Main Loop

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 6055 - 6178 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Visitor Center
Fee: $15/person or $25/vehicle
Attractions: Pueblos, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs




The Main Loop trail is located in the Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos and White Rock, New Mexico. Beginning at the Visitor Center the paved trail follows a route that takes it through the midst of the Tyuonyi Pueblo before climbing along the side of the cliffs through the Talus Houses Cliff Dwellings. From there it passes an intersection with the Frey trail as it continues beside the Long House Cliff Dwellings and on to an intersection with the Alcove House trail where it loops back to the Visitor Center via an unpaved Nature trail.


Access to Bandelier National Monument is by shuttle only from 9am to 3pm between May 16 and October 16. The free shuttle ride begins at the White Rock Visitor Center. Once the shuttle enters Bandelier it makes one stop at the Juniper Campground and then continues on to the Bandelier Visitor Center. Vehicles that enter the monument before 9am may leave at anytime. Trails are only open from dawn to dusk at which time the gates on the main access road past the Juniper Campground are closed.


The Visitor Center has a gift shop and museum as well as restrooms with running water. There is also a separate gift shop and snack bar on the north side of the main parking area.


The Main Loop trail begins directly behind the Visitor Center. Notice the viewing scopes on the right side of this photo.


Through the viewing scopes you can peer into many of the caves that are in the cliffs on the north side of the Visitor Center. There is no public access to these caves but the viewing scopes can be used to see inside the cavates at some of the rock art and plaster that decorate their interior walls.


The first quarter mile of the Main Loop is wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly.


The accessible portion of the trail leads past a large kiva and through the  Tyuonyi pueblo. Tyuonyi (QU-weh-nee) was one to two stories high with about 400 rooms that would have housed about 100 people. Most of the rooms would have been used for storing food. The photo in the trail guide as well as the dirama in the Visitor Center depict parts of the pueblo having up to 3 levels.


From Tyuonyi the trail splits with the right fork leading to the area along the cliff that leads past the Talus Houses and numerous cavates (cave-ates).


Hiking along the cliff requires climbing a number of well constructed ramps and stairways.


Several of the cavates have ladders where visitors can climb up and explore their interiors.


From the Talus Houses the trail descends through a narrow passage and passes an intersection with the Frey trail that connects Frijoles Canyon with the Juniper Campground. The Main Loop continues from there and travels beside the Long House Cliff Dwellings. In this photo you can see that some sections of Long House were 3 stories high.


There are many faint petroglyphs and a few pictographs all along the Main Loop. If you look closely you might see a few friendly looking images that are waving at you. This image of a Macaw bird, that would have been part of the trade between here and what today is Mexico, shows up better than most of the other petroglyphs.


After passing Long House the trail drops down and crosses Frijoles Creek. On the south side of the creek the Main Loop begins heading back toward the Visitor Center at the same point where the half mile long Alcove House trail branches off on the right.


The return route follows a half mile long unpaved Nature trail that runs just inside the shady tree line along the south side of Frijoles Creek.


The free shuttles run every 20 minutes on weekends and every 30 minutes on weekdays. They are only required for accessing the main part of Frijoles Canyon around the Visitor Center and the access road that connects it to the Juniper Campground. Visitors can drive to any of the trailheads along Highway 4 at anytime although those trails too are only open from dawn to dusk. The Main Loop trail in Bandelier National Monument provides access to a rich number of Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites that are all packed into a small easily accessible area. If you would like to see them for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.