Travel Guide To Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park in Southwest Colorado offers something for everyone with its blend of nature, culture, and history. Read on to hear about our trip to Mesa Verde, and some tips and suggestions for you to help you plan your adventure.
Day 1- Arriving in Mesa Verde
If you are flying to Mesa Verde, there are a couple airports that you can choose from. You can fly into Cortez, CO which is about a 20 minute drive, or Durango, CO which is about a 55 minute drive. No matter your choice, you will need to rent a car so that you can drive to and around the park. We chose to drive from our home in Minneapolis, since we love road trips and adventure!
Once you arrive at the park, the campground, Morefield Campground, is only four miles from the entrance. This campground is one of the nicest we have stayed at! The camp sites are spacious, and feel secluded from one another. In addition, there are plenty of amenities like showers and a laundromat, both which we took advantage of. Another nice perk is that they offer all you can eat pancake breakfasts in the morning (for a charge). We definitely enjoyed that!
Day 2- Archaeological Museum and Mesa Top Loop
The main attraction at Mesa Verde is the cliff dwellings created by ancient tribes. We decided to start our visit by learning about this intriguing history. We headed over to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, where we learned about the ancient civilizations that lived in this part of Colorado, and how they created their dwellings.
After the museum, we stopped at the Spruce Tree House viewpoint, where you get an amazing view of the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling. This is a great spot for a photo-op so that you can get that classic shot of Mesa Verde. If you have a little more time, you can go on the Spruce Canyon Trail, which is a 2.5 mile loop that descends into the canyon, and provides you with views of the landscape, and opportunities to spot wildlife.
Then we drove on the Mesa Top Loop, with the first stop being the Pit House. You are able to enter the Pit House, which is a dwelling that was dug into the ground. We opted for a guided tour, which we enjoyed, because it provided us with some context of the people who were living in the pit houses. If it does not work with your schedule, you can do a self guided tour if you prefer.
Our Next Stop was at Pit Houses and Villages, where we had another opportunity to look at pit houses, and learn about the civilization that inhabited this area. We enjoyed being able to have an up-close look at their ancient handiwork.
Back on the loop, we headed to the Sun Point Overlook. This overlook provides you with a panorama view of the canyon and dwellings on the cliff face. This is a breath-taking view that makes you appreciate the vastness of the landscape.
After these stops, we were pretty exhausted, so we decided to head back to our campsite and relax. If time allows, and you are feeling up to it, you can complete the Mesa Top Loop by visiting the Sun Temple, which was a structure created for ceremonial purposes. It also provides good views of the canyon.
Day 3- Cliff Palace Loop
Today we drove to the Cliff Palace loop, excited to have a chance to further explore the past civilizations of Mesa Verde.
Our first stop was at Cliff Palace. Before you go into Cliff Palace, you can stop at the overlook, to get another quintessential photo of Mesa Verde. To enter Cliff Palace, you need to buy a ticket for a ranger-led tour. The tour takes you down a flight of steps and up a short ladder, and then you are in the site. The tour takes you through the different rooms of the dwelling, and explains what life was like if you were living at Cliff Palace. It was incredible to be surrounded by the handiwork of an ancient civilization. We really enjoyed this site because it is so large and the rooms are intact, it looks almost like a city carved into the cliff. This tour has a total walking distance of ¼ mile, and you are not up too high. This makes it a good choice if you are unable to do a lot of walking, and/ or dislike heights.
After Cliff Palace, we went on our second tour to Balcony House. You will also need to purchase a ticket for this, as it is only accessible by a ranger guide as well. While Balcony House is smaller, it is the more thrilling of the two. It requires you to climb a 32 foot tall ladder, and crawl through an 18 inch tunnel. I really enjoyed the adventurous components of this tour, and it added to the experience of being on the edge of a cliff.
Both tours are an hour long, and I would recommend doing both if your time allows for it, as they were both different and illuminating experiences. However, if you only have time for one tour, I would recommend the Cliff Palace tour, since it is the largest and most intact site. Plus the guides do a nice job of explaining about what life was like during that time period.
After your cliff dwellings tour, if time allows, you can go on the Soda Canyon Overlook trail. This is a 1.2 mile trail. On this trail you are able to see views of Balcony House, as well as several other cliff dwellings. There are also opportunities to spot juniper trees, mule deer, and jackrabbits.
After our busy day of sightseeing, we drove back to our campsite to relax. In the evening, we did a little star gazing. The sky was really clear, and the stars were super pretty!
Day 4- Leaving Mesa Verde
Since today was our last day, we packed up our campsite, and headed out of the park. From here, you can either drive back to the airport and fly home, or extend your stay by traveling to a nearby region. We drove to Pagosa Springs, and spent some time in the hot springs, which was rejuvenating after our time in our tent.
We had a great time at Mesa Verde, and enjoyed immersing ourselves in both nature and history! My highlight was climbing the ladder and exploring Balcony House. Trent’s highlights were the pancake breakfast and star gazing.