National Parks / Natural World

Mesa Verde National Park Mesa Verde

Where is it at?

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Mesa Verde National Park
Off Highway 160
Mesa Verde
CO
81330
Tel: 970-529-4465

Directions

The headquarters are an one hour drive from Cortez heading east on Hwy 160, and a 1.5 hour drive from Durango heading west on Hwy 160/

Where are we going today?

There are 20 UNESCO heritage sites within the USA, and Mesa Verde National Park is one of them!  This incredible location in Colorado has over 5,000 protected archeological sites, which include 600 cliff dwellings.

Can you imagine living in these carved out homes? It will certainly give kids a great insight into how people used to live for over 700 years, starting at AD 600 to AD 1300. (They might realize they don't have it so bad now!)

These cliff dwellings are some of the best preserved in the entire continent of North America.  After living on the mesa top for almost 600 years the Ancestral Puebloans began to build beneath the overhanging cliffs.

These amazing structures range in size. There are one room storage unites, and there are entire villages of more than 150 rooms! Pretty incredible!

The mesa tops turns into use for farming, while for over a century they repaired and remodelled the alcoves they lived in.

By the late 1270's the Ancestral Puebloans began to migrate south, and 30 years later Mesa Verde was no longer occupied.

Which is great for us now, because you get to enjoy these amazing sites with the family!

There's even a palace!

Kids will have a great time, because Mesa Verde National Park has Junior Ranger Program where kids aged 4 - 12 can actually become a Junior Ranger - pretty cool! The visitor center and museum have the activity booklets, so pick one up so they can earn the badge!

A fascinating and historical day out for the kids where they can learn AND have a great time!

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How much does it cost?

  • Adults$10/$15 for private vehicles, $5/$8 for individuals.
LAST UPDATED 2014

When can we go?

Visitor center hours vary on season. Open between 7:30am to 8:30am, and closes between 4:30pm to 7pm

Daily, all year around.

Teachers corner

Mesa Verde is an amazing place for kids to visit! You can use the park as a classroom, and they can help you plan an amazing died trip! .

Any Top Tips?

Make sure you visit the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, as well as the Chaplin Mesa Archaeological Museum and Spruce Tree House! .

Need a little extra help?

There are limitations for people with mobility impairments. There are steep cliffs and deep canyons, and wheelchairs with wide rim wheels are recommended on the trails. .

What people are saying?

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    It's really beautiful here, but quite a drive. And it's 21 or so miles into the park just to look down at the ruins. We visited the Manitou Cliff Dwelling before coming here, & if this wasn't already on our itinerary, I don't think I would have driven this far out of my way.

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    I love exploring the cliff dwellings. The first time I came here was with my family and we had only scheduled half a day, that wasn't nearly enough. Next time I came on my own and stayed for days.

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    Of all of the parks we’ve visited, this was the most stunning and unusual.

    It’s really, really remote, and it takes at least half an hour from the gates to drive to the dwellings. It’s such a surreal setting, and there’s a lot to see. We were travelling up from Santa Fe, so we missed the last tour of the day. There’s still a lot to see though, and it’s well worth visiting even without the tour.

    There’s a small museum, although the Cliff Palace is the best place to spend your time. Theres’a little walking involved to cross a small...Read More

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    This National Park has been on my hitlist for years, but I never had the time to devote to properly exploring this hybrid of ancient ruins and natural beauty!

    So first off it should be said that the main visitor center off the hwy is not the actual park (though the views of the Rockies in the distance are pretty spectacular!). You get your tickets for the Ranger led tours of the various ruin sites and information here. It has also a bookstore and nice restroom facilities. The actual ruin sites of the cliff dwellings are about a 45min drive from...Read More

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    I know, it's far off the beaten path, but that's okay, you should still go. We did the self guided Spruce Tree House tour (yes, to real cliff dwellings and free) and their museum (also free). The museum was great and getting up close the some dwellings was pretty cool. Then, take the drive along Mesa Top and go to the viewpoints. We could see the other places that you have to pay the guide to go see and even on a weeknight in the summer, there was a long line of people. Bring your water as you walk around and you'll feel better for it.

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by Tom Waddington

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Of all of the parks we’ve visited, this was the most stunning and unusual.

It’s really, really remote, and it takes at least half an hour from the gates to drive to the dwellings. It’s such a surreal setting, and there’s a lot to see. We were travelling up from Santa Fe, so we missed the last tour of the day. There’s still a lot to see though, and it’s well worth visiting even without the tour.

There’s a small museum, although the Cliff Palace is the best place to spend your time. Theres’a little walking involved to cross a small valley to get to it, but it really is amazing.

Go visit!

by Leila Rahil

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This National Park has been on my hitlist for years, but I never had the time to devote to properly exploring this hybrid of ancient ruins and natural beauty!

So first off it should be said that the main visitor center off the hwy is not the actual park (though the views of the Rockies in the distance are pretty spectacular!). You get your tickets for the Ranger led tours of the various ruin sites and information here. It has also a bookstore and nice restroom facilities. The actual ruin sites of the cliff dwellings are about a 45min drive from here through winding and steep mountain scenery on some well-paved to worn roads. The pay station to enter is just up the hill, though.

Be sure to get a map and set an itinerary at the Welcome Center because once you are on the road, it can get a bit overwhelming if you don’t know where you are going. This is especially important if you got tickets for the Balcony House and Cliff Palace Ranger Tours because you have got to be there prior to tour time with your tickets, so if you are going on a 1pm tour and you are at the Welcome Center at 11:30am, you will have to head straight there without a lot of deviation for sightseeing the other stops.

I recommend going on a weekday in the shoulder season (Apr-May) as the park is not nearly as busy and you can actually have some of the sites to yourself. The weekends, especially in the summer, are especially crowded and congested, according to a ranger at the Welcome Center.

I did the Mesa Loop first and I am glad I did. The canyon vistas are absolutely breathtaking (though be warned, it can get extremely windy, so make sure you have everything you bring with you securely attached!) and the Tree House ruin is an awesome sight to be seen!

I did Spruce House next because after you hike from the parking lot down to the cliff dwelling (you can actually climb a ladder down into a kiva here) and explore the ruins, you can take either the Spruce Canyon or Petroglyph Trail.

I did the Petroglyph Trail and have to warn anyone doing this 2.5mi loop, it is not for the faint of heart, small children, or people who are not in physical shape! Honestly, I thought about turning around less than half a mile into the trail! The views are gorgeous, but parts can get a bit perilous! The start of the trail is a long, slender slot between two boulders. There are also a lot of rocks to climb over and the trail is along the side of the mountain so you have to really watch where you are stepping, especially the higher you get. The petroglyph panel is about a 40min hike from the trailhead, and though it is just a small panel, the glyphs are especially well preserved (remember, no touching!). The loop back begins at the glyphs, but you have to kind of climb over this boulder (there are foot and hand holds). This is where I saw the few people on the trail turning back from. I did the full loop and actually recommend if it is extremely windy. This may seem counterintuitive, but the walk back along the rim is actually better and less treacherous than the initial climb and it is relatively flat the entire way back. You will definitely get your cardio on this trail, but if you don’t have a fear of heights and keep your wits about you, the glyphs and views from 8,000ft are magnificent!

There is a museum and cafe in the parking area for Spruce Tree and they are worth checking out, especially after a hike!

I didn’t have a chance to check out Cliff Palace and Balcony House up close on a tour (you can see them from various vista points along the trails and Mesa Loop); just another reason for a return visit!

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