Mesa Verde National Park
Ancient Home To Native American People
Mesa Verde National Park is the largest archaeological site of ancient Native American civilizations in the country. "Mesa Verde" means "green table" in Spanish. It is aptly named since the Ancestral Pueblo people were agricultural farmers and occupied the park for over 700 years from 600 to 1300 C.E. There are over 4,700 archaeological points of interest in the park including 600 cliff dwellings. For reasons mostly unknown, these ancient Puebloan People that once called this area home, migrated to other areas in New Mexico and Arizona and were the ancestors of today's Puebloan Indian Tribes. They left these well-preserved dwellings as gifts to the world to enjoy and protect. Just imagine the stunning beauty of Mesa Verde National Park in the wintertime.
Location and Directions to Mesa Verde National Park
The National Park entrance is located in the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado. It is about 50 miles west of Durango, Colorado just off of Highway 160 making it a convenient day trip for those vacationing in the Durango area. Once reaching the park entrance, it is about a 15 mile drive to the top of the mesa. The road is steep, narrow and winding. Trailers are not permitted but they can be left at a parking lot next to the entrance.
With Park elevations that range from 6,900 feet to 8,572 feet at the top, expect a very scenic drive with pull-off overlooks that reward with amazing panoramic views. Entrance fees to the park apply and some dwelling sites are only accessible with scheduled ranger-guided tours at additional fee.
A winding drive through the Park features ample views of such breathtaking historical treasures. As you continue the drive, take in the natural beauty. Pink sandstone and shale, vibrant green foliage and blue spring pools mark this exquisite landscape. Experience vistas of that span over a hundred miles. At 8427 ft, the highest elevation in the park, Park Point allows 360 degree visibility and offers one of the most magnificent panoramic scenes in the entire United States.
Park Highlights: Ancient Dwellings and Museum
Your first visit will be the Far View Visitor Center where you can get an overview of what to see and what to expect inside the National Park. If you plan on visiting Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House (at Wetherhill Mesa) dwellings, you must purchase ranger-guided tour tickets here first. Browse the historical exhibits of ancient artifacts including jewelry, baskets and pottery. A bookstore and restrooms are also on the premises. The Far View Lodge, restaurant, cafeteria, and gift shop are located near the visitor center. The Visitor Center is only open from Mid-April to Mid-October.
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is located 21 miles from the park entrance. It's open all year and handles tour ticket sales when the Far View Visitor Center closes in October. With a free orientation film, exhibits that illustrate the fascinating life and culture of Ancestral Puebloans, as well as prehistoric artifacts, this unique museum is an informative stop for all visitors. A bookstore, water, restrooms, snack bar, gift shop, and post office are located near the museum. The observation station features astounding views multi-storied abodes built high into cavernous alcoves.
The most accessible dwellings are those at the top of the mesa near the museum. They are self-guided tours and include Sun Temple, Cedar Tree Tower and Far View Complex. The trail to Spruce Tree House (cliff dwelling) begins at the museum. From late March to early November, visiting Spruce Tree House is self-guided. But during the winter months, it is only a ranger-guided tour. The winding path has a descent and ascent of about 100 feet. The round trip walking distance is about 1/2 mile.
Mesa Top Loop Road is a 6 mile auto driving tour with short, paved trails at Chapin Mesa. 12 sites are easily reached that includes surface dwellings on the top of the mesa as well as overlooks points for viewing some cliff dwellings. Highlights include Square Tower House and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point Overlook.
The above are just a sampling of the many dwellings and several overlook points in the Mesa Verde National Park. There are many more that are listed and/or discussed in the following map and brochure links which includes its many hiking trails and picnic spots. An abbreviated visit of the park could take half a day, but absorbing all of the historical park treasures could easily take 2 days. Depending upon how much time you have, the following will give you locations of the various sites.
Hiking at Mesa Verde National Park
Hiking is permitted only on designated trails around developed areas. Hikers cannot enter any of the dwellings unless accompanied by a park ranger. All trails except Soda Canyon Trail are considered strenuous with steep changes in elevation. Hikers should be in good physical condition. Consider your health, temperature and other conditions before any hiking.
Lodging and Campgrounds
The Far View Lodge is located near the Far View Visitor Center. The lodge is typically open from mid- April through mid-October. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-449-2288 or online by visiting the National Parks website. The lodge offers a simple tranquility with no TVs but features private balconies and panoramic views into three states in the Four Corners. Cozy-up here and just imagine how people lived here for seven centuries.
Morefield Campground is located about 4 miles from the park entrance. It is open from mid-May through mid-October and offers almost 400 camping sites each with a picnic table, bench and grill. Camping is open to tents, trailers and RVs, including 15 full hookup RV sites that require reservations. There are hiking trails, a cafe, gas station, RV dumping station, laundry, showers, gift shop and a grocery store at the campground's Morefield Village. For reservations, call 1-800-449-2288.
Also see our list of hotels in Durango, Colorado.
Map to Mesa Verde National Park
Note that any tours to cliff dwelling, whether self-guided or ranger-led, involves walking some strenuous paths and trails as well as climbing some ladders to reach certain sites. Therefore, tourists should be in healthy condition and physically fit. Schedules and guidelines are subject to change. Visit the Mesa Verde National website for detail including fees, seasonal schedules, tour schedules, guidelines, visit preparation advice and more.
Mesa Verde National Park
Photos of Dwellings at Mesa Verde