InWord Journeys

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde, Colorado 81330
970-529-4465, up-to-date information
970-529-4638, fax

In 1978 Mesa Verde was designated as a World Cultural Heritage Site.

President Theodore Roosevelt made history when he created Mesa Verde National Park on June 29, 1906, as the first national park charged with protecting “the works of man.” The mission of the national park has expanded today to include protection of both the cultural and natural resources within the park boundaries.


2 Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado, in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. To reach the entrance station, drive about 10 miles east of Cortez, Colorado, or 35 miles west of Durango, Colorado, on Highway 160.

Public transportation does not travel to Mesa Verde. The nearest bus terminal is in Durango, where you will then need to rent a car to drive to the national park.

Regional airports are in Durango or Cortez, Colorado and Farmington, New Mexico.

The entrance road to Mesa Verde National Park is paved, but steep and winding. Other roads are also paved, but remember to take into account their twisting nature when estimating your drive time.

Early visitors to Mesa Verde National Park often had a lengthy wait to use the one-lane entrance road, which was wide enough for only 1 car at a time. Visitors at the bottom of the mesa would have to call to the top to ensure there were no downhill cars on the road. Those on top of the mesa did the same to check for uphill cars.



Mesa Verde National Park reintroduced wild turkeys to the area. These birds can often be seen along the entrance road to the national park.

  The entrance road to Mesa Verde National Park snakes up the mesa to stunning overlooks of the surrounding area and past interpretive signs that explain the natural features of the land. Be sure to stop at some of them.

Most people visit Mesa Verde because of its spectacular cities in stone. Although the majority of the 600 cliff dwellings in the park are closed to visitors, many of these can still be viewed from the trails and roads.

Far View Visitor Center/Far View Terrace (open daily in summer, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.) is 15 miles from the entrance. Stop here to:

  • purchase mandatory tickets for Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House Tours
  • pick up information about visiting the national park
  • view museum displays of Native American crafts and early archaeology at Mesa Verde
  • watch Native Americans create their arts and crafts
  • buy authentic Indian crafts and gifts
  • eat in the restaurant or cafeteria
                                                                                         Far View Ruin 4
Far View Sites Complex (open 8:00 a.m. to sunset) is 4 miles beyond Far View Visitor Center. The sign for the short road to the ruins is on your left. Note that if you are driving from Chapin Mesa to Far View, the sign (on your right) can be difficult to see. Stop here to:
  • see 5 mesa top villages
  • see the remains of an ancient dry reservoir
  • take a short walk on a ¾-mile trail (open 8:00 a.m. to sunset) is located between Far View Sites Complex and Chapin Mesa Museum.
Cedar Tree Tower (open 8:00 a.m. to sunset) is located between Far View Sites Complex and Chapin Mesa Museum. Stop here to:
  • walk a moderately strenuous half-mile trail to view farming terraces and check dams
  • view a tower and kiva complex
  • look for lizards, hummingbirds and a wide variety of plants
  • observe the effects of fire, including red oxidation of the rocks from its heat

Chapin Mesa Complex is 5 miles beyond Far View Visitor Center. Stop here to:

  • visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum (open daily in summer, 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.)
  • purchase tickets to visit Cliff Palace during Far View Visitor Center’s seasonal closing.
  • learn about Mesa Verde National Park and the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans through museum displays
  • watch Native American artisans at work
  • view a 25-minute orientation film (shown every half hour)
  • take a free self-guided tour behind the museum to visit Spruce Tree House. The trail is paved, but steep and twisting.
  • buy books and gifts
  • mail a postcard at the post office
  • eat at the snack bar
You can learn about the Mesa Verde plants through trail
guides and signs along a short path between the Chapin
Mesa Museum and Chief Ranger’s office, and on Knife Edge
Trail, Petroglyph Point Trail and Spruce Tree House Trail.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. Built around A.D. 1100, it contains 150 rooms and 23 kivas. Recent speculation is that only about 100 people lived here, since many rooms show no evidence of household fires or of the plastered and painted walls common in living areas. One theory is that Cliff Palace was a social, ceremonial and administrative center. The trail to Cliff Palace is now a short ¼ mile roundtrip, but you will descend 100 feet and climb 5 ladders (8-10 feet long). Don’t forget the 20-minute drive from Chapin Mesa Visitor Center to get there on time. The tour is one-hour long.

Early visitors to Mesa Verde cliff dwellings would dangle
from ropes to get in and out of the ruins.

 Balcony House is one of the most popular tours for the adventurous. Participants climb up a 32-foot ladder and through a 12-foot-long tunnel to get into the site, and then up two 10-foot ladders to reach the mesa top again. Plan on 1 hour for the tour.

Please note: To visit Cliff Palace or Balcony House on Chapin Mesa you must purchase a $3.00 ticket at Far View Visitor Center. After Far View Visitor Center is closed for the winter, Cliff Palace tickets can be purchased at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.                                                                       
           Kiva at Spruce Tree House
5Spruce Tree House self-guided trail starts behind the visitor center on Chapin Mesa and descends 100 feet to the best-preserved cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. Almost 90% of what you see was originally built by Ancestral Puebloans. The ruin contains about 114 rooms and 9 kivas, and may have had only 60-80 people living here at the same time. Once at the ruins, you can climb the ladder into the kiva and ask the ranger on duty any questions you have. The roundtrip is ½ mile, and is open from early March to early November for self-guided tours (see below for more on seasonal hours). From early November to early March, Spruce Tree House is open for ranger-guided tours only.                                 
     Chapin Mesa Ruin 6
Mesa Top Loop Road is a 6-mile loop road that offers a better understanding of the depth of history contained on Mesa Verde’s mesa tops, where most of the over 4000 known archaeological sites in the park are located. It is in these ruins of pithouses, towers, agricultural structures and pueblos where you can learn about how life evolved for the Ancestral Puebloans over the centuries. The 7self-guided driving tour passes short trails that lead to 12 Ancestral Puebloan sites. In addition, popular stops include views of Square Tower House and Cliff Palace, as well as access to Sun Temple, a D-shaped building that modern Pueblo Indians classify as a ceremonial structure.
                     Sun Temple

A drive to Wetherill Mesa can provide you with further insight into early life at Mesa Verde. It can also be a good way to avoid some of the Mesa Verde crowds. From here, on a clear day you can see Shiprock in New Mexico, Monument Valley in Arizona, and Sleeping Ute Mountain near Cortez, Colorado. The road begins at Far View Visitor Center complex. Be aware that sharp curves and steep grades make this road unsuitable for RV’s and trailers longer than 25 feet. Wetherill Mesa is closed in Fall and Winter.

Although the Ancestral Pueblo people lived at Mesa Verde
for about 700 years, they only built their cliff dwellings
about 75-100 years before they left.

 Badger House and 4 mesa-top sites are reached by following a self-guided gravel and paved trail that winds 2.5 miles from the information kiosk. It can also be reached from the tram stop down a 1.5 mile trail.

Long House, the 2nd-largest cliff dwelling in the park, can be visited on a 90-minute tour led by a ranger. A tram takes you to the trailhead and the beginning of the ¾-mile roundtrip hike that includes descending a series of steps to the cliff dwelling, followed by a trail ascent of 130 feet to return to the tram. In addition, at the site, you will climb two 15-foot ladders. Visiting Long House requires that you purchase a $3.00 ticket at Far View Visitor Center. Be sure to plan for the 45-minute drive it takes to get from the visitor center to the tram.

Step House is reached along a ¾-mile roundtrip trail which starts near the Wetherill Mesa information kiosk and descends 100 feet. A pithouse, petroglyphs, and a cliff dwelling can be seen along this self-guided trail.

Hiking is restricted in Mesa Verde National Park to protect archaeological sites. Trail guides for the eight designated trails are available at the visitor centers. Please note that trails are often slippery and muddy when wet. In addition, steep elevation gains, high altitude and sharp drop-offs can present challenges to the hiker.  

Birdwatching at Mesa Verde is popular along the Petroglyph Point, Spruce Canyon and Knife Edge Trails. Soda Canyon Overlook and Park Point Lookout are other good places to try your luck. You can purchase at the visitor centers a checklist of birds that indicates other viewing places at the park. Since riparian areas in Mesa Verde National Park are closed to visitors, try the road along the Mancos River (outside of the national park) to spot riparian birds. It can be reached by following one of the county roads west of Mancos.
       Western Bluebird

Stargazing from the top of Mesa Verde is often rewarding because of the minimum light pollution in the Four Corners. The areas around Morefield Campground and at the Montezuma and Mancos overlooks are especially good for viewing a star-filled night sky.


ARAMARK, Mesa Verde provides reservation services for the park. It also offers a guided bus tour approved by the National Park Service to sites on Chapin Mesa, including Cliff Palace. Contact them by calling 888/896-3831 or visiting their website at

10 9 Far View Lodge, 15 miles inside the park, provides guests with a peaceful setting and expansive views from private decks. Note that the rooms have no TVs, and not all cell phones will work there. The lodge does, however, have free wireless internet access in the lobby.

Over 600,000 people visit Mesa
Verde National Park each year.

Morefield Campground, telephone 800/449-2288, is open mid-May to mid-October. With 435 sites, trailers, tents and RVs can usually find a spot. However, the 15 full hook-up sites require reservations. Ranger-led evening campfire programs are favorite pastimes here. The campground is 4 miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park.

The Metate Room Restaurant serves a contemporary menu incorporating some of the same ingredients used by the Ancestral Pueblo inhabitants of Mesa Verde. The restaurant, which is in Far View Lodge, also features an extensive wine list. Metate Room is open mid-April to mid-October, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Spruce Tree Terrace Café is a cafeteria open year-round, although hours vary seasonally. It is located in the Chapin Mesa complex.

Far View Terrace Restaurant serves cafeteria-style lunches and dinners that can include Southwestern food. It is open daily from May to mid-October.

Mesa Mocha Expresso Bar serves sandwiches and wraps. It is open seasonally inside Far View Terrace.

Morefield Village has full travelers’ services with a café, gas station, coin-operated laundry, complimentary showers, and RV dumping station. There is also a grocery store here.

If you visit Mesa Verde during the summer, be prepared for the heat (over 90 degrees during the day) by wearing sunscreen and a hat and by drinking PLENTY of water. Nights at Mesa Verde are often cool, so bring a jacket and dress in layers. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in July and August (see the Story Room for why). Although winters are usually mild, snowstorms can occur as early as October and as late as May in southwestern Colorado.

Mesa Verde National Park stays open year-round but hours and activities change with the season. In addition, many areas close in the winter. For up-to-date information on closures and special programs, call the national park at 970/529-4465 or visit the Mesa Verde National Park website at

Copyright © Tish Minear and Janet Limon