Camping on site at Bandelier National Monument does have its advantages during the busy spring and summer seasons. This is especially true on weekends, because Bandelier seem to attract a high percentage of day trippers that have no plans for doing an overnighter. What this means is the campgrounds at Bandelier are rarely at full capacity, so finding a cozy little spot to rest after hiking all day is usually easy to do!
Bandelier National Monument offers a large group camping area next to the entrance gate. A little further down the entrance road is where individual campsites can be found in the Juniper Campground. Bandelier only accepts debit card or credit card payments and this includes the campground fees. There is an automated campsite payment kiosk next to Juniper Campground and it actually works! Firewood can also be purchased at the kiosk, which is a nice convenience.
The Juniper Campground is divided into two big sections. Each section has a paved access road loop, so campers can pick sites inside or outside the circle. The outer campsites on the loop are on the edge of the woods and those who choose the inner campsites campsites will find convenience in the facilities being close by. Nearly every individual campsite has a picnic table, tent sand box and a campfire ring. Some have better views than others, but overall this is a peaceful place to be.
The Juniper Campground is heavily forested with a few surrounding meadows that are perfect for early morning wildlife viewing. Because this is a vast wilderness area, the wildlife must be respected in this place. Black Bears certainly are opportunists and they can be a problem in this park if a camper is careless. By not leaving food around in the open, bears and other animals will not be attracted. By using a bear proof food container or by storing sealed food in the automobile, a nosey bear will likely not be tempted. Being bear smart is the way to go when camping at Bandelier.
Bandelier National Monument does limit vehicular access during the summer season and no cars are allowed in the visitors center from 9:00AM till 3:00PM. Visitors that arrive during peak daytime hours must park by the group campsite and ride the park shuttle bus. This is where the benefit of doing an overnight campout at Bandelier comes to light. By establishing a campsite upon arrival, there is no need to battle it out over parking spots at the visitors center early in the day, because the park shuttle bus makes regularly scheduled stops at the campground. Following the hiking trails from the campground to the visitors center or nearby cliff dwellings is a good option too, because the casual day trip visitors almost never follow these paths.
The reason why Bandelier attracts so many day trip visitors is because the main attraction in this park is the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and the great house pueblo, which only take a couple hours to tour. The main pueblo tour loops are only a couple miles long and the setting can be compared to taking a walk in a park with tall shade trees and a cool stream running through.
The visitors center and main pueblo touring loop touring areas only cover a small fraction of land in Bandelier National Monument. Nearly 90% of Bandelier is deep forested wilderness and this is where the casual day trippers rarely go. There are several great back country hiking trails at Bandelier and back country camping is allowed. Obtaining back country permits is easy to do, so escaping into to the vast world of Mother Nature is certainly is a good option at Bandelier. There are designated back country excursion parking areas and the Juniper Campground is a nice choice for a base camp.
My own visit at Bandelier was a result of a change of touring plans. I originally intended to camp two nights at the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, but the campground was way overcrowded. After sharing one tent site pad with three other tent campers, I decided to head on down to Bandelier to finish off the trip. I had a feeling that Bandelier would be less crowded and the guesswork turned out to be right. After talking to a ranger, I found out that the Bandelier campgrounds rarely fill up, because this is such a good day trip destination. The Juniper Campground definitely offered the peaceful campsite setting that I was seeking that day and there was plenty of elbow room. No matter how busy this park is, the campgrounds are rarely full, so this is reason enough to keep this in mind when touring this end of the Santa Fe National Forest!
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