Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is home to over 5000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings. The park was created in 1906 to preserve the houses of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area for nearly 700 years.
A trip to Mesa Verde National Park comes packed with a whole lot of action and adventure. Best known for their massive cliff dwellings, one of the park’s main attractions is the Cliff Palace. Several trails offer views of the park’s cliff dwellings but for an up-close look at the ruins, a ranger-guided tour is a must.
Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Center
The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is the starting point for your journey through the park. The center features a range of exhibits that offer a look into the ancestral Puebloan life and culture. Tickets for Cliff Palace, Balcony, and Long House guided tours can be purchased at the center. Maps and gifts are also available here.
The three most important and most popular attractions in the national park can only be visited on a ranger-guided tour. Tours allow visitors to climb up and into the cliff dwellings. It’s up to you if you want to do all three on a single day or space them out over two days. Tours are strenuous and involve a great deal of walking and climbing.
Driving Tours of the Park
For a self-guided tour of Mesa Verde National Park, we suggest you take the Mesa Loop Road or the Cliff Palace Loop Road. Paved trails lead from the road to archaeological sites, smaller dwellings and several overlooks with spectacular views of the cliff dwellings. If you only have one day to explore the park driving the loop roads is your best choice.
While hiking is only permitted only on designated trails, it’s a great way to explore the park. For a long hike, try the 8- mile round trip Prater Ridge Trail. The Knife Edge Trail is short, at 2.2 miles, and provides amazing views of the Montezuma Valley. The Petroglyph Point Trail in Chapin Mesa is 2.4 miles, round trip. It’s an adventurous trail that offers views of the Spruce and Navajo Canyons.
Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum
20 miles from the park entrance is the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, displaying dioramas that showcase Ancestral Puebloan life. Check out the many exhibits at the museum that include prehistoric artifacts, a timeline of the Pueblo people, and other cultural artifacts. Just outside the museum, is the Spruce Tree House, the third largest and best-preserved cliff dwelling.
Getting To Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is in Southwestern Colorado. The park is about a two-hour drive from Durango, Colorado on Highway 160. The park is open year-round but tours of the cliff dwellings are only available during the summer season. Visit the park’s websites for up to date information on hours and road conditions.