Backpacking in Bandelier

mid alamo canyon trail
Some trails include steep switchbacks and can be icy in winter.

Photo by Sally King

Overview
There are over 70 miles of trail within Bandelier National Monument. Trails tend to follow mesa edges or transect canyons and mesas. Some of these trails include steep switchbacks and long drop-offs. Trails can be very icy in winter or early spring. Some trails marked on older maps are no longer maintained and may be impossible to find. Always take a current map. Be sure to check on trail conditions by stopping by or calling the visitor center at (505) 672-3861 x 0.

Permits
A permit is required for any overnight stays in the Bandelier backcountry. Permits are free and must be obtained in person or over the phone anytime the visitor center is open except for the last 20 minutes before closing. Please complete your permit at least 24 hours before your intended start date, permits must be picked up in person. Keep in mind, same day backpacking permits may not be available.
Please plan ahead.

The Bandelier backcoutry is renowned for its wildness, beauty, and its relative ease of access. After Las Conchas Fire in 2011 there was flooding in all park canyons and many trails were damaged in canyon bottoms. Park staff has been hard at work repairing the trails but a few trails remain almost inaccessible. Please check at the visitor center and see the Trail Condition map at the bottom of the page for current conditions before hiking in the backcountry.
 
rattlesnake tail
Potential wildlife threats include rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and black bears.

Photo by Sally King

Water
Availability of water is very limited in the backcountry. Adequate water should always be carried as some water sources are unreliable, ask at Visitor Center for current water information. Water from streams or springs must be treated before use. Dehydration can be a major problem any time of the year because the air tends to be extremely dry.

Weather
Winter weather includes storms, snow, and very cold temperatures (lows from 10' to -10's). Many trails can be extremely icy. Spring weather is variable and can change quickly. Spring is also the season for strong winds which often accompany a rapid change in temperature. Summer is warm, with temperatures on the open mesas being extremely hot (> 100). In late summer, thunderstorms are often a regular occurrence in the afternoons. Lightening associated with these storms can make travel on the mesatops very dangerous.

Wildlife
Rattlesnakes are not uncommon especially in the riparian areas and on rocky slopes but generally avoid humans and pose no real danger if given a wide berth. Mountain lions, black bear, and bobcats are residents in the park but are rarely seen. Be prepared for a possible encounter. Deer, Elk, and even an occasional Bighorn Sheep are seen on mesa tops, even during daylight hours.

Backcountry Campers must store all food and food scented items in an approved Certified Bear Resistant storage container. Bear resistant storage containers are available at the Visitor Center for loan.

 
Zone Sign
Camping Zones are marked by small signposts. You must camp within designated camp zones.

Photo by Sally King

Maps

Review all maps before planning your backpacking trip, epecially the current conditions of the trails.
A map is an essential backpacking item, and you could literally be lost without one. On a plateau cut by steep canyons trails meander, switchback, and follow topographic features. A detailed topographic map of the park is available from Western National Parks Association for $11.95, and can be purchased upon your arrival or can be ordered by calling (505) 672-3861 x 1815.
A map showing the trails and their associated mileage can be downloaded here. (3.19 mb PDF)
The most up-to-date trail condition and route-finding difficulty map can be downloaded here: Trail Conditions October 2023

Notice: The upper Capulin Trail is almost impassible due to flood debris and deadfall. Trail is rough going for those looking to hike to Painted Cave.

A fairly detailed park map can be downloaded here.

A brochure with more information on park destinations for day or overnight hikes can be downloaded here.
 
 
 
backcountry permit
Bandelier's backcountry permit
 
UPPER ALAMO OFFTRAIL
Upper Alamo Canyon view

Lance Cleaver

 
A black bear and cub
You must have a bear resistant canister to keep your food protected from wildlife. Bear bags can be borrowed from the Bandelier Visitor Center.

Photo by Sally King

Last updated: February 23, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance RD

Los Alamos, NM 87544

Phone:

505 672-3861 x0

Contact Us