Alcove House Trail (Ceremonial Cave), Visitor Center Main Parking Lot, Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Alcove House Trail (Ceremonial Cave) - 2.2 miles

Visitor Center Main Parking Lot

The Alcove House - a large cave 140' above the canyon floor - with a kiva in the foreground

The Alcove House - a large cave 140' above the canyon floor - with a kiva in the foreground

Round-Trip Length: 2.2 miles
Start-End Elevation: 6,103? - 6,365? (6,365? max elevation)
Elevation Change: 262' net change (325' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Alcove House Trail (Ceremonial Cave) - 2.2 Miles Round-Trip

Important Note from the NPS: Due to cracking and deterioration of the Kiva structure, Alcove House has been closed until stabilization efforts can take place. As of April 12, 2013 we project that the site will remain closed for several months.

The Alcove House, also known as the Ceremonial Cave, was once home to about 25 Ancestral Pueblo people between the years 1250 - 1600 A.D.. Located 140' above the canyon floor, the Alcove House can only be reached by a series of steep ladders and rock stairs built into the side of the canyon. This trail is not meant for those with a fear of heights.

Leaving from the Visitor Center parking lot, this trail provides a direct route to the Alcove House. The trail length includes walking .25 miles from the Visitors Center main parking lot up the road west of the Visitors Center until it dead ends in a turnabout. At the north end of the turnabout is the trail to Alcove Cave.

At this point, you step off the paved road and onto the packed dirt Alcove House Trail. The trail heads directly north and maintains a relatively flat grade as it follows Frijoles Creek. The trail is shaded by a plethura of green flora including tall pine and oak trees. The sound of Frijoles Creek combined with singing birds makes this a very pleasant stretch.

At about .5 miles, a trail split for the Main Ruins Loop Trail is off to the right. Stay straight on the Alcove Cave Trail. The trail continues through this coniferous forest and at the 1.0 mile mark (6,208?) the first sign for Alcove House appears. It is an interpretive sign explaining life in and around this Ceremonial Cave and includes a pictoral represenation of how the cave may have looked 600 years ago. Shortly after reaching the sign, you will come to the base of the climb to the cave.

The climb to the Alcove Cave is very steep and requires navigating narrow stone stairs and railings, as well as climbing up very steep, tall wooden ladders. This is not a section for those with a fear of heights.

It is a short 140' climb to reach the cave, and the journey is well worth the effort. What awaits is a glimpse into the ways of life of the cave?s ancient inhabitants. A reconstructed underground kiva sits within the cave and evidence of ancient construction is present. Viga holes indicate that ancient housing structures were built within the cave itself, leading anthropologists to discern that the cave itself was home to about 25 Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants.

The underground Kiva is open for exploration. A ladder is provided for entry into the Kiva which is smaller than the large Kiva along the Main Ruins Loop Trail. Tread lightly as the spirits of the Ancestral Pueblo still reside in the Alcove House.

The Alcove House provides terrific views up and down Frijoles Canyon. This is a special place and care should be taken to preserve this area for future generations to enjoy.

To make this experience a special one, get on the trail very early to avoid inevitable crowds at this popular destination. If you arrive early, you may be able to enjoy the spiritual cave to yourself.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 46.815 W106 16.395 — Alcove House Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • The Alcove House is located 140' off the canyon floor and is accessed only by a system of steep wooden ladders and stone stairs. Those with a fear of heights should not attempt this climb

  • To experience this spiritual area by yourself, arrive early as crowds build up quickly and can make this a less than pleasant experience

Camping and Backpacking Information

There is no camping on the Alcove House Trail. However, camping is available at the Juniper Campground which is open from March through 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. Backcountry camping is available beyond the Alcove House in Frijoles Canyon.

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. From the parking lot at the Visitor Center, begin walking down the road just to the west of the Visitor Center. At .25 miles, the paved road ends and the Alcove House Trail begins on a packed dirt path.

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).

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Due to cracking and deterioration of the Kiva structure, Alcove House has been closed until stabilization efforts can take place. As of April 12, 2013 we project that the site will remain closed for several months."
Rod Torrez  -  Bandelier National Monument  -  Date Posted: April 12, 2013
"During some parts of the year the access to Frijoles Canyon may be by shuttle bus only, so check the park website or call the Visitor Center if you want to be sure to be able to drive into the canyon in the early morning. The start date for the buses hasn't been set for 2013 yet, and it is likely to be mid-March at the very earliest."
Chris Judson  -  Bandelier National Monument  -  Date Posted: February 4, 2013


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