We spent most of our week outdoors enjoying the amazing scenery Santa Fe and its surrounding environs had to offer. All of the hikes we did are kid friendly in that they were neither too long nor too difficult and had plenty of features to keep everyone interested.
The first area we explored was Bandalier National Monument, which is a collection of dwellings that were first inhabited by Native Americans over 11,000 years ago. The 1.2 mile trail is mostly paved and almost completely flat. The kids loved climbing in and exploring some of the caves that were carved out of the soft volcanic rock.
A couple of tips about this hike: Arrive early (before 9:00 a.m.) and you can drive right into the park. Any later and you have to take a shuttle bus to and from the site from nearby White Rocks which takes about 30 minutes. By arriving early you also get the site almost to yourself and miss the midday sun which can be intense.
There is an additional .5-mile walk out to the Alcove House site. It is well worth the walk just for the pleasure of walking through the forest and along a little stream and taking in the sight of the cliffs from afar.
Unfortunately, the Alcove House site is accessed by 4 wooden ladders much taller than the one in the picture above and a series of stone stairs, which we didn't feel Ava could manage so we turned back.
There is almost no signage along the way so be sure to stop in the information center and gift shop. There are brochures and handouts that outline all of the hikes and give a clearer picture of who built the dwellings and how they lived. The gift shop has a small book about Bandelier geared toward kids but it answered a lot of the questions Alan and I had as well so look out for that. The shop has some cool postcards and a very good selection of books for both kids and adults. There is a also restaurant to grab water or a snack.
The next hike was also to visit some cave dwellings but much less popular than Bandelier. It is called Tsankawi and is about a 20 minute drive from Bandelier so the two hikes can easily be done in one morning. It is a 1.5-mile loop and although it does require navigating some ladders, everyone managed with no problems. The path is over tufa (a very soft type of volcanic rock) and as such you are walking in troughs carved out by the thousands of footsteps that have come before you. Although Alan and I took to calling some of these troughs "ankle breakers," the kids loved that they were just the right size for them.
One of the most exciting parts of the hike was coming upon bits of ancient pottery scattered across the path. In one spot we quickly found 4-5 pieces to add to the display someone had already begun.
A third hike in this area is the Valle Grande trail in the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The caldera stretches over 22 miles across and was formed over a million years ago by a series of volcanic eruptions. This hike is an easy 2 miles round trip through a beautiful forest and lots of wildflowers. Then you come out of the forest to this...
We had hoped to spot a large herd of elk that roams the caldera but had to settle for small specks in the distance.
We did all three of the above hikes in one day and although it may sound crazy, it is very doable. We knocked out Bandelier and Tsankawi in the morning, grabbed a quick lunch in Los Alamos, headed out to Valles Caldera and were still home in time for a swim before dinner!
We took one more hike on our last day and it was my favorite one of the whole trip, to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Most of the guidebooks list this as the top hike in the area and it definitely delivered. We were advised to get an early start and bring lots of water and we were glad we did both. The hike is a little over 2 miles total but there are some steep climbs. You start by heading through a slot canyon which was unlike anything I've ever seen.
The kids loved scrambling up, over and sometimes under the rocks. Along the way you get a glimpse of the rock formations for which the park is named. Over time, water and wind have eroded the volcanic rock into these tent forms with little "hats" on top.
This is a very popular hike and I think we saw more people here than on the rest of our other hikes combined (another reason to get an early start). At the top you are rewarded with the most amazing views and the knowledge that it is all downhill from here.
The whole hike only takes about 2-3 hours and we wanted to check out a hike to some hot springs we had read about but unfortunately it was too far of a drive. One of the many things to put on our list of things to do next time!