Mesa Verde National Park
Things to Do
Visits to cliff dwellings are strenuous. Altitudes in the park may vary from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. Trails may be uneven; steps and ladders must frequently be climbed. Hiking or touring cliff dwellings is not recommended for persons with heart or respiratory ailments. You can view most of the major cliff dwellings from overlooks.
Picnic tables are provided at numerous locations and ruins throughout Mesa Verde National Park. Most of these are accessible from Ruins Road.
Biking is permitted on paved roads only. There is no biking on trails or on Wetherill Mesa Road.
Hiking is restricted to marked trails that lead to ruins. Hikers must register at the Chief Ranger's office before attempting these trails.
Two hiking trails lead into Spruce Canyon.
- Petroglyph Point Trail: 2.8 miles
- Spruce Canyon Trail: 2.1 miles, begin at points on the Spruce Tree House Trail.
When snow conditions close the roads and weather conditions permit, visitors may snowshoe or cross-country ski on roadways. Check at the museum for information and conditions. Cliff dwellings are closed and cannot be entered at these times.
Park Point offers superb views of the entire Four Corners region. The fire lookout station here is staffed during the fire season. A brochure describes the natural features of the area.
Ruins Road on Chapin Mesa features two mesa-top loops which are open most of the year from 8:00 AM until sunset. During winter, the mesa-top loops are open only as weather permits. Many ruins are available from these roads. Wetherill Mesa is open only in the summer months. Ruins Road opens at 9:00 AM daily and closes to incoming traffic at 4:30 PM daily.
Many cliff dwellings can be seen from canyon-rim vantage points by taking the self-guiding loop drives of Ruins Road. Wayside exhibits interpret the development of Anasazi culture from the Basketmakers through the Classic period. These roads are open from 8:00 AM until sunset.
Three major cliff dwellings on Chapin Mesa -- Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House -- are open in season for visits, and many others are visible from Ruins Road. An archeological museum with dioramas interprets the life of the ancient Anasazi. During the summer, rangers conduct tours through some of the cliff dwellings. Current schedules are available at the museum or Far View Visitor Center.
On Chapin Mesa, the Mesa Verde National Park's Archaeological Museum is open 365 days a year and houses the full range of artifacts uncovered in and near Mesa Verde. The museum tracks the history of the Anasazi with artifacts and exhibits that reconstruct the daily life of the "Ancient Ones." Take a short walk from the museum to Spruce Tree House in the canyon below. Explorers may climb down into an excavated kiva to envision the religious ceremonies of the cliff dweller. Spruce Tree House is open year-round.
A half mile north of the museum, turn off onto one of the two loops of Ruins Road Drive. Open from 8:00 AM to sunset, these six-mile drives take you past mesa top ruins and overlooks to cliff dwellings in the canyon below. On one loop you may visit two cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace or Balcony House. Please note that you will need tickets ($3.00) to visit either Cliff Palace or Balcony House. The tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Far View Visitors Center.
The route to Wetherill Mesa offers some of the best sightseeing and camera viewpoints in the park. On a clear day many landmarks may be seen in all four states, including Shiprock in New Mexico, Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah, Colorado's Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west, and the rugged San Juans to the north and east.
Wetherill Mesa is accessible during the summer by private vehicle between the hours of 8:00 AM and 4:30 PM.Vehicles over 8,000 pounds GVW and/or over 25 feet in length are prohibited. The 12-mile mountain road to Wetherill has sharp curves and steep grades. Please obey the posted speed limits.
Roadside pullouts offer spectacular views of the Four Corners region. Two cliff dwellings -- Step House and Long House -- are open to the public. Badger House Community, a mesa-top complex near Long House, is accessible over a 3.5-mile trail. Rangers are on duty to interpret the sites.
Ranger- & Self-Guided Tours
The primary activity at Mesa Verde is viewing the Anasazi ruins dating back 1500 years. While some may be viewed from the roadside, many others require hiking either on one's own, or under the guidance of a park ranger.
Ranger-guided tour tickets are $3.00 per tour. Tickets can only be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center, from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily. Due to high demand for tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House, visitors will only be allowed to tour one of these sites per day. A Long House ticket may be purchased in addition to a Balcony House or Cliff Palace ticket.
- Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum: Open 8:00 AM to 6:30 PM daily.
- Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the world, can only be reached after a 15-minute, half-mile long hike. Rangers are on duty to answer questions, and picnic tables and restrooms are available. Guided Tours 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, every half hour.
- Balcony House, located high in the cliff, is a strenuous walk. Ranger-guided tours leave every 30 minutes, beginning at 9:00 AM, and involve climbing 20-foot ladders and crawling through a small tunnel. There are no facilities available at this ruin. Guided Tours 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, every half hour.
- Spruce Tree House: Open on a self-guided basis from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM daily.
- Soda Canyon Overlook
- Navajo Canyon Overlook
- Square Tower House
- Triple Village Pueblo House
- Sun Point Overlook
- Sun Temple is one of the more popular stops on the other loop of Ruins Road Drive. A multi-roomed structure, the Temple has been stabilized and involves a good deal of walking and climbing. It's a great place to let the youngsters burn off some energy!
Visitors to Wetherill Mesa have the opportunity to see and explore cliff dwellings and mesa top ruins. Tickets are required. A mini-tram takes visitors on a four-mile loop of the area with frequent stops being made en route for self-guided walking tours. Guide books are available at an information kiosk and on the trails to the ruins. A ranger is also on duty in the dwellings to answer questions. The mini-tram departs from the parking lot every 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure to allow at least a full day for your visit. Wetherill Mesa is closed during the winter months.
- Nordensklod's Site #16
- Long House is the second largest ruin in the Park and has ranger-guided, 1/2-mile tours every half hour. Guided tours 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, every half hour.
- Long House Overlook
- Kodak House
- Kodak House Overlook
- Badger House Community on the mesa top is a 3/4-mile, self guided tour.
- Two Raven House
- Step House self-guided 1/2-mile tour.
- Step House
Commercial Guided Tours / Programs
ARAMARK, the park concessionaire, provides full-day and half-day tours of the park. Contact the lodge to make arrangements. This is an optional service for people interested in a coach-type tour. All of these sites may be visited on your own as outlined above. Concessionaire bus tours are available through the end of October.
Morning Tour: Leaves from the campground at 8:30 AM. and from the Far View Lodge at 9:00 AM. It returns to the lodge at 12:00 p.m., and to the campground at 12:30 PM.
The first six hundred years, reviews why a nomadic people chose to settle on the mesa and how they put down roots. Visit excavated pit houses and early village sites discussing the concurrent societal changes and formalization of religion. View several cliff dwellings from the mesa rim, and proceed on to Spruce Tree House, one of the largest (and least stabilized) cliff dwellings. Spruce Tree is accessible by paved sidewalk, perfect for those with limited mobility or those not comfortable with exposed heights.
Afternoon Tour: Leaves only from the Far View Lodge at 1:00 PM and returns at 4:00 PM.
The last one hundred years, also known as the Classic Pueblo or Cliff Dwelling period, is the focus during the afternoon tour. Explanation of the architecture and social structures present from 1200 AD to 1300 AD by examining a variety of large village sites. This tour is especially good for photography.
Full Day Tour: Leaves from the campground at 9:00 AM. and from the Far View Lodge at 9:30 AM. It returns to the lodge at 4:30 PM, and to the campground at 5:00 PM. Time on your own is included for lunch and shopping.
The full seven hundred year occupation of Mesa Verde, a rich mosaic of cultural evolution, is explored during the all day tour. Visit all the sites of the morning and afternoon tours, and include an hour in Cliff Palace. Mesa Verdeans' achievements against their growing environmental difficulties with contemporary parallels.
Explore how past cultures and traditions weave into the present with evening multi-media programs or talks ranging from rock art, Ute, Navajo and Pueblo cultures, traditional and contemporary uses of native plants, and different American Indian crafts -- textiles, basketry and folk art. Far View Lodge, evenings, $3.00 per person. Call 970-529-4421.
P.O. Box 8
Mesa Verde, Colorado 81330
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