Ponderosa Trail

Distance: 3.4 miles

Water: water available in the Rito de los Frijole

Season: potentially all season

Trail Condition: Good to Excellent

This is a pleasant, short day hike in Bandelier National Monument that begins on the rim of the canyon before dropping to the Rito de los Frijoles. The first section of the trail is through ponderosa forest that burned partially in the 2011 Las Conchas Fire and then switchbacks to the small creek

Unlike other trails in Bandelier, it does not pass by any archaeological sites, but is a pretty hike just the same.


From the intersection with NM-4 and NM-501 before NM-4 starts climbing up towards the Valles Caldera, head east for about 100 yards, turning south into Ponderosa Campground.

Looking downstream along the Rio de los Frijoles

From the lower parking area, pick up the Ponderosa Trail from the large sign in the far corner of the lot.

The first mile of the trail weaves through spaced out ponderosa forest that burned partially in 2011. Despite the burn, the trail has been well-maintained and is easy to follow throughout this section.

This is certainly not the prettiest stretch of trail in New Mexico, but the grasses that have returned have helped provide good habitat for elk and deer, so keep an eye out.

This section of trail is fairly flat, although it does trend uphill in the first half before descending to the rim over the second half-mile.


At about a mile, you will reach the Bandelier Wilderness, which is marked by a metal sign. From here, the trail continues to the edge of the canyon where it begins to switchback down to the Rito de los Frijoles. This section of trail is relatively steep, but in very good condition. Take your time and be careful and stop to admire the views of the inconspicuously pretty canyon.

For a short day-hike, consider the creek your turn around point. However, it can also serve as a jumping off point for a number of longer hikes including two options of reaching the visitor’s center.

Assuming you are not doing any longer hikes, turn around the return to your car the way you came.

Ponderosa Trail

(As of October 2018, there are Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout in the Rio de los Frijoles. All fish had been extirpated since the Las Conchas Fire and the subsequent floods.)

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