The Ultimate Guide To Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most archeologically and historically significant sites in the US!
Mesa Verde National Park is home to the remnants of the most advanced cliff dwelling and pueblo systems of Ancestral Pueblo people in the US!
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwest Colorado near the city of Cortez, close to the Four Corners Monument, the meeting point of the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. The Mesa Verde National Park protects and preserves the remnants of Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited the area several hundred years ago.
The remnants include cliff dwellings, pithouses, petroglyphs, gardens, and valley floors once used for growing crops by the Ancestral Pueblo people. These structures were built using sandstone, mud, and water, and separate rooms were constructed for storing crops and ceremonial purposes.
Experience the remarkable craftsmanship and architecture of the ancient time by exploring the cliff dwellings, pithouses, petroglyphs, tools, and pottery pieces in Mesa Verde National Park!
The park got its name from the Spanish explorers, who saw the canyons with flat tops and steep walls amid the green valley and named the place “Mesa Verde,” which means green table in Spanish. Mesa Verde was inhabited till the 13th century but later abandoned due to the drought and cold temperatures in the area.
However, many of the structures still remain, and several artifacts were unearthed during the excavation in the area. The National Park Services, since then, have preserved and protected the site and offers guided and self-guided tours of the several sections in the park.
To preserve the delicate structures & safety purposes, the cliff dwellings can be explored only via ranger-led guided tours.
Here is my ultimate guide to Mesa Verde National Park, featuring must-see places, attractions map, suggested itinerary, hiking trails, campgrounds, hotels, and restaurants near Mesa Verde National Park.
Getting To Mesa Verde National Park
The best way to get to Mesa Verde National Park is by flying into Denver & then taking a connecting flight to Cortez!
Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southwest corner of Colorado, near the town of Cortez, quite close to Four Corners Monument, the meeting point of the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.
Cortez is the major city close to Mesa Verde National Park. However, Cortez is quite far from Denver, about 380 miles southwest of Denver and about 357 miles from Colorado Springs. But its proximity to Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah open the doors to other airports and transportation options from the neighboring states. Mesa Verde National Park Address: GPS Coordinates Lat: 37.1838, Long: -108.4887.
Airports Near Mesa Verde National Park: Mesa Verde National Park’s proximity to the neighboring states of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico opens the door to a couple of airports closer to Mesa Verde National Park than Denver International Airport.
International Airports Near Mesa Verde National Park
- Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ), Albuquerque, New Mexico: 267 miles to Mesa Verde, about four hours 30 minutes drive.
- Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC), Salt Lake City, Utah: 384 miles to Mesa Verde, about 6 hours 30 minutes drive.
- Denver International Airport (DEN), Denver, Colorado: 416 miles to Mesa Verde, about 7 hours 30 minutes drive.
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona: 448 miles, about 7 hours drive.
- McCarran International Airport (LAS), Las Vegas, Nevada: 548 miles to Mesa Verde, about 8 hours 30 minutes.
Domestic Airports Near Mesa Verde National Park
- Cortez Municipal Airport (CEZ), Cortez, Colorado: 35 miles to Mesa Verde, Cortez is the closest airport to Mesa Verde.
- Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO), Durango, Colorado: 68 miles to Mesa Verde, about 1 hour 30 minutes drive.
Mesa Verde is quite far from all major close-by international airports & the best option is to get a direct or connecting flight to Cortez or Durango.
Train Services To Mesa Verde National Park: While there’re no direct train services to Mesa Verde National Park, you could either take a direct Amtrak train to Denver Union Station. Or use Amtrak’s train-bus mixed services to get to Colorado Springs, and then rent a car, hire a cab to Mesa Verde or take an Amtrak & CDOT bus service to Durango, Colorado, which is the closest bus terminal near Mesa Verde.
Bus Services To Mesa Verde National Park: Like Amtrak train services, Greyhound also connects several US cities to many Colorado cities, including Denver, Colorado Springs, and Grand Junction. CDOT also offers bus services to Durango, Colorado, which is the closest bus terminal near Mesa Verde.
However, upon reaching, you would either need to rent a car, hire a taxi, or use one of the ride-hailing services like Uber/Lyft to get to Mesa Verde National Park.
Things To Do In Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park Attractions Map
Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round, but the Cliff Dwellings, a major attraction, is only accessible outside the winter months.
Mesa Verde National Park has two major sections, the Chapin Mesa and the Wetherill Mesa, named after the two great explorers of the area, Frederick H. Chapin and Richard Wetherill. There’s only one entrance to the park, where you will also find the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center. There’s a single road from the entrance to the Fair View Lodge, from where the road splits into two roads, one leading to Chapin Mesa and the other to Wetherill Mesa.
The major attractions and archeological sites are located at the two Mesas in the Mesa Verde National Park.
- Far View Sites
- Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
- Spruce Tree House
- Cliff Palace
- Balcony House
- Wetherill Mesa Information Center
- Step House
- Long House
- Kodak House
Located right at the park’s entrance, the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is the best place to start your Mesa Verde tour. The Visitor and Research Center has a museum with several exhibits excavated from the Mesa Verde area, a great place to learn about the history and the culture of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived at Mesa Verde.
The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center also has a book store and an information desk with park rangers who can help you plan your Mesa Verde trip. You can also purchase your guided tour tickets at the visitor center or online at recreation.gov.
You would need to drive to the Fair View Lodge from the visitor center, and from there, you either head towards Chapin Mesa or Wetherill Mesa.
Exploring Chapin Mesa In Mesa Verde
The Chapin Mesa is the most popular of the two Mesas in the park, and if you’re short and time and can visit only one Mesa in the park, I would recommend visiting Chapin Mesa.
Far View Sites: Located just a few miles from the Far View Lodge, the Far View Sites is the first attraction on the way to the Chapin Mesa. The Far View Sites is a mesa top community complex, consisting of six archeological sites comprising the Far View House, remnants of several pueblo structures, petroglyphs, and a dry water reservoir. The Far View Sites can be toured via an easy 0.75 miles trail marked with signs providing insights about the area. The Far View Site is a great place to reflect upon Ancestral Pueblo people’s lifestyle and learn about their day-to-day life.
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum: Located 20 miles from the park’s entrance and 4.5 miles from Far View Sites, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is one of the oldest National Park Service Museums with several archeological artifacts and remnants excavated at the Chapin Mesa site. You will also find a book store, a gift shop, a snack bar, water fountains, and restrooms in the museum.
Spruce Tree House: The Spruce Tree House is one of the most photographed and awe-inspiring cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. The Spruce Tree House is quite unique and interesting as it’s tucked into a natural sandstone alcove, and it’s said that people use to climb down a large spruce tree to enter the dwellings. There’re several rooms and kivas inside the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling, and much of it is preserved using original materials. However, due to sandstone’s fragile nature, natural erosion, and for safety reasons, the cliff dwellings at Spruce Tree House are no more accessible.
The cliff dwellings at Spruce Tree House is not accessible. However, the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum has an overlook that offers excellent views of Spruce Tree House!
Cliff Palace: The most popular attraction of Mesa Verde, the Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling built by Ancestral Pueblo people in the US! The Cliff Palace is home to several residential structures, kivas, and courtyards. The massive size of the Cliff Palace compared to other cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde indicates that Cliff Palace had some kind of social and communal significance among the other settlements in the area.
The Cliff Palace cliff dwellings are accessible via ranger-led guided tours. It is the most popular cliff dwelling tour in Mesa Verde and often sells out, so I highly recommend making reservations online on recreation.gov. The Cliff Palace cliff dwelling tour starts near the Cliff Palace overlook and lasts for 30 – 45 minutes. The tour involves 0.25 miles roundtrip hike with some steep climbs and usage of ladders.
Balcony House: Named after its balconies, the Balcony House is a mid-size two-story cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde. Balcony House is accessible only via ranger-led guided tours and is the most adventurous tour in Mesa Verde National Park. However, the short one-hour 0.25 miles hike is quite challenging and not for the faint-hearted as it involves climbing up and down ladders and crawling through a narrow tunnel.
Hiking Trails In Chapin Mesa: The only self-guided exploration of Chapin Mesa includes hiking a few trails in the Chapin Mesa area. There’re five popular hiking trails in Chapin Mesa, including three easy hikes and a couple of moderately strenuous hiking trails.
- Far View Sites Trail: The Far View Sites, a mesa top community complex with six archeological sites, can be toured only via hiking an easy 0.75 miles trail. The Far View Sites is the first attraction on the Chaping Mesa road, with the Far View Sites trailhead and parking lot located just a few miles from the Far View Lodge.
- Farming Terrace Trail: This is an easy hike for most of the part, with a few steep climbs towards the end of the trail near the check dams. The 0.5 miles roundtrip hike starts at the end of the Cedar Tree Tower road, passing through Ancestral Puebloan farming site, and ends near ancient check dams constructed to counteract soil erosion on the mesa top.
- Soda Canyon Overlook Trail: This is an easy 1.2 miles roundtrip hike starting at the Soda Canyon trailhead located on the one-way Cliff Palace Loop Road past the Balcony House parking area. The overlook offers excellent views of the Balcony House and other nearby archeological sites. This is the only place in the park that offers views of the Balcony House without actually doing the guided tour of Balcony House.
- Spruce Canyon Trail: The Spruce Canyon Trail is a moderately strenuous 2.4 miles roundtrip hike with the trailhead located near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. This is the only hike in the park that lets visitors explore the Mesa Verde valley’s bottom.
- Petroglyph Point Trail: The Petroglyph Point Trail is a moderately strenuous 2.4 miles roundtrip hike through a narrow, rocky, and rugged terrain. Named after the Petroglyphs found along the trail’s wall, the Petroglyph Point Trail starts near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and offers excellent views of Spruce and Navajo Canyons besides the petroglyphs pannel.
Exploring Wetherill Mesa In Mesa Verde
The seasonal Wetherill Mesa is open May through October, is not as busy as the Chapin Mesa, and is often called the “quieter side” of Mesa Verde. At the Fair View Lodge, you must take the road turning to the right to get to Wetherill Mesa. The road is paved but narrow and not recommended for vehicles longer than 25 feet.
The drive to Wetherill Mesa from the park entrance takes about 45 minutes, and towards the end of the road is the Wetherill Mesa Information Center and parking lot. There’re rangers available at the Information Center who can help you plan your visit to the Wetherill Mesa. You will also find restrooms, a picnic area, and a snack bar near Wetherill Mesa Information Center.
Step House: The Step House is the only self-guided cliff dwelling tour site in Mesa Verde National Park. The Step House cliff dwelling contains several residential rooms, kivas, and pit houses. The Step House is an important archeological site in Mesa Verde, as several artifacts unearthed here, including woven baskets, pieces of potteries, provided significant insights into the occupation of the residents of the area.
The self-guided tour of the Step House is a moderate one-mile hike and takes about 45 minutes – one-hour. The Step House trailhead is located close to the Wetherill Mesa Information Center, and you will find park rangers along the trail for assistance.
Long House: The Long House is the second-largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park, the largest being the Cliff Palace on the Chapin Mesa side. The Long House cliff dwelling features several rooms, kivas, and storage rooms, along with large open gathering places, which indicates that the Long House was also used as a gathering place and had some communal significance for the people living on the Wetherill Mesa.
The Long House can be accessed only via ranger-led guided tours and is one of the most in-depth tours offered at Mesa Verde National Park. The guided tour begins at the Long House trailhead located near Wetherill Mesa Information Center. The 2.25 miles roundtrip hike takes about 2.5 – 3 hours and requires climbing a couple of ladders to get to the cliff dwellings. The hike is quite strenuous and is recommended only for experienced hikers in good physical condition.
Hiking Trails In Wetherill Mesa: The Wetherill Mesa is a fun place for hikers and bikers. You can either hike the trails or ride your bike to the trailheads, park your bike and hike the rest of the trail.
Long House Loop Trail: 5 miles loop, passing through several overlooks and other trailheads.
- Long House Overlook Trail: Located on the Long House Loop Trail, the Long House Overlook trailhead is about 1.5 miles from the Wetherill Mesa Information Center. From the trailhead, a short and quick 0.15-mile hike leads to the overlook.
- Kodak House Overlook Trail: Located along the Long House Loop Trail, about 2.5 miles from the Wetherill Mesa Information Center on the Long House Loop is the Kodak House Overlook trailhead. The overlook from the trailhead is just a short walk and offers excellent views of the Kodak House named after the Kodak cameras used by Wetherill for photographing the area.
Badger House Community Trail: This is a 2.25-mile roundtrip walking trail starting at the Wetherill Mesa Information Center, passing through four archeological sites.
Nordenskiold Site #16 Trail: The 2 miles roundtrip hike to Nordenskiold Site #16 overlook, starting at the Wetherill Mesa Information Center, offers great views of the cliff dwellings excavated by the Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiold.
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I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Mesa Verde National Park, and I expect this will help you plan your trip to the Mesa Verde National Park.
Happy feeding your soul!
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