Mesa Verde National Park: Wikis


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Mesa Verde National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)

Entrance to the park
Location Montezuma County, Colorado
United States
North America
Nearest city Cortez
Coordinates 37°11′02″N 108°29′19″W / 37.183784°N 108.488687°W / 37.183784; -108.488687Coordinates: 37°11′02″N 108°29′19″W / 37.183784°N 108.488687°W / 37.183784; -108.488687
Area 52,121.93 acres (21,093.00 ha)
51,890.65 acres (20,999.40 ha) federal
Established 1906-06-29
Visitors 557,248 (in 2006)
Governing body National Park Service
Mesa Verde National Park*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cliff Palace
State Party Flag of the United States.svg United States of America
Type Cultural
Criteria iii
Reference 27
Region** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1978  (2nd Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Mesa Verde National Park is a U.S. National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado, United States. The park occupies 81.4 square miles (211 km2) (211 square kilometers) near the Four Corners and features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the ancient Pueblo people known as the Anasazi. The Anasazi made this stone village their home in the 1200s AD. It is best known for several spectacular cliff dwellings — structures built within caves and under outcroppings in cliffs — including Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The Spanish term Mesa Verde translates into English as "green tableland".



Mesa Verde National Park is located in the lower south-western corner of the state of Colorado.

Elevations in the park range from about 6,100 to 8,400 feet (1,900 to 2,600 m). The terrain in much of the park is dominated by ridges and valleys running roughly north and south; many of these ridges peak at an east–west crest near the park's northern border which turns more northerly–southerly towards the park entrance. The northernmost point is 13.2 miles (21.2 kilometers) farther north than the southernmost; the westernmost point is 11.9 miles (19.2 kilometers) farther west than the easternmost.


Although explorers from Spain went through the general region in the 18th century, actual sight of the cliffs dwellings by outsiders seems to have first occurred in the latter half of the 19th century. The fame of Mesa Verde soon began to spread thanks to the Wetherill ranchers and the archeological work of Gustaf Nordenskiöld. Vandalism led to the President Teddy Roosevelt's support of protecting the area as a national park in 1906.


Spanish explorers

Spanish explorers seeking a route from Santa Fe to California in the 1760s and 1770s were the first Europeans to reach the Mesa Verde (green table) region, which they named after its high, tree-covered plateaus. But they never got close enough, or into the needed angle, to see the ancient stone villages, which would remain a secret for another century.

Richard Wetherill

Occasional trappers and prospectors visited, with one prospector, John Moss, making his observations known in 1873. The following year he led eminent photographer William Henry Jackson through Mancos Canyon, at the base of Mesa Verde. There Jackson both photographed and publicized a typical stone cliff dwelling. In 1875 geologist William H. Holmes retraced Jackson's route. Reports by both Jackson and Holmes were included in the 1876 report of the Hayden Survey, one of the four federally financed efforts to explore the American West. These and other publications led to proposals to systematically study Southwestern archaeological sites. They did not lead to action for some years.

Meanwhile, ranchers were beginning to settle the Mancos Valley. Some climbed up into Mesa Verde and observed more and larger stone structures. Looting of artifacts began, both for home display and for sale cheaply to visitors to the region. In a dismal two decades of despoliation, the most responsible ranchers were members of the Wetherill family, who also had the best relations with the local Ute tribe on whose territory Mesa Verde was located. The Wetherills collected artifacts for sale to the Historical Society of Colorado as well as private collectors, and began assembling a small library of relevant publications. They also saw the tourist potential of the cliff dwellings they now sought out systematically. Over several years they reoriented their ranch toward guiding tourists through the cliff dwellings, and became the first experts on them. Although they continued to dig in the ruins, knocking down some walls and roofs and gathering artifacts without extensive documentation, the Wetherill's actions were more responsible and considerate than those of the other looters that preceded them. Modern archaeological opinion generally agrees that the Wetherill family were reasonable caretakers in an era before archaeological standards and federal oversight and protection.[1]

House of Many Windows

One noteworthy early visitor was a New York newspaper reporter named Virginia McClurg, whose efforts over a period of years helped lead eventually to park status for Mesa Verde. Another, in 1889 and 1890, was photographer and travel writer Frederick H. Chapin. He described the landscape and structures in an 1890 article and 1892 book, The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers, whose many excellent photographs were the first extensive view of Mesa Verde available to the public. Like other visitors in the early years, he was guided by the Wetherills.

Gustaf Nordenskiöld

Perhaps the most important early visitor was Gustaf Nordenskiöld, son of Finnish-Swedish polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, in 1891. Nordenskiöld, a trained mineralogist, introduced scientific methods to artifact collection, recorded locations, photographed extensively, diagrammed sites, and correlated what he observed with existing archaeological literature as well as the home-grown expertise of the Wetherills.[2]

The Cliff Palace in 1891, photo by Gustaf Nordenskiöld

Local opposition surfaced, however, and, after it was learned that Nordenskiöld's artifacts would be shipped to a museum in northern Europe, he was arrested and charged with "devastating the ruins." Rumors of lynching circulated. Only intervention by several Washington cabinet secretaries freed Nordenskiöld.

On return to Sweden, Nordenskiöld published, in 1893, the first scholarly study of the ruins, The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde, which put Mesa Verde on the map in the international community. Nordenskiöld's activities remained controversial for many decades but are generally recognized as highly valuable today. Nordenskiöld's collection of Mesa Verde artifacts—in the National Museum of Finland—is the largest outside the U.S. Former Mesa Verde National Park superintendent Robert Heyder summed up Nordenskiöld's contributions:

The Cliff Palace today
I shudder to think what Mesa Verde would be today had there been no Gustaf Nordenskiöld. It is through his book that the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde became known and his volume might well be called the harbinger of Mesa Verde National Park as we know it today.


Yet vandalism continued. By the end of the 19th century, it was clear that Mesa Verde needed protection from unthinking or greedy people. An early Mesa Verde National Park superintendent, Hans Randolph, described the situation at the best known cliff dwelling, Cliff Palace:

Parties of "curio seekers" camped on the ruin for several winters, and it is reported that many hundred specimens therefrom have been carried down the mesa and sold to private individuals. Some of these objects are now in museums, but many are forever lost to science. In order to secure this valuable archaeological material, walls were broken down...often simply to let light into the darker rooms; floors were invariably opened and buried kivas mutilated. To facilitate this work and get rid of the dust, great openings were broken through the five walls which form the front of the ruin. Beams were used for firewood to so great an extent that not a single roof now remains. This work of destruction, added to that resulting from erosion due to rain, left Cliff Palace in a sad condition.

National park

Spruce Tree House
Long view of Spruce Tree House

As concern grew over the archaeological well being of Mesa Verde's ruins, and those in other nearby sites, the area was established as a national park on June 29, 1906. As with all historical areas administered by the National Park Service, the park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It was designated a World Heritage Site on September 6, 1978. The park was named with the Spanish for green table because of its forests of juniper and piñon trees.

A set of six buildings built by the National Park Service in 1921, the Mesa Verde Administrative District, was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 29, 1987. It consists of the first buildings constructed by the National Park Service which are based on cultural traditions represented in the park area. The principal designer believed that structures could be used for interpretive purposes to explain the construction of prehistoric dwellings in the Park, and be compatible with their natural and cultural setting.

In the summers of 2000 (twice), 2001, 2002, and 2003, the park, which is covered with pinyon pine and utah juniper forests, suffered from a large number of forest fires; parts of it were closed. All areas of the park have since re-opened, but some areas show significant damage from the fires.

Park services

Mesa Verde's park entrance is about 9 miles (15 kilometers) east of the community of Cortez. The visitor center is 15 miles (24 kilometers) from the entrance, and Chapin Mesa (the most popular area) is another 6 miles (10 kilometers) beyond the visitor center.

The park's Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum provides information about the Ancient Puebloan civilization and displays findings and artwork.

Park Ranger giving a tour at Mesa Verde National Park

Three of the cliff dwellings on Chapin Mesa are open to the public. Spruce Tree House is open all year, weather permitting. Balcony House and Cliff Palace are open except in the winter; visitors may tour them only on ranger-guided tours. The cliff dwellings on Wetherill Mesa, including Long House and Step House, can be reached via a 12 mile (19.2 kilometer) long mountain road leading southwest from the park visitor center. Many other dwellings are visible from the road but not open to tourists.

In addition to the cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde boasts a number of mesa-top ruins. Examples open to public access include the Far View Complex, Cedar Tree Tower, and the Sun Temple, all on Chapin Mesa, and Badger House Community, on Wetherill Mesa.

Also in the park are hiking trails, a campground, and facilities for food, fuel, and lodging; these are unavailable in the winter.

The Mesa Verde National Park Post Office has the ZIP Code 81330.[3]


Plan of entire Spruce Tree House from above, cut from a Laser scan
Laser scan section of the four-story Square Tower House.

Mesa Verde is best known for a large number of well preserved cliff dwellings, houses built in shallow caves and under rock overhangs along the canyon walls. The structures contained within these alcoves were mostly blocks of hard sandstone, held together and plastered with adobe mortar. Specific constructions had many similarities, but were generally unique in form due to the individual topography of different alcoves along the canyon walls. In marked contrast to earlier constructions and villages on top of the mesas, the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde reflected a region-wide trend towards the aggregation of growing regional populations into close, highly defensible quarters during the 1200s.

While much of the construction in these sites conforms to common Pueblo architectural forms, including Kivas, towers, and pit-houses, the space constrictions of these alcoves necessitated what seems to have been a far denser concentration of their populations. Mug House, a typical cliff dwelling of the period, was home to around 100 people who shared 94 small rooms and eight kivas built right up against each other and sharing many of their walls; builders in these areas maximized space in any way they could and no areas were considered off-limits to construction [4].

Not all of the people in the region lived in cliff dwellings; many colonized the canyon rims and slopes in multi-family structures that grew to unprecedented size as populations swelled[5]. Decorative motifs for these sandstone/mortar constructions, both cliff dwellings and non-, included T-shaped windows and doors. This has been taken by some archaeologists, such as Stephen Lekson (1999), as evidence of the continuing reach of the Chaco Canyon elite system, which had seemingly collapsed around a century before[6]. Other researchers see these motifs as part of a more generalized Puebloan style and/or spiritual significance, rather than evidence of a continuing specific elite socioeconomic system.[7]

Notable sites

Overhead view of Square Tower House
Round tower, Cliff Palace. Photo by Ansel Adams, 1941
Mesa Verde from a northern view, May, 2007.
Photo of a modern visitor next to the hand holds used to reach the mesa top by the original inhabitants of Cliff Place.

For most of the 12th and 13th centuries, known archaeologically as the Classic Period, the Ancient Puebloan Indians lived in the cliff dwellings. The reason for their sudden departure about 1275 remains unexplained; theories range from crop failures due to droughts to an intrusion of foreign tribes from the North.

This ruin is the largest and best-known of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The site has 150 identified rooms and 23 kivas. Although this and other Mesa Verde sites are large and well constructed, they demonstrate a long history of occupation and their architectural design is an aggregation of dwellings and storage spaces that developed slowly and randomly. Accurate archaeological information from this site has been limited due to several decades of digging and collecting at the turn of the Twentieth century.
  • Mug House
This ruin situated on Wetherill Mesa was professionally excavated in the late 1960s by archaeologist Arthur Rohn. The structure contains 94 rooms, in four levels, including a large kiva, with simple vertical walls and masonry pilasters. This ceremonial structure has a keyhole shape, due to a recess behind the fireplace and a deflector, that is considered an element of the Mesa Verde style. The rooms clustered around the kiva formed part of the courtyard, indicating the kiva would have been roofed.
  • Spruce Tree House
Located on Chapin Mesa, this cliff dwelling is easily accessible and well preserved. The ruins include a kiva with a restored roof which visitors can enter. Excavations indicate that this structure, like many other dwellings in Mesa Verde, was probably occupied for less than a century.
  • Square Tower House
The tower that gives this site its name is the tallest structure in Mesa Verde. This cliff dwelling was occupied between AD 1200 and 1300.
  • Mesa Verde Reservoirs
These ancient reservoirs, built by the Ancient Puebloans, were named a National Civil Engineering Historic Landmark on September 26, 2004.
  • Balcony House
Records indicate that the Balcony House was probably first rediscovered by an excavator, S.E. Osborn, sometime in 1884 - his name and the date "March 20, 1884" being found in a dwelling nearby. Furthermore, Osborn published a newspaper account of dwellings, including one that matches the description of Balcony House, in 1886. The site was excavated by archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum in 1910.[8]

Culturally modified trees

In February 2008, the Colorado Historical Society has decided to invest a part of its US$7 million budget into a Culturally modified trees project in the National Park.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Reynolds, Judith, Reynolds, David. Nordenskiold of Mesa Verde Xlibris Corporation, April 2006. ISBN 1425704840, paperback.
  2. ^ FitzGerald, Michael C., "The Majesty of Mesa Verde" in Wall Street Journal, 2009 March 13, p. W12.
  3. ^ "ZIP Code Lookup" (JavaScript/HTML). United States Postal Service. January 2, 2007. Retrieved January 2 2007.  
  4. ^ Kantner, John (2004). "Ancient Puebloan Southwest", pp. 161-66
  5. ^ ibid.
  6. ^ Lekson, Stephen (1999). "The Chaco Meridian: centers of Political Power in the Ancient Southwest". Walnut Creek, Altamira Press
  7. ^ Phillips, David A., Jr., 2000, "The Chaco Meridian: A skeptical analysis" paper presented to the 65th annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology, Philadelphia.
  8. ^ "Balcony House". National Parks Service. Retrieved 2009-12-03.  
  9. ^ State Historical Fund awards more than $7M in grants, in: Denver Business Journal, 14 February 2008].


  • FitzGerald, Michael C., "The Majesty of Mesa Verde" in Wall Street Journal, 2009 March 13, p. W12.
  • Kantner, John. "Ancient Puebloan Southwest". Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2004. ISBN 9780521788809
  • Noble, David Grant. "Ancient Ruins of the Southwest". Northland Publishing, Flagstaff, Arizona 1995. ISBN 0-87358-530-5
  • Nordenskiöld, Gustaf. Ruiner af Klippboningar I Mesa Verde's Cañons, Stockholm: P. A. Norstedt & Söner, 1893.
  • Nordenskiöld, Gustaf. The Cliff Dwellings of the Mesa Verde, Chicago: P.A. Norstedt & Söner, 1893.
  • Oppelt, Norman T. "Guide to Prehistoric Ruins of the Southwest". Pruett Publishing, Boulder, Colorado, 1989. ISBN 0-87108-783-9.

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Mesa Verde National Park article)

From Wikitravel

The ladder at Balcony House
The ladder at Balcony House

Mesa Verde National Park [1] is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the southwestern corner of the state of Colorado. The park is world-renowned for the incredibly well-preserved cliff dwellings it protects. Indeed, they are some of the most interesting archeological sights in North America. Mesa Verde is also notable for its desert landscape of tall mesas and steep canyons.

"Anasazi" or "Ancestral Puebloans"?

For decades, the people that once lived in these dwellings have generally been referred to as the "Anasazi". However, in recent years there has been an effort to stop referring to them as "Anasazi", as it is believed the term translates to "ancient enemy" or "enemy ancestor". Instead, the term "Ancestral Puebloans" is favored, and is the term you will see on most park displays and information signs. This is a fairly recent change though, so there is still a fair amount of confusion regarding the two terms.

The name of the park is Spanish for "green table", referring to the vegetation found at the tops of the plateaus in this area. The Ancestral Puebloans chose Mesa Verde as their settlement 1,400 years ago, establishing small pithouses (large holes in the ground with a wooden roof overhead) on the mesa tops. Back then they were more nomadic, and hunted game with spears and were skilled basketmakers. Over time they began to farm the mesa tops, learned how to create pottery, and fashioned bows and arrows instead of spears.

As the population grew, the Ancestral Puebloans moved from pithouses to pole-and-adobe houses built above ground. The pithouses became kivas (ceremonial rooms) as the mesa top villages became larger and more complex. Stone masonry replaced the poles and mud of earlier houses, as villages rose two or three stories high, became more compact, and had many rooms. During this time, pottery replaced baskets as a more desired craft.

Around the year 1200, the Ancestral Puebloans began to move under overhangs found in the cliffs of the canyons. Here, they built cities with multi-storied structures that housed 100-400 people. However, the Ancestral Puebloans only used these incredible constructions for less than 100 years. By the year 1300, they had left the area for reasons unknown, traveling south into New Mexico and Arizona.


About 100 million years ago, Mesa Verde and the surrounding area were covered by a shallow sea, and sand deposits cemented into the sandstone layers that make up much of the park's geology. As the sea withdrew to the south, uplift in the area created the high plateau that is Mesa Verde. Over time, small streams have cut channels into the plateau, creating steep canyons which separate the individual mesas. Traveling south, the mesa extends like fingers into the desert.

From the park entrance in Montezuma Valley, the elevation climbs steeply to the rim of the flat mesa top. Elevations in the park range from about 6,100 feet (1,860 meters) to about 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) above sea level.

Flora and fauna

There is a lot of wildlife in the park. Mule deer are a common sight, as are wild turkeys since the park service reintroduced them. You might also see squirrels, skunks, or an occasional black bear around the campground. Other mammals seen in the park include coyote, gray fox, mountain lion, black bear, elk, marmot, and porcupines. There is also a wide variety of birds in the park (Mesa Verde even has a bird checklist). In the canyons you could find warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, jays, hawks, chickadees, titmice, and other species. Hawks, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons can be seen on the rim of the mesa along the Montezuma Valley.

Mesa Verde is in the Upper Sonoran Life Zone, which is characterized by semi-arid climate, moderately high altitude, and pinyon-juniper forests. Big sagebrush, Douglas fir, and Ponderosa pine are quite common. Gambel oak is in abundance around the Morefield Campground.

Watch for poison ivy, particularly around Morefield Campground and in the canyons. Incidentally, if you've never seen poison ivy in the wild, the park's brochure for the Petroglyph Point trail -- see below under "Do" -- helpfully points out a place along the trail where it grows perennially, so that you can see what it's like. Look but don't touch!

Sun Temple
Sun Temple


Mesa Verde is a four-season park, with a dry high-desert climate. Summer can get hot, with temperatures sometimes reaching into the 90s, (so drink plenty of water), but the evenings are quite cool (summer lows average in the 50s). Afternoon thunderstorms are common in July and August. Winters are rather mild (with average temperatures in 40s), but Mesa Verde is at a high elevation so snow can happen as early as October and as late as May.


The major attractions in the park can be seen in just a half day, while longer visits will allow time to explore some of the less busy ruins and to take time to visit rock writings.

Mesa Verde is something of a seasonal park. While it is open year round, many of the services are only offered from April through October. The only places open year-round are at the central part of Chapin Mesa: the museum, the Spruce Tree Terrace restaurant, and Spruce Tree House.

Direct access to the main archeological sights is only available on guided tours, tickets must be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center. Otherwise, plan on viewing the sights from overlooks.

Map of Mesa Verde
Map of Mesa Verde

By car

Driving is just about the only way to get to Mesa Verde. The entrance to the park is 9 miles east of Cortez and 35 miles west of Durango on US Highway 160 (formerly US Highway 666). Keep in mind that the road into the park is steep, narrow, and winding, so make sure your car is in good shape and has plenty of gas. The only gas station in the park is located at the Morefield Campground.

By plane

Cortez has a small airport [2] with daily flights to Denver on Great Lakes Airlines. Durango has a larger airport [3] with daily flights to Denver on United Express and Frontier Airlines, and to Phoenix on USAirways. Rental car outlets are available at both airports.


A 7 day entry pass to the park costs $10 per private vehicle fall-spring, and $15 per vehicle during the summer months. Motorcyclists and individuals on non-commercial buses pay $5 per person fall-spring and $8 per person during the summer.

An annual pass, just for Mesa Verde, is available for $30. Regular annual park passes, good for all National Park Service parks for one year, will get you in to Mesa Verde and are available for $80.

Ranger-led tours of the Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House areas cost $3.00 per person per tour.

Get around

There are four main areas of the park: Morefield Campground, Far View, Chapin Mesa, and Wetherill Mesa. Morefield Campground is just inside the park, 4 miles from the entrance. Another 11 miles in is Far View, where you can drive another 6 miles to Chapin Mesa or turn right and drive 12 miles to get to Wetherill Mesa.

For the most part you will need private transportation in order to move throughout the park. The only public transit available is on Wetherill Mesa, where a tram services the area that is otherwise inaccessible to automobiles. The roads are steep, narrow, and winding, so make sure your car is in good shape and has plenty of gas. You can get gasoline at the Morefield Campground store. Watch out for rocks that may have fallen on to the road.

Trailers and towed vehicles are not permitted beyond Morefield Campground. If you're not camping, you can park these vehicles in the parking lot located near the entrance station. The road to Wetherill Mesa (open Memorial Day to Labor Day) has sharp curves and steep grades, so vehicles on this road are restricted to less than 8,000 pounds and 25-feet in length.

  • Far View Visitor Center, located near the center of the park, 15 miles from the park entrance. Open mid-April to mid-October, 8AM-5PM daily. Tickets for guided tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House on Wetherill Mesa must be purchased here. Self-guided tour guides (Mesa Top Road, Far View Sites, etc.) can be purchased here as well. Exhibits, bookstore.
  • The park has many scenic vistas where you can observe the natural beauty of Mesa Verde. Just off the main park road is Montezuma Valley Overlook, Park Point Overlook, and Geologic Overlook. There are also good views from the Far View Visitor Center, the Chapin Mesa Museum viewing deck, and the two loop roads on Chapin Mesa.
  • Mesa Verde Tours, P.O.Box 909 Durango, Co. 81302, 970.247.8533, [4]. 8AM-9PM. The Four Corners Tour Specialist. Fully inclusive Historical Interpretive Tours offered. Group and private accommodations available. Year round tours offered through out the Four Corners area. $65 & up..  edit
Square Tower House
Square Tower House
  • Historic District, located 21 miles from the park entrance. Most of Mesa Verde's old park service buildings can be found here, with many of the structures here dating back to the 1920's. The park headquarters, Spruce Tree Terrance restaurant, post office, museum, and a picnic area are located here. Self-guided tour maps are available.
    • Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, open April-October 8AM-6:30PM, October-April 8AM-5PM. Archeological exhibits about the culture of the Ancestral Puebloans, with artifacts from the region and dioramas illustrating life in Mesa Verde centuries ago. A 25-minute orientation film is shown every half-hour.
  • Spruce Tree House. Starting at the Chapin Mesa Museum, you descend 100 feet into Spruce Tree Canyon, where you'll see Mesa Verde's "best-preserved cliff dwelling". As well as seeing the cliff house, you can climb down into a reconstructed kiva. Rangers are at the site to answer questions (or make good conversation). In the winter, you may only visit Spruce Tree by ranger-guided tour. Walking distance is 1/2-mile (1 km) round trip.
  • Mesa Top Loop Road. A 6-mile (10 km) driving tour with short, paved trails to several excavated mesa-top sites. Also along the tour is a short trail to the Square Tower House overlook, Sun Point View (a spectacular overlook where you can see 6 or 7 cliff houses at the same time), and Sun Temple, a mesa-top ruin which boasts a spectacular view of Cliff Palace.
  • Far View Sites, located off the road in-between the Far View Visitor Center and the Chapin Mesa Museum. An unpaved 3/4-mile loop trail leads to five separate mesa-top villages and a dry reservoir. Interesting exhibits along the trail show what the villages may have looked like.
  • Cedar Tree Tower, located off the road in-between the Far View Visitor Center and the Chapin Mesa Museum. An ancient kiva complex and tower, the purpose of which isn't entirely known.

Wetherill Mesa sights

Wetherill Mesa is only open seasonally. The Wetherill Mesa road opens at 9AM and closes to incoming traffic at 4:30PM every day, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. At the end of the road is the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk, 12 miles from Far View. You cannot drive beyond the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk; instead, there is a special tram service which takes you to a few sites on Wetherill Mesa. The tram departs from the kiosk every half-hour on the half hour from 10AM-5PM, making stops at the Long House trail (accessible only by guided tour), the Badger House Trail, and the Kodak House and Long House Overlooks.

  • Badger House Trail. A combination gravel and paved trail to the mesa-top Badger House sites. Trail starts at the Kiosk, and is 2.5 miles (4 km) round-trip. However, you can take the tram and shorten your walking distance to 1.5 miles.
  • Step House. Starting at the Kiosk, trail descends 100 feet to the Step House cliff dwelling. A ranger is on-site to answer questions. Walking distance is 3/4-mile round trip.
Spruce Tree House
Spruce Tree House

Ranger guided tours

Guided tours are the only way to get up-close with some of Mesa Verde's greatest and most outstanding cliff dwellings: Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House (on Wetherill Mesa). Tickets cost $3 per person, per tour, and must be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center. The one exception is in the fall, after the Visitor Center has closed, when tours of Cliff Palace must be purchased at the Chapin Mesa Museum. Due to the popularity of the Cliff Palace and Balcony House tours, visitors are limited to only one of these two tours per day (Long House can be visited on the same day, however). Try to arrive early for ranger-guided tours as they tend to fill up quickly, particularly in summer. By mid-morning you should be prepared for at least an hour long wait for a place in a tour group. Be forewarned that each tour does involve traversing uneven stairways and tall wooden ladders. While the overall distance you travel on the hiking tour isn’t very far, the nature of the trail, high altitude, and extreme temperatures all combine to make the hike a little grueling for the average couch potato.

  • Cliff Palace, early-April through early-November. Tour starts at the Cliff Palace overlook on the Cliff Palace Loop Road. This one-hour tour descends 100 feet to Mesa Verde's most famous cliff house. Along the way you must climb five 8-10 ft ladders.
  • Balcony House, late-April through early-October. Tour starts at the Balcony House parking area on the Cliff Palace loop road. Balcony House is more "adventurous" than the other tours, for on this one-hour tour you have to climb a 32 ft ladder, crawl through a 12 ft-long tunnel, and to get out climb a 60ft stairway carved out of a steep rock face. If you enjoy heights, this tour is for you.
  • Long House (Wetherill Mesa), Memorial Day through Labor Day. Tour starts at the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk, where you take a tram to the Long House trailhead. This 90-minute tour involves climbing two 15ft ladders.
  • Spruce Tree House, early-November through early-March. In the winter, rangers will start tours at the Chapin Mesa Museum and lead you down to the Spruce Tree House. These tours are free of charge. During the rest of the year, Spruce Tree House is open on a self-guided tour basis.

Guided bus tours

Aramark operates half-day bus tours of Mesa Verde spring through fall. National Park Service Rangers provide information on short trails, overlooks, and a tour of Cliff Palace. Tickets may be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center, Far View Lodge and Terrace, or the Morefield Campground Village. Half-day tours begin at the Far View Terrace.

Hiking trails

Mesa Verde offers several designated hiking trails. Backcountry hiking or overnight backpacking is not allowed, so as to protect the natural and archeological sites in the park. All the trails (except Soda Canyon Overlook and Knife Edge) are strenuous and involve steep elevation changes. Some trails offer little shade, and it can get pretty hot in the summer, so be sure to take along lots of water.

Morefield Campground trails:

  • Prater Ridge Trail, 7.8 miles round-trip. Beginning on the west end of Morefield Campground, the trail ascends Prater Ridge and follows a loop around the top of the ridge.
  • Knife Edge Trail, 2 miles round-trip. Starting at the northwest corner of Morefield Campground, this trail follows the old Knife Edge Road, which was built in 1914 as the main access into the park. Great view of Montezuma Valley at the end. Trail guides are available.
  • Point Lookout Trail, 2.2 miles round-trip. Starting at the northeast corner of Morefield Campground, this trail switchbacks up the side of Point Lookout, the mesa you will see on the road into the park.

Chapin Mesa trails:

  • Petroglyph Point Trail, 2.4 miles round-trip. Starting at the Spruce Tree House trail, this trail travels down Spruce Tree Canyon, then climbs to the rim of Chapin Mesa and winds back around to the museum. This is the only trail in Mesa Verde where you can see petroglyphs. Registration (free of charge) is required to hike this trail. Trail guides are available.
  • Spruce Canyon Trail, 2.4 miles round-trip. Beginning at the Spruce Tree House trail, this trail goes down the bottom of Spruce Tree Canyon and winds back around to Spruce Canyon, then climbs back up to Chapin Mesa at the picnic area. Registration (free of charge) is required to hike this trail.
  • Soda Canyon Overlook Trail, 1.2 miles round-trip. Starting about a mile north of the Balcony House parking area on the Cliff Palace loop road, this trail winds around the canyon edge and ends at an overlook of Balcony House.

Wetherill Mesa trails:

  • Nordenskiold Site No. 16 Trail, 1 mile round-trip. Starting at the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk, this trail ends at an overlook of Nordenskiold Site No. 16, one of the first excavated sites in Mesa Verde.


The Far View Visitor Center and the Chapin Mesa Museum have a bookstore, and gift shops are located in the Spruce Tree Terrance (near the museum) and the Far View Lodge. Buying postcards of the sites will save you the hassle of trying to get perfect shots of the sites with nobody else in them and allow you to focus on getting great photos of you having fun. There are also Native Americans in the parks that sell their arts and crafts. Take a look if Southwestern jewelry and art interest you.

For groceries, camping supplies, and gasoline, the camp store at the Morefield Campground is the only place in the park. They also have a laundromat.

One of Mesa Verde's mesa-top sites
One of Mesa Verde's mesa-top sites

Food is available at four locations in the park:

  • Far View Terrace & Marketplace, located near the Far View Visitor Center. May-October, 7AM-7PM. A variety of food in several styles (burgers, pizza, Southwestern, Native American, etc.) is available in this cafeteria. The dining room has a large window facing some of the mesas and canyons of the park.
  • Spruce Tree Terrace, located near the Chapin Mesa Museum. Daily 11AM-3:30PM (with extended hours in the summer). Burgers, sandwiches and salads. $4-$8.
  • The Metate Room, located within Far View Lodge. May-October, breakfast 7AM-10AM, dinner 5PM-9:30AM (dinner & breakfast). This restaurant offers the most sophisticated dining in the park. Casual dress. $15-$30.
  • Knife Edge Cafe, located next to the Morefield Campground store. May-September, 7AM-10AM. Open for breakfast during the summer months.


You can purchase soft drinks, juices, and drinking water at any of the restaurants and cafes around the park, including at Chapin Mesa, Far View, the Morefield Campground store, and the ranger station on Wetherill Mesa. There is an espresso bar at the Far View Terrace & Marketplace.

For alcohol, there's just about only one place in Mesa Verde where you can get it, and that's at The Metate Room restaurant in the Far View Lodge, which offers an extensive wine list.



Far View Lodge, near the Far View Visitor Center and the Far View Terrace Marketplace, +1 800 449-2288, [5]. May-October. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 10AM. This is the only hotel in the park. 150 rooms, all non-smoking and with a private balcony. There are no TVs in the rooms. $110-$140.

Lodging is also available in the nearby towns of Cortez, Dolores, and Mancos, and farther away in Durango.


Morefield Campground [6] is the only campground in the park. The campsites are quite nice, most of them with lots of trees for privacy (and the campground rarely fills up), and all of them have a table, bench, and grill. There are also RV sites with full hookups. The restrooms are clean, and there are free showers. At the entrance to the campground is a store (where you can get gas, groceries and camp supplies), an RV dumping station, and a 24-hour laundromat. Open mid-May through mid-October. $20/night (RV sites with hookups $25/night). Check-in is anytime during open hours and check-out is at 11AM at the campground store.


Backcountry camping or overnight backpacking is not allowed in Mesa Verde to protect the scenic and archeological sights in the park.

Stay safe

Visits to cliff dwellings can be strenuous; many require climbing uneven steps and ladders, involve large elevation changes, or are near steep cliffs. Almost all of the trails in Mesa Verde are difficult. It can get very hot in the summer, and even in the winter it can be quite warm, so drink lots of water and put on the sunscreen.

Be careful while driving, as the roads are filled with sharp curves. Make sure your car is in good shape and make sure there's plenty of gas in the tank, as there is only one gas station in this large park, and that's at Morefield Campground. Many portions of the roads are up against cliffs, so keep an eye out for rocks that may have fallen onto the road.

To protect the fragile archaeological sights in the park, don't sit, stand, lean, or climb upon anything at the sights (that includes ancient walls, structures, ruins, etc.).

For current and constantly updated park information, you can tune your radio to 1610AM.

  • Durango has its charm, and a few attractions including a historic narrow gauge railroad.
  • Hovenweep National Monument [7] is a quiet park located nearby, and contains the ruins of several Puebloan-era villages.
Routes through Mesa Verde National Park
Four CornersCortez  W noframe E  MancosDurango
This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information about the park including attractions, activities, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, and arrival/departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!


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