Bandelier National Monument: Capulin Canyon 

Dip into river-cut canyons and explore the homeland of the Ancestral Pueblo on this 19.8-mile trip in New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument.

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Date: 20 Jun 2009 8:20:41 PM
Activity: Backpacking
State: New Mexico (NM)
Distance: 19.75 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 5309 ft
Total Loss: 5310 ft
Net Change: 0 ft
Difficulty: 5 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Frijoles
Tags: Albuquerque, Bandelier National Monument, Frijoles, New Mexico, Santa Fe
Rating: Unrated   Rate it

Once the stomping ground for the Ancestral Pueblo, the sloping mesas and steep canyons of Bandelier National Monument are now home to 70 miles of trails. This 3-day lollipop loop begins near park headquarters and climbs 1,100 feet from the base of Frijoles Canyon to its rim trail. Just before mile 5, turn south and dip 400 feet into Alamo Canyon and 700 feet into Capulin Canyon before settling into camping zone B on night one.

Day two continues downhill through Capulin, bypassing the trail toward Painted Cave—a worthwhile 5-mile out-and-back—and looping back toward Alamo Canyon. If Painted Cave isn't an option on this trip, consider adding the 1.3-mile out-and-back to the rock-pile ruins of the Yapashi Pueblo to your hike. The route's loop closes at mile 12.5 and dips into Alamo again before the climb toward another camping area on the mesa. From here, it's an easy 5.1 miles downhill toward the trailhead on day three.

Note: Relative low altitudes make this a good option for spring, fall, and sometimes winters. Though water is usually available at the Upper Alamo and along most of Capulin, expect to carry it for camping at 1702 and double check conditions when you pick up your (free) backcountry permit.

-Mapped by Bill Velasquez

TO TRAILHEAD: Take US 285/US 84 to NM 502 to NM 4. Drive 12.7 miles, passing White Rock, and turn left into Bandelier National Monument. Bear left, continuing 3 miles toward the Visitor Center. The parking area is on the left.

Position Format: Datum:

Capulin Canyon Loop

Distance: 19.75 mi Points: 1541
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi

Points of Interest


Location: 35.778263, -106.270950 Altitude: 1933
This lot near the Visitor Center is reserved for backcountry campers. The trailhead is just a short walk north of here.


Location: 35.786182, -106.286942 Altitude: 1984
Continue straight toward Upper Crossing, bypassing this left-hand trail to the Upper Alamo.


Location: 35.802361, -106.343247 Altitude: 2190
Turn left at this junction near mile 4.8 and head south toward Alamo Canyon. The main trail continues straight toward Upper Crossing and into Upper Frijoles Canyon (a popular dayhike).


Location: 35.800175, -106.346008 Altitude: 2178
Continue straight at this junction and remember this point. On day three, you'll rejoin the trail at this point. Camping zone 1702 is just south of here.


Location: 35.792599, -106.350845 Altitude: 2063
This wet crossing in Upper Alamo is one of the semi-reliable sources of water on this route. On day two, you'll have to carry water from here for camping and cooking. After a brief flat along the canyon bottom, you'll turn uphill.


Location: 35.781376, -106.339539 Altitude: 2174
This point marks the beginning of this route's 5.5-mile loop. From this point, the trail dips over one small hill before switchbacking almost 700 feet into Capulin Canyon.


Location: 35.774071, -106.343987 Altitude: 2019
The bottom of Capulin Canyon is also the dividing line between camping zones A and B. Turn left and begin looking for campsites away from the main trail and along the canyon bottom.


Location: 35.770133, -106.337925 Altitude: 1983
This well-established site just past mile 8.5 is a great spot to spend the night. Though this route follows the canyon bottom another 1.5 miles, the camping zone extends only half that distance.


Location: 35.760957, -106.332593 Altitude: 1906
Find a spot before you get to the border of the camping zone. There is no camping south or east of here.


Location: 35.758125, -106.329910 Altitude: 1880
Stay straight on the trail as it bypasses the access to the Dome Trailhead and skirts a ranger cabin near the base of this peaceful valley.


Location: 35.754941, -106.325812 Altitude: 1858
Turn left to begin climbing out of the canyon. From this point, it's 2.3 miles (one way) to the Painted Cave, but check camping area closures before making the decision to add an extra night for the trip.


Location: 35.765358, -106.324120 Altitude: 1998
It's just 2.5 miles round-trip from this point to the rocky ruins of Yapashi Pueblo. If you don't have time to hit the Painted Cave, consider this shorter side-trip to another of the park's important archeological sites. Next, the route continues straight, bypassing the side trip (and the 7-mile trail to the Visitor Center.


Location: 35.767007, -106.324289 Altitude: 2017
Bear left to head back toward Alamo Canyon and to close the loop. The trail on your right is where you'd rejoin this route if you took the side trip.


Location: 35.798663, -106.347699 Altitude:
Bear right at the top of Alamo Canyon to find a campsite in camping zone 1702.


Location: 35.797218, -106.345639 Altitude: 2181
There are several good campsites in camping zone 1702, but there isn't any water. Plan ahead and carry water out of Alamo Canyon on day two. Next, head north to reconnect with Waypoint 4, then retrace your route back to the trailhead.

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