Road Trip: Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano

Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano are located on the North American Continental Divide, but the site is not part of a national or state park. The site has been owned and operated as a tourist attraction by the David Candelaria family for almost 80 years. Join us as we explore this enchanting land of fire and ice.

Where is it?

Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano are located approximately 26 miles south of Grants, New Mexico off of Highway 53. The physical address is 12000 Ice Caves Road, Grants, New Mexico.

Features of the site include:

  • Trading Post with gift shop, snacks, drinks, and historical artifacts
  • Picnic area
  • Tent camping area – fee required
  • Overnight RV parking allowed with no services – fee required
  • Hiking trails to the ice cave and the volcano
  • Site is open from March through October
  • Admission fee required

Access the website here.

Ice Caves Trading Post, originally built in the 1930s along with a dance hall and saloon.

Visiting Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano

Ice Caves Trading Post, located next to the parking lot, is the first stop in order to pay admission fees and borrow a trail guide. While there, visitors can view historic photos as well as some of the ancient artifacts that have been found on the site. The trading post also sells wonderful pottery, rugs, and jewelry crafted by local tribal members.

Pottery and implements – proof that Native American people occupied the area hundreds of years ago.
Pottery, stone implements, and animal bones. Some of the artifacts on display date back 800 to 1,200 years.

When exiting the trading post, a right-hand turn will take visitors to the trail to the ice cave, and a left will take them to the trail to the volcano. Excited about a hike we hit the level trail, which is roughly a half mile out and back, to see our first ice cave.

Ice Cave Trail

Ice Cave Trail features the ruins of an ancient pueblo where artifacts like the ones shown above were found. Visitors will also be able to see parts of the Bandera lava tube. Lava tubes form where the surface lava hardens but molten lava still continues to flow underneath. The Bandera lava tube is 17.5 miles long, and some believe it is the longest one in North America. Much of the tube has now collapsed, but a few caves remain. Ice Cave is one of them.

Lava Cave

Amid a lot of lava, visitors to Ice Cave will see beautiful mosses and lichens. The alpine moss that grows near the cave’s entrance is an unusual find so far south.

Green alpine moss and orange lichens adorn the lava near the cave’s entrance.

A stairway with 72 steps leads down to a small viewing platform at the cave’s entrance. Visitors cannot enter the cave which keeps a temperature that never rises above 31 degrees (F). As water seeps into the cave the floor of ice thickens, though thickening depends on rain and snowfall. Ice has been forming in the cave for at least 3,400 years.

Ice Cave

Incredibly, the ice does not seem to be affected by climate change and is estimated to be 18-20 feet thick today. A type of algae causes the green tint.

Icicles on the cave wall appear to drip on to the icy floor.

Everyone from ancient Indians to the saloon owner, Mr. Mirabal, who was David Candelaria’s father-in-law, harvested ice from the cave. Fortunately, ice harvesting ceased in 1946 when Candelaria turned the site into a tourist attraction.

This shot shows the incredible natural colors of the rock inside the cave.

Bandera Volcano Trail

After returning from the ice cave, we took off from the trading post to hike to the crater of the volcano. The one mile out and back trail was fairly easy with a 150-200-foot elevation gain and gorgeous views.

Trail and volcano view.

Ever heard of a tree hole? We hadn’t until we came across one on this trail. A tree hole is formed when molten lava surrounds a tree, then the tree burns due to the extreme heat of the lava. When the lava eventually cools, a hole is left where the tree once stood.

Tree hole

Bandera, which is a cinder cone, is the largest of 29 volcanoes in the west central area of New Mexico, usually known as the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field but also sometimes known as the Malpais (Mal-pie-EEs) volcanic field. Neighboring volcanoes have interesting names, such as Rendija (Crack), Lost Woman, Americana, and Comadre (Godmother), just to name a few. Bandera means flag in Spanish.

Layered views of some other volcanoes in the Zuni-Bandera volcanic field of west central New Mexico.

Bandera erupted about 10,000 years ago, creating a 23-mile-long lava flow. The eruption blew out the side of Bandera resulting in a crater that is approximately 1,400 wide and 800 feet deep.

Bandera crater

Erosion from above is causing rock and cinders to fill the bottom of the crater. In an effort to keep this from happening faster than it should, visitors cannot venture past the viewing platform which sits about 130 feet below the rim. Bandera Volcano’s elevation is 8,367 feet at the rim.

From the trail: Volcanic landscape with a lotta lava in the right foreground.

A great interactive map showing the area’s volcanoes can be found here.

Final Thoughts

We highly recommend a stop at Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano for those traveling in New Mexico. The site is located about half-way between two national monuments, El Malpais and El Morro, and is an easy drive from I-40. Combining all three sites makes for a perfect one or two-day road trip with accommodations in the cities of Grants or Gallup.

Interesting dead tree

Thank you so much for coming along on our fire and ice adventure! Our parting shot is from Bandera Volcano Trail and is a peek through the trees at a couple of the other neighboring volcanoes.

Looking for more road trip inspiration? Try these great destinations:

Happy, safe travels, y’all!

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our written content and photos are copyrighted and may not be published without our permission.

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70 thoughts on “Road Trip: Ice Cave and Bandera Volcano

  1. What an interesting stop. So glad someone is preserving it while making access possible. The cave is definitely strange with that level of ice in the bottom. Lava tubes and caldera are always interesting to see, as long as the volcano is extinct. What would the elevation of this place be at Kellye? Allan

      1. Thank you, Alison! The Candelarias inherited it from his wife’s father, Mr. Mirabal, but I don’t know how Mr. Mirabal got it. A lot of the property in New Mexico was obtained by families who had homes and farms there when Spain still owned the land. Then when Mexico turned it over to the US there was a provision that the people could keep their land. It could’ve been that scenario, but I’m not sure. Thank you for reading!

  2. We’ve done quite a few US road trips over the years and I’m always looking for new suggestions. So I’ll be saving this one. XXX

  3. How did we miss this when planning our NM itinerary?! We went to El Malpais and to Grants so must have been very close, yet I never heard of it πŸ™ We would have really enjoyed seeing both the cave and the volcano crater, but at least I’ve now seen them through your eyes πŸ™‚

  4. Thank you for another excellent post. This is yet another place I’ve never heard of. Both places are so interesting – and within walking distance of each other! I’ve never seen an ice cave. Now I’ve seen a volcano (in Hawaii), but it was very far in the distance. I’m glad this area is being preserved.

  5. Great post! The ice cave is really fascinating since it’s open to the air and yet maintains a constant temperature. Just curious…long ago when they harvested ice, didn’t it make people sick due to the algae content? Looks like an amazing place to visit. Thanks for sharing.

  6. How fascinating to see these gems in New Mexico! Especially when I had the impression that much of the state was mere desert, it’s surprising to see so much greenery, let alone ICE, here! The combo of ice and volcano is very similar to Iceland’s topography, although it’s a very-different environment over there! Glad you got to visit a unique site in New Mexico!

  7. Love the mix of fire and ice! That ice in the cave is so interesting and I really love the minty green color of it. I had never heard of tree holes- amazing the moments in time that nature remembers. πŸ™‚ Another great chapter in this roadtrip story!

  8. Wow, there’s so much here that I’ve never seen before! The ice cave with its natural colours, the tree hole (how interesting) and the Bandera crater. It looks like an area where there could be quite a bit of “activity” underground …

  9. It’s incredible to hear just how long the Bandera lava tube is. I never would have thought that there would be an ice cave in New Mexico. Looks like a neat place to explore. Thanks for sharing. Linda

  10. Wow! This was such a great adventure! Thank you for sharing it with us! I learned a lot reading about your trip, and the photographs are absolutely amazing! πŸ™‚

  11. I have never seem anything quite like this. Nature’s wonders in all their glories. Ice that seems to be unaffected by climate change, how encouraging. Love the volcano names.

  12. This is so interesting!! The ice caves amaze me and the fact that they can withstand the temperatures is amazing. I love the pottery and stone. Thank you for sharing!

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