Falls Trail

The upper falls on the RIo Frijoles
This trail is different from many at Bandelier National Monument. Take this trail for plants, animals, and geologic scenery, including the namesake falls. You get a view down to the Rio Grande, but you can no longer get there after the flood in August, 2011 destroyed parts of the trail.

Hike data:

Controlling agency: National Park Service; Bandelier National Monument
Official URL:NPS Bandelier hike web page
Region: North-central; Bandelier National Monument.
start: 6082ft; 1854m end: 5843ft; 1781m
min: 5843ft; 1781m max: 6082ft; 1854m
elevation gain/loss: 239ft; 73m.
Elevation data probably has more errors than normal. Change from max-min.
Length: 1.50mi; 2.41km. Length from NPS documentation.
surface: mixed gravel/rock
condition: Excellent
ease of following: Easy
obstacles: None
Note that there are some steep dropoffs as you near the falls, so children and pets should be watched.
Fee: $20.00. Fee per carload
Season: All year. Ice and snow are not removed from the trail, so winter might or might not be a possibility depending on the recent weather. Check with the visitor center before trying this trail in the winter.
Dogs: No. Pets are not permitted on any park trails.
Bikes: No.
Handicapped accessible: No.
General notes: Note that during higher visitation times, you must take a bus from White Rock to the park. Be sure that you know when the last bus leaves in order to make it back in time. When we were there, the last bus arrived and left a few minutes early (we were on it, but barely).
Trailhead facilities: None other than parking.
Hike attractions:

When we hiked it:

Date: 2016-05-14
Time it took us: 3:07. We went a little faster than our normal (slow) rate to make it back to the bus.
Usage (people/hour): 4.30.
Cleanliness: 10. No litter along the trail.


Waypoint Type Description
FallsTHTrailheadBandelier National Monument Falls Trail trailhead
Falls ViewTrail pointEnd of the trail where you can see the upper falls


Paper maps:
Map name Cartographer Year Scale Topo map? Online access Notes
Albuquerque New Mexico USGS 1983 1:100000 Y from sar.lanl.gov (free)
Bandelier National Monument National Geographic Trails Illustrated 2000 1:28600 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Guide to Indian Country of Arizona Colorado New Mexico Utah Automobile Club of Southern California 1998 1:0 N from Amazon (purchase) Good overview road map for northwest NM. No scale is given on the map. The corner coordinates are approximate.
Los Alamos BLM 2003 1:100000 Y from Amazon (purchase)
Santa Fe National Forest US Forest Service 2004 1:126720 N from Amazon (purchase) West half
Wildernesses of New Mexico US Forest Service 1981 1:1000000 N No online copies. Base map with national forests, wilderness areas and highways.

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Getting to the trailhead:

Late spring through early fall, you must park in White Rock and take a shuttle to the park unless you are camping or handicapped.

Check the Bandelier National Monument web site to see if off-site parking is required.

To get to the parking in White Rock, take NM 4 and the parking area is on the north side of the highway. Look for the signs between the two stoplights.

You can pay your entrance fee at a kiosk here. Doing so will save you time when you arrive at the park.

You can click on the map to see the full size version.

Map from the Bandelier National Monument web page.

Map showing the location of parking for the shuttle bus
No image
When the shuttle bus is not required, from Santa Fe, take Saint Francis Drive (HWY 84/285) north toward Los Alamos.

After passing Pojoaque, merge right onto New Mexico 502 to Los Alamos.

Continue up 502 toward Los Alamos. Bear right and exit onto New Mexico 4 towards White Rock. Continue for 12 miles, passing White Rock.

The entrance will be on your left. You will need to stop and pay your entrance fee before continuing.

No matter which way you took to get the the visitor's center, head east from the visitor center to the southeast end of the parking lot.
Falls trail trailhead

About the hike:

Sun dog with Diana and Sue looking at the information sign
Shortly after leaving the trailhead, you reach this information sign that describes the 2011 flood that destroyed the lower part of the trail.

Whe we were there, there was a sun dog visible. It was preceding the arrival of a storm the next day.

The trail is easy to follow and well-maintained.
Diana and Steve on the trail.
flood derbis near the trail
Along the way, you can see flood derbis, such as this large pile near the trail.
You have to cross the Rio Frijoles twice. The bridges are not very substantial; they expect more floods to destroy them.
Diana crossing the bridge, with Steve and Sue on the far side
Castilleja integra (Wholeleaf indian paintbrush)
Along the way, keep your eyes open for wildflowers such as these paintbrush.
We also saw this claret cup cactus blooming.
Claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus)
Upper Friloles Falls
After about 1.5 miles of hiking, you get to the destination, the view of the falls. The flood dramatically reshaped the area at the bottom of the falls.

After viewing the falls, return to the visitor's center via the trail you took to get here. Remember when the last bus leaves if you have to catch it.

As you walk back (or down), keep your eyes open for tent rocks such as these.
Diana on the trail near some tent rocks

Plants we saw along the trail:

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