Mesa Verde is truly unique place to experience as it was the first National Park to be created specifically to preserve important archeological and cultural sites, rather than just beautiful scenery and an unusual environment.
Thousands of Ancestral Pueblo people lived on the “Green Table” for over 700 years building both on the mesa and in the surrounding cliffs.
The biggest draw to the park, are the amazing cliff dwellings impossibly built into cliff alcoves. Many are able to be seen from roadside viewpoints across the valley, like Cliff Palace. Others, like Step House require a short hike.
But if you’d like to get up close, many others like Mug House, Long House Balcony House, Square Tower, offer ranger led assisted or guided hikes (by reservation).
Mesa Verde is also certified as an International Dark Sky Preserve. If you have time, return of a night and enjoy one of the darkest skies in the United States.
Drive eastbound on 160 from Cortez, or westbound on 160 from Durango.
Allow a full day to drive to Chapin and Wetherill Mesas and time to explore a house or two.
There are approximately 35 miles of road in the park. With only one entrance, all routes go in and out the same way.
Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a wild landscape of deep canyons and expansive vistas where the Ancestral Puebloan people built thriving communities for over 700 years.
With over 5,000 Ancestral Puebloan sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, it’s the largest archaeological preserve in the United States and offers an incredible spectacular window into the past. Today the park is best known for cliff dwelling structures such as Cliff Palace which is believed to be the largest in North America.
Mesa Verde National Park is one of only two dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States, and its ancestral cliff dwellings are some of the best preserved in the country.
Most visitors will want one full day in Mesa Verde National Park for sightseeing and hiking. Two days is ideal so that you can see both the Wetherill and Chapin Mesa sites as well as enjoy one of Mesa Verde’s spectacular hiking trails.
Most cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park can be only entered on a ticketed tour with a ranger, including Cliff Palace, and usually operate from May to October. All of these tours must be booked in advance on recreation.gov and involve strenuous physical activity.
Step House on Wetherill Mesa is a free, self-guided cliff dwelling that’s open between spring and fall and accessible via a steep one-mile hike.
Mesa Top Loop is closed for construction in spring 2023, and Wetherill Mesa is closed for construction in 2023 which may be extended through 2024. Check the National Park Service website for updates.
Most cliff dwellings can be entered only on a ticketed tour with a ranger, and must be booked in advance. Tickets are released 14 days prior, and can be booked online on the recreation.gov website.