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This hike should be on the top of any Bandelier National Monument hiker's list.
In order to fully appreciate a National Park or Monument, it is important to understand why it was designated in the first place.
These special places have been preserved and protected so that all people can experience the unique cultural history and environment found in each one. This 1.2-mile loop takes visitors through numerous archeological sites in varying stages of excavation and reconstruction.
In order to understand exactly what you are looking at, it is highly recommended to spend $2 on the excellent “Main Loop Trail Guide” available at the Bandelier Visitor Center.
The guide aligns with the 21 numbered stops along the 1.2-mile loop. The trail is paved for the first part, but has steps and log crossings on the second part that make it impossible for wheelchairs to navigate the entire loop.
According to the Monument website, the Main Loop Trail is the only trail cleared of snow in the winter.
The Ancestral Pueblo people existed in Frijoles Canyon as long as 10,000 years ago, and the evidence of their past lives is fascinating.
On this short loop, there are ruins of ground level houses, backed up by cavates (small human-carved caves) and some petroglyphs on the walls. There are also cavates located high up the walls, which can be accessed via ladders for exploration inside.
There is one, which was reconstructed in 1920, showing how a cliff home might have looked. One of the well-known cavates, the Alcove House, is not located on the Main Loop Trail, but can be accessed by an additional 1/2-mile trek.
It is well worth the extra mile to climb the four ladders up 140 feet to get inside the Alcove House! This hike starts directly from the Visitor Center.
It is important to note that you're required to enter Bandelier via the free Atomic City Transit shuttle between mid-May and mid-October.
Certain exemptions allow for personal vehicles: https://www.nps.gov/band/planyourvisit/shuttle.htm One easy way to spend days exploring Bandelier is to camp in the Juniper Campground, located quite near the Park Entrance with easy access to most trailheads: https://www.nps.gov/band/planyourvisit/juniper-family-campground.htm Sources: https://www.nps.gov/band/planyourvisit/the-main-loop-trail.htm