Mesa Verde National Park from A to Z

Mesa Verde, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a park unlike any other, in which cave dwellings and archaeological sites abound amongst canyons and lush forest.

With its must-see points of interest and practical information, this complete guide will be your best ally on your next visit.

It's time for a journey back in time and full of mystery to some of the most beautiful archaeological remains that you will discover during your trip to the US.

Presentation of Mesa Verde National Park

View of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde houses more than 5,000 archaeological sites including several cave dwelling villages, which were inhabited in the early 600s by the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) people.

This forgotten park of the American West is traversed by a scenic road that splits at Far View, dividing the park into two sections

 Chapin Mesa: open year-round, this is the most visited area.
 Wetherill Mesa: less visited, open from mid-May to mid-October. The 20-km Wetherill Mesa Road is steep and winding and prohibited to vehicles over 25 feet long.

 

What to do in Mesa Verde

Beginning your visit with a stop at the Visitor Center, at the park entrance, is a must.

You will be greeted by park rangers, who will help you plan your visit and explain the layout of the park. This is also where you can purchase tickets for guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House. 

Don't miss the exhibits highlighting the richness of Ancestral Puebloan culture.

 

:pin: emoji CHAPIN MESA SECTOR
 

#1. Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Exhibit at the Chapin Mesa Museum
Museum exhibit

The museum is also worth a visit.

The exhibits and a 25-minute orientation film will teach you all about the lives and culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people. 

Hours of operation: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from early January to mid-April, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from mid-April to late September, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from late September to mid-October, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from mid-October to late December.
 

#2. Spruce Tree House

This dwelling, built into a natural alcove 66 m wide and 27 m deep, has 130 rooms and 8 kivas.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to walk on the site because of falling rocks, but you can get close to it by taking an easy path from the museum. 

What is a kiva? Kivas were round underground rooms accessed from the roof by means of a ladder. They were used for religious ceremonies and as a gathering place for activities such as weaving.

 

#3. Cliff Palace

  • Tour length: 1 hr
  • Price: $7
  • When: mid-April to mid-October
  • Book your ticket here or buy it at the Visitor Center
     

This incredible dwelling, perched on the edge of the canyon, contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas, and had a population of approximately 100 people.

It is the largest cliff dwelling in the park, and really feels like a village.

Cliff Palace is often featured in the most famous photos of the national park, a perfect illustration of the park's greenery and famous cliff structures. 
 

#4. Balcony House

  • Tour length: 1 hr
  • Price: $7
  • When: mid-April to end of September
  • Book your ticket here or buy it at the Visitor Center
     

With its tunnel, steep passageways and 10-metre entrance ladder, Balcony House is the most adventurous tour in the park.

But if you're fit and not afraid of heights, don't hesitate for a second.

It's a simply magnificent site.
 

#5. Petroglyph Point Trail

Petroglyphs along Petroglyph Point Trail
Petroglyphs visible from the trail

This moderate 3.7 km loop hike begins next to the museum. 

The trail offers a gorgeous view of Spruce Canyon and Navajo Canyon and leads past a large petroglyph panel.

Some sections are quite steep, so be careful if you're hiking with young children.
 

#6. Mesa Top Loop Road

This 10-km one-way road provides access to several short, paved trails leading to viewpoints.

There are many ruins and archaeological sites along the way. Highlights include Square Tower House and the view of Cliff Palace from Sun Point View.

 

:pin: emoji WETHERILL MESA SECTOR
 

#1. Step House

Smaller, but similar in appearance to the other dwellings, Step House is located in a large alcove on the eastern side of the plateau. 

It is open for self-guided tours and is reached by a short trail. There is always a ranger on duty to answer your questions.
 

#2. Long House

  • Tour length: 2 hr
  • Price: $7
  • When: mid-May to end of September
  • Book your ticket here or buy it at the Visitor Center
     

Long House is the second-largest dwelling in the park.

The guided tour lasts 2 hours and includes a 3.6 km round-trip hike, and climbing two 4.5-m ladders inside the site.

This tour is quite physical due to the heat, the altitude, and the level of difficulty of the trail.

 

Where to eat in Mesa Verde

:manger: emoji Spruce Tree Terrace Café ($)

This is a great place for an inexpensive lunch. You will find Southwest specialties including their popular Navajo tacos. Open year-round, 7 days a week.

:manger: emoji Far View Terrace Café ($$-$$$)

A cafe with a lovely view and a varied menu, near Far View Lodge. Open May-September.
 

:manger: emoji Metate Room ($$$$)

Contemporary restaurant offering quality food, impeccable service and a superb view of the park (try to get a table near the window). Open from mid-April until late October. Reservations are strongly recommended.

 

Where to sleep in Mesa Verde

:dormir: emoji Far View Lodge ($$$)

Fait View Lodge enjoys a peaceful location in the heart of nature, and is the only accommodation inside the park. All guest rooms have a balcony with a great view... but no television!
 

:dormir: emoji Morefield Campground ($)

Comfortable camping in a glorious canyon setting, just 6 km from the park entrance. The campground has all the amenities: laundromat, gas station, gift shop... Foodies will appreciate the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast in the village restaurant.

Keep an eye out: it's not unusual to see deer and wild turkeys!

 

Best time to go

Mesa Verde temperatures
Mesa Verde climate

The park is open year-round but, as mentioned above, Wetherill Mesa sector is not accessible from mid-October to mid-May.

Although there are no cliff dwelling tours in winter, many cliff dwellings can be viewed from overlooks. 

There are a few trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and walking: when the park dons its winter white, it is simply sublime!

 

Rates

Photo of an annual national parks pass
The "America the Beautiful" pass quickly pays for itself

Valid for 7 days, the park entry fee is $25 per vehicle (including occupants) in high season, and $20 in low season.

If you plan to visit more than 2 or 3 parks during your trip, the most economical option is to purchase the "America the Beautiful Pass" for $80, which is valid for 1 year.

 

Practical information
 

  • There is no shuttle service inside the park.
  • It takes at least a full day to visit the park. But between you and me, if you can spend two days there, don't hesitate...
  • The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. in high season (end of May to early September) and from 8 a.m. to 4:30 the rest of the year.
  • Cell service is limited in the park.
  • Summers can be very hot, and there is little shade in the park. Bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.
  • Mesa Verde is at an altitude of 2,135 m. You may feel out of breath or experience nausea or fatigue. Take it easy.

 

Map of Mesa Verde National Park

map mesa verde park usa
Map of Mesa Verde

 

And there you go!

Sounds like a great program, doesn't it?

Don't hesitate to share your experiences or ask questions in the comments section below.

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