Backpacking in Bandelier

switchback trail

Some trails include steep switchbacks and can be icy in winter.

NPS Photo by Sally King

The Bandelier backcoutry is renowned for its wildness, beauty, and its relative ease of access. Although still very beautiful, the Bandelier backcountry was impacted by the Las Conchas Fire of 2011. Flooding in all park canyons followed and many trails were damaged in canyon bottoms. Park trail staff have been hard at work making repairs but there is still some work to finish. Some past landmarks are gone, some trails are very difficult to follow or missing, and there is much less shade than in the past. Please check at the visitor center and see the map at the bottom of the page for current conditions before hiking in the backcountry.

Due to summer monsoon flood danger bbackcountry camping is closed in Frijoles, Alamo, and Capulin canyons, or any stream bottoms July 1st through September 15th. Please backcountry camp only on mesa tops and in designated camping areas..

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 Some trails marked on older maps are no longer maintained and may be impossible to find.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 517.

A permit is required for any overnight stays in the Bandelier backcountry. Permits are free, must be obtained in person anytime the visitor center is open except for the last 20 minutes before closing. You may obtain a permit the day of your trip, or a maximum of 48 hours before your planned backcountry trip begins.


Potential wildlife threats include rattlesnakes, mountain lions, and black bears.

NPS Photo by Sally King

Availability of water is very limited in the backcountry. Adequate water should always be carried as water sources are unreliable. Water from streams or springs must be treated before use. Water from the Rio Grande should never be used as drinking water as most portable filters do not remove items such as pesticides. Dehydration can be a major problem any time of the year because the air tends to be extremely dry.

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.

Rattlesnakes are not uncommon especially in the riparian areas and on rocky slopes. Mountain lions, black bear, and bobcats are residents in the park. Be prepared for a possible encounter. Always hang your food to keep it away from scavengers like raccoons and ringtails.

Blonde Black Bear

Remember to hang food to keep it away from wildlife.

Photo by Sally King


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 516.

A map showing the trails and their associated mileage can be downloaded here. (3.19 mb PDF)

Trail condition and routefinding difficulty map can be download here. (600kb PDF)

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