Mesa Verde National Park is famous for its cliff dwellings, which are some of the best-preserved of the Ancestral Pueblo people. It’s located in the southwest corner of Colorado and there are over 4,000 known archaeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings.
Teddy Roosevelt created the park in 1906 to “preserve the works of man”. In fact, it was the very first national park created to preserve human-created structures and history. There is a lot to see in this park, more than 5,000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings, so consider spending an extra day. Additionally, there are paid guided tours that are cheap and definitely worth it.
Pets are not welcome on tours or most of the trails, so be careful as it gets hot here. Combined with the Mesa Verde Wilderness, the area preserves 8,500 acres.
Between a campground, restaurant, library, gift shop, lodge and visitor center, there are numerous amenities throughout the park.
- Moorefield Camp Store, Knife Edge Cafe, Gas Station, Laundry
- Far View Visitor Center – Gift shop, info, and tickets
- Far View Restaurant & Lounge
- Far View Lodge – A hotel with an upscale restaurant and bar
- Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum
- Spruce Tree Terrace Restaurant & Gift Shop
- Post Office, Ranger Station
- Research Library
Activities at Mesa Verde
The highlights are nonstop at Mesa Verde, with a driving tour, and both guided and self-guided walking tours. More than 4,000 ruins exist, from 600 AD to 1300 AD, with 600 cliff dwellings. The ruins are located in Southwest Colorado, in between Cortez and Mancos.
Auto Tour: The scenic auto tour is excellent, but make sure you stop and see each site! It’ll take a few hours if you’re taking the time to see everything.
Camping: The Moorefield Campground is the first attraction you reach 4 miles into the park. It’s open from mid-April to mid-October. There are 267 campsites spread out over several loops. While it’s the only campground, there are additional campgrounds that can be found at nearby Mancos State Park.
Read about more camping near Mesa Verde National Park.
Hiking: There are lots of hiking trails around Mesa Verde. Dogs are not permitted on any of the hiking trails. They are permitted on the paved overlook trails and other paved areas. Be careful about leaving your dog(s) inside your car with much more than 60°F heat. Always leave windows cracked and water.
Parking in the shade is usually not an option at Mesa Verde. Canyons Of The Ancients is a nearby archeological site that allows dogs on the trails. The Petroglyph Point National Recreation Trail is a 2.4-mile round trip hike that departs from the end of the road near Spruce Treehouse. Be on the lookout for Native American rock art.
Self Guided Tours: Open 8 am – Sunset, some favorite self-guided tours included Coyote Village and Spruce Tree House. There’s also a free museum, library, and visitor center with information and exhibits.
- Far View Sites – There are 5 mesa-top villages and Far View Reservoir. A 3/4 mile trail connects all the sites.
- Spruce Tree House – This is the best-preserved cliff dwelling in the park. During the winter season, it is a free ranger-led tour. During peak season it’s a self-guided tour; 1/2 mile round trip, 45 minutes.
- Cedar Tree Tower – Mesa top tower and kiva.
- Mesa Top Loop Road – This is a driving tour, where’ll you park and take a short paved walk to each site or overlook. It covers 700 years of Mesa Verde history (A.D. 600-1300). There are 12 easy-to-access sites including surface dwellings and cliff dwelling overlooks. 6 miles. Highlights include Square Tower House, Sun Point Overlook, Sun Temple, and Sun Point Pueblo.
- Weatherill Mesa – Open Memorial Day to Labor Day. The Step House is a 3/4 mile round trip hike to see a pithouse, petroglyphs, and a cliff dwelling. The Badger House Trail is a 2.5-mile walk leading to community surface sites. You can take the tram to the Badger House tram stop to shorten the hike to 1.5 miles.
Guided Tours: Paid, guided tours are 60 to 90 minutes long, depending on which you choose. Definitely try to take a guided group tour. Guides are insightful and you get to walk through the park’s most popular ruins, including Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House.
- Cliff Place – Largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde and a must-see. Easy hike, only 1/4 mile round trip, 1 hour. There is also a twilight tour held at 7 pm where characters in costume, give their perspective of Mesa Verde; 90 minutes.
- Balcony House – A fun tour for adventurists. This cliff dwelling is one of the most defensive in the park and requires you ladders, cliff steps, and crawl through a 12-ft-long tunnel; 1 hour.
- Long House – Open from Memorial Day-Labor Day weekends. This is the most in-depth tour at the park. It starts with a tram ride from the trailhead and requires you to climb 2 ladders and walk 3/4 mile roundtrip; 90 minutes.
Far View Lodge
You can also stay at the Far View Lodge, located right across from the Visitor Center. It offers 150 guest rooms 15 miles within the national park’s grounds. It’s best to start in the morning by hitting the nearby trails.
Check prices, availability or book Far View Lodge
For food and drinks, the Spruce Tree Terrace Restaurant is open till 5 pm next to the Museum. Another restaurant, mainly for hotel guests, is available in the Far View Terrance Restaurant. They serve upscale southwestern cuisine and are open late. There’s also a Lounge upstairs serving food and drinks.
Address: Mesa Verde, CO (near Cortez)
Cost: Entrance fee per vehicle or pedestrian
Pets: Yes, on-leash, with restrictions. They are limited to paved areas, so no trails.
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