioning that several reviews mentioned preferring the harder to find, less busy Tsankawi Ruins Trail that is access from a different area than the main trail (details here). If you hate heights or don’t think you’ll try the Alcove House trail, I would definitely try this one during the busy season.
- Bring your lunch! They had water available for purchase at the gift shop, but no noteworthy food. We brought a picnic and ate at the provided tables, and then spent the afternoon at nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve. The park ranger suggested that over the Falls Trail and we are so glad we took her advice, I’ll share more on that park in a future post because it was really fun.
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