Monday, December 20, 2021

Top things to do in Mesa Verde National Park

Explorer Lens

Colorado is a very beautiful state of USA. It is known for its river canyons, snow covered mountains and desert area. There are 4 nationals here and all of them are quite famous and iconic.

Most of the national parks are world famous for their waterfalls, gigantic rocks, snow covered mountains or wildlife, but this national park is known for preserving ancestral history and culture.

After exploring the biggest national park of Utah – Canyonlands National Park, we were on our way to check out the ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is a park like no other. It offers an insight in the lives of the ancestral Puebloan people who are believed to be the forefathers of the modern native Americans. The mystical cliff dwellings and other structures beautifully crafted amid the nature is sight you will never forget. 

While the park can be explored through scenic drives, overlook point and short hikes, the best way to experience it is to through a tour. I know you are eager and excited to get started, so here is the list of major attractions in Mesa Verde National Park.

Major attractions in Mesa Verde National Park:

1. Mesa Top Ruins Road Viewpoints

The major cliffs dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park are atleast 45 minutes from the park entrance and to get there you need to take the Mesa Top Ruins Road.
This is a very pretty road which has lot of scenic viewpoints along the route. The major view points are:
- Park Point Fire Lookout
- Montezuma Valley Overlook
- Mancos Valley Overlook

I would definitely suggest Park Point Fire Lookout as it is the highest point in the park at a soaring height of 8500 feet. When the skies of clear, you can see parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
The views are breathtaking.

2. Cliff Palace

The most visited, photographed and iconic cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park is Cliff Palace.
This is the palace that you see in most of the Mesa Verde’s photos. It is located on the Mesa Top Ruins Road.

There are different ways to view this palace. The most preferred is through a ranger guided tour where you can view the dwellings up close. If the tour is not available due to inevitable factors, you can still get a great picture of the Cliff Palace from the Cliff Palace Overlook or from Sun Temple (bring zoom lens).


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3. Tour a Cliff Dwelling

The best way to feel this place is to get up close and personal with the ancient structure of this beautiful site. There are guided tours available for Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long house which takes around 1-2 hours.

Cliff Palace Tour is the most popular, but it is more listening and standing.
If you are looking for a more interactive and adventurous tour, consider doing the Balcony House or Long House. Do keep in mind that Long House is located on Wetherill Mesa which is a long drive from the main attractions of the park, so plan accordingly.

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4. Sights along Mesa Top Loop

This is a one way 6 miles scenic drive which has around 10-12 viewpoints.
The main viewpoints are the below ones:
- Sun View Point
- Square Tower House

- Oak Tree House

- Fire Temple

- Sun Temple


5. Checkout Ancient Petroglyphs

Ancient carvings and writings are something that has always intrigued me and I think it is a great way to connect with our ancestors. There are ancient Petroglyphs in Mesa Verde too and for that you will have to take a 2.4-mile roundtrip Petroglyph Point Trail. The trail starts from Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.


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6. Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

A great way to know a place is to visit its museum.
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum provides great insights into the history of Mesa Verde National Park and also about the culture of the ancient Puebloan people.
It is also a great point to take a break and relax a bit before moving on the next attractions.

7. Hike a trail

If you are a hike person, there are few scenic hikes in Mesa Verde which are worth doing. Below is the list :
- Spruce Canyon Trail is a 3.1 miles loop trail with scenic views of the valley.
- Petroglyph Point Trail is a 2.4 miles roundtrip to ancient Petroglyphs.
- Point Lookout Trail is a 2.2 mile long roundtrip trail which offers mesmerizing views of the Montezuma and Mancos Valley.
- Soda Canyon Trail is a 1.2 mile out and back hike with views of Balcony House and cliff dwelling on Soda Canyon.

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8. Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is the best-preserved cliff dwelling in the park. Currently, there are no tours offered of this cliff dwelling, but you can get a fantastic view from the Spruce Tree Overlook. Park your car near the museum and walk down the path to the overlook.


9. Self-guided tour of Step House

If the ranger guided tours are not available or if you want to take a self-guided tour of a cliff dwelling, Step House is your place. It’s a one-mile roundtrip which is located in Wetherill Mesa, so you might want to keep it the last stop on your list. You can walk through the cliff dwellings and see the pithouse and even petroglyphs. Please note that the tour is open only till the time of the day when the ranger is on duty.

10. Explore Far View Sites

Far View Sites is a great way to understand how ancient people survived on the mesa top. It is often overlooked and we also didn’t get a chance to visit this place, but it is a nice collection of archeological sites which lets you learn more about the Puebloan life.

Tips from our experience and learning

1. The main attractions of Mesa Verde are located at approx. 45 minutes drive from the entrance, so try to start early.

2. If you want to book a tour, check the covid guidelines and plan accordingly. There might be cases when the tours are stopped because of covid, so you might want to plan your trip accordingly.

3. Bring a zoom lens for best views of the cliff dwellings.

4. Do remember that although Mesa Verde is open throughout the year, some of its most popular spots are only open from May to October.

5. If you are visiting the park during summers, the day temperatures can soar significantly, so carry sunscreen and good amount of water.


Enjoy your visit and let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

Explorer Lens / Author & Editor

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