Main Ruins Loop Trail, Main Ruins Loop Trailhead, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Main Ruins Loop Trail - 2.7 miles

Main Ruins Loop Trailhead

The first of three accessible cave ruins along the Main Ruins Loop Trail

The first of three accessible cave ruins along the Main Ruins Loop Trail

Round-Trip Length: 2.7 miles
Start-End Elevation: 6,103' - 6,103' (6,254' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +262' total roundtrip elevation gain
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Main Ruins Loop Trail - 2.7 Miles Round-Trip

The Main Ruins Loop Trail showcases some of the country's most unique Ancestral Pueblo ruins, with a unique opportunity to explore ancient cave dwellings that date back thousands of years.

This is an interpretive trail with 21 individual markers along the trail. An interpretive guide for the 21 markers is available for a small fee at the Visitor Center and is highly recommended. This trail guide will provide insight into anthropological, ecological and geological information pertaining to the ruins, as well as flora and fauna.

The trail begins just behind the Bandelier Visitor Center at the marked Main Ruin Loop Trailhead. The paved trail starts out very flat and at .25 miles you begin to pass by some low-lying rock wall ruins and a large Kiva. The Kiva is a carefully constructed, underground circular pit which was used for tribal ceremonies and acted as a central place for gathering. The trail guide will give you specific information as to the importance of this Kiva and how it was used by the Ancestral Pueblo.

Shortly after the Kiva, you will reach Tyuonyi, which means "meeting place" or possibly "place of treaty" in the Keres language. Tyuonyi was itself a pueblo and was the center of Ancestral Pueblo life in Frijoles Canyon. It is believed that the circular Tyuonyi was at least three stories high and had over 400 rooms. The center of the Tyuonyi acted as a central courtyard area where women prepared food, children played and men rested before going off to hunt.

Shortly after passing the Tyuonyi, the trail splits to the right. Take this split to continue following the interpretive markers which lead up to the distinctive cave dwellings located within the canyon wall. A set of stairs and railings is provided to assist you with navigating the cave dwelling area.

The cave dwellings are highly unique and amazing preserved. Tall wooden ladders enable you to actually climb inside the cave dwellings and experience the same views as the ancient Ancestral Peublo.

You will see the first of three ladders within minutes of the first trail split. The first ladder leads up to a small single cave dwelling which is open to the public. Technically dubbed 'cavates' by early archeologist Edgar Lee Hewitt, these cave dwellings were originally formed by nature's uneven erosion and further dug out by the Pueblo.

Soon after the first ladder, you will pass by the reconstructed Talus House which gives you an idea as to dwellings these people constructed. The Talus House is a stone walled structure built into the canyon wall and by peeking inside, one gains perspective as to how the structures were utilized.

The second ladder at marker 13 leads to a cave dwelling which is also the highest point on the loop trail (6254?). It is also the most complex set of cave dwellings available to explore on the trail.

There is a third ladder at Marker 15, and then at Marker 16, the Frey Trail Split occurs (1.85 miles: 6,190?). This trail takes you to the Juniper Campground.

Shortly after the Fret Trail Split, the trail descends slightly and meets back up with the Main Ruins Trail at marker 17 (1.87: 6178?).

The trail now begins to rise in elevation as it follows the Cliff Dwellings called Long House, a line of ancient ruins where multi-story structures once stood. The remains are very evident. Petroglyphs and pictographs are also visible in the canyon, and the remains of ancient rock walls line the canyon wall for hundreds of feet.

*The horizontal lines of small man-made holes in the canyon wall are called 'vigas' and acted as anchors to hold the wooden logs used for the structure's roof. You can tell how many stories high the structures were based on how many levels of 'viga' holes exist.

After the final marker, #21 which showcases some petroglyphs, as well as a seasonal bat cave, the trail descends into the lush green valley floor and crosses over Frijoles Creek (el Rito de los Frijoles) before turning south headed back towards the Visitor?s Center.

At 2.24 miles, you hit the Alcove House Trail split. From this point you can turn right to take a 1-mile roundtrip side hike to the Alcove house, or turn left to continue on the Main Ruins Loop Trail.

Turn left and continue on the Main Ruins Loop Trail. This stretch which follows Frijoles Creek is a pleasant and shady packed dirt path with multiple interpretive and informative signs about Frijoles Canyon.

In about .2 miles, the trail will split again to the left. Turn left to stay on the Main Ruins Loop Trail and then quickly bear right to head back to the Visitor?s Center.

At 2.7 miles, the trail ends back at the Visitor?s Center.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 46.753 W106 16.245 — Main Ruins Loop Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • To have a truly unique experience, it is highly recommended to arrive very early to hike the Main Ruins Loop Trail. Because the Ruins Trail fills up very quickly, arrive no later than 7:30am to have the trail to yourself. If you arrive, you will be waiting in line to climb the ladders along the trail and lots of other visitors

  • Be respectful of this ancient and sacred area. It is believed that the spirits of the Ancestral Pueblo still live in this area so care should be taken when exploring their home

  • While encounters are rare, poisonous snakes inhabit this area. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are present, so keep watch on children, and watch where you place your hands and feet

  • Remember to buy the Interpretive Guide for the Main Ruins Loop Trail, available at the Visitor Center. It enhances your experience and lends greater meaning to the ruins around you

  • Pay a visit to the Visitor Center and they can answer any further questions you may have about the Ancestral Pueblo, the cave dwellings and what life was like in Frijoles Canyon during ancient times

  • The word 'Anasazi' which translates roughly into 'Ancient Enemies' is considered a negative term by today's Modern Pueblo. The phrase 'Ancestral Pueblo' is now preferred in pace of 'Anasazi'.

Camping and Backpacking Information

There is no camping on the Main Ruins Loop Trail. However, camping is available at the Juniper Campground which is open from March - November. Backcountry camping is also available with a permit obtained from the Visitor Center. Before your trip, call the park for current backcountry and campground information.

Backpacking permits must be obtained for any overnight stays in the park's backcountry. Access to Juniper campground is 24/7 except in the event of a closure due to heavy snows or other emergencies.

Rules and Regulations

  • Do not litter. Leave the area as you would want it left to you

  • Stay on trails. Climbing walls or cliffs is not allowed unless a ladder is provided

  • Collecting, disturbing or defacing archeological sites / artifacts is a federal felony offense. Violators are always prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law

  • Removing or picking flowers / plants is illegal

  • DO NOT feed wildlife. Plague can be carried by squirrels and even a small bite from a squirrel can result with infection

  • NO PETS on trails. They are restricted to campgrounds, picnic areas and parking lots. NEVER keep you pet locked inside your vehicle unattended

  • There are no bikes allowed on trails. They are allowed only on paved park roads. This is also true for motorized bikes

  • Fires are restricted to the campground areas and available cooking grills. Collecting firewood is prohibited

  • Permit is required for any backcountry camping in Bandelier

Directions to Trailhead

From Los Alamos, take Route 502 south-west for 5 miles, then Route 4 south-east for 6 miles to the signed turn-off into the Monument. The trailhead is located behind the Visitor Center about 3 miles past the Bandelier entrance station.

Contact Information

Bandelier National Monument
15 Entrance Road
Los Alamos, NM 87544

Visitor Center daytime phone
(505) 672-3861 x517

Visitor Information (recorded)
(505) 672-0343

Group reservations
(505)672-3861 x 534

By Fax

Visitor Center Operating Hours

Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through Monday of Labor Day weekend)

Winter: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (When mountain Standard time is observed; approx. Nov.- Mar.)

Spring/Fall: 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (When Mountain Daylight time is observed in April & Sept.- Oct.)

Park and Visitor Center are open daily except:
Closed December 25 and January 1.

All day use areas (including Frijoles Canyon, Tsankawi, Cerro Grande trail, Burnt Mesa trail, etc) of the park open to recreation at 6:30 AM year-round. Day use areas must be vacated by official sunset (on summer solstice this is 8:25 PM).

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