“A great short loop highlighting the main cliff dwellings and kivas of Bandelier.
— Karl W
Cave · River/Creek · Views
This is a loop through the heart of the Bandelier National Monument that provides great access to Big Kiva, Tyuonyi, and numerous cliff dwellings—some of which you can go inside. It's easily accessible from the visitor center along a trail made of pavement, packed dirt, and stone stairs.
Need to Know
Stay on the trail to protect the historic sites aside from where you are specifically allowed to explore.
The trail can be accessed from right behind the visitor center. The trail is paved and shared with Frijoles Rim Trail
until a "Y" intersection just before Big Kiva: the remains of a large dwelling built by the Ancestral Puebloan people. A little further is the Tyuonyi site: the remains of a large complex and community area. You can learn more about these historic sites from informational signs along the entire trail.
After passing through Tyuonyi, the loop curves east into a nook in the cliff side. This area has some of the most interesting cliff dwellings in the park. Although the trail is still paved or made from large flat rocks, there are sections of it that are made of stairs, so anyone with limited mobility may have to turn around here. You are allowed to go inside some of the cliff dwellings, as some are accessible with ladders. This makes the trail much more interesting than just running along it. Be mindful that you shouldn't just climb around: only go into the dwellings that are specifically open to visitors.
At about 0.5 miles, you'll pass Frey Trail
, which leads up the canyon wall. Continue northwest and you'll soon come to the Long House cliff dwellings. Some were built along the base of the cliff and used holes cut into the cliff walls to help support roofs or store supplies. At the end of Long House, the paved and stone sections of the trail end. The trail transitions to smooth packed dirt and heads away from the canyon wall. You'll cross the Frijoles River on a small bridge and then follow the southwestern bank for a quarter mile through tall ponderosa pines that offer nice shade from the heat.
You could continue along the southwestern bank of the Frijoles River to the picnic area, but the main loop trail turns north to cross the river back to the Tyuonyi site. You'll get a different preservative of the site before the trail heads back to the Big Kiva site, and finally back to the visitor center.
History & Background
Most of the remains you'll encounter were built by the Pueblo people between 1150 and 1550 CE. The park was created in 1916, and most of the trails and road were built by the CCC. During WWII, the park was closed to the public while it was used to house Manhattan Project personnel.