Top 10 Things To Do In Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

There is so much to see and do in Mesa Verde National Park, that it’s hard to limit it all to one trip. From guided tours of cliff dwellings, to canyon hikes there is something for everyone. At the visitor center and entrance station, follow a winding mountainous road up though the park past a number of pullouts and overlooks. These pullouts are great places to stop and break up the drive. When you get to the Far View area you’ll have a choice whether to head down to Chapin Mesa or Wetherill Mesa. If you only have one day in the park it’s best to visit Chapin Mesa since most of best-preserved archeological sites are there.

Mesa Verde National Park is unique to other parks, because not only was it established to celebrate its natural beauty, but also to protect the historical cliff and mesa top dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people. No matter how you choose to spend your day in the park, Mesa Verde will not disappoint.

1: Take a Guided Tour of Cliff Palace, Balcony House or Long House

Take a Guided Tour of Cliff Palace, Balcony House or Long House

A guided tour is the only way to see the cliff dwellings up close, but the tour is definitely worth it. You’ll get so much more from interacting with the ranger than you would otherwise. On each tour you learn about how the Ancestral Puebloans used the cliff dwellings and mesa top in their daily lives. Each tour is unique in that you’ll learn something different about the culture depending on your tour guide.

Tickets for the tours can be purchased at the visitor center just inside the park boundary. Tickets do sell out fast, so if you know it’s going to be busy, best to get there early. Tickets can be purchased up to two days in advance. Keep in mind when planning your trip that steep stair cases and in some instances, ladders allow you to access the cliff dwellings.

Address: Cliff Palace Loop, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

2: Take a Self-Guided Tour of Step House

Take a Self-Guided Tour of Step House
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Tjflex2

If you are not able to make it to a tour, the self-guided tour of Step House is another great option to see the cliff dwellings. Located on Wetherill Mesa, the self-guided tour allows you to take your time in the cliff dwelling and move at your own pace. Wetherill Mesa is the slower paced option of the two mesas. Although the tour is not guided, there is a ranger station at the site to answer any questions.

The Step House is unique from the other sites because there is evidence of two separate building eras 600-years apart in the same alcove. The earlier Modified Basketmaker site occupied the alcove first, followed by the Classic Pueblo site which is what the majority of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

3: Mesa Top Loop Road Tour

Mesa Top Loop Road Tour
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Ken Lund
A great way to cover a lot of ground and see more sites is the Mesa top loop road on the Chapin Mesa. The loop road is a great way for groups who are not up to walk far or climb down steep stairs to see a variety of what Mesa Verde has to offer. This 6-mile driving loop has a number of views and archeological sites to stop at along the way. As you stop along the road, the sites move chronologically in history, providing a good visual timeline as to what happened in the area.
Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Website: www.nps.gov

4: Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Jacqueline Poggi

A great way to get out of the sun, or if you happen to be visiting on a rainy day is the Chapin Mesa archeological museum. The museum has numerous artifacts from different eras of Ancestral Pueblo life on display from the parks collection. As you walk through the museum, dioramas and artifacts chronologically depict what life was life on Mesa Verde. A short film on the history of Mesa Verde is shown every half hour.

The Chapin Mesa archeological museum is also a great place to eat and grab water. There’s a variety of food vendors, restrooms and bookstore.

Address: 1 Mesa verde, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

5: View Spruce Tree House

View Spruce Tree House
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Jacqueline Poggi
The third largest and best-preserved cliff dwelling in the park is Spruce Tree House. Located deep in its alcove, the Spruce Tree House is better protected from rain and erosion than its neighbors. When ranchers first found the cliff dwelling there was a large spruce tree in front of the alcove which they climbed down from the mesa top to see the site. The spruce tree is now gone, but the name stayed.
Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

6: Hiking and Biking

Hiking and Biking
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Ken Lund

In addition to all the archeological sites you can see in Mesa Verde National Park, there is also great hiking in the canyons off the mesa top. Starting at the Chapin Mesa archeological museum are the petroglyph point and spruce canyon trail heads. The petroglyph point trail is a 2.4-mile-long loop and takes you past a large petroglyph panel. The spruce canyon trail takes you down past the Spruce Tree House and then up spruce canyon. The 2.4-mile-long loop gives visitors an understanding of what life is like at the bottom of the canyon.

On the Wetherill Mesa, visitors can hike or bike on the Long House Loop paved trail. The loop is 6 miles long, but can be cut down by walking though the Badger House Community sites.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

7: Campfire Program

Campfire Program
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/mksfca
Every night in the summer at Morefield Amphitheater the park offers a ranger led campfire program. These 45 minutes to hour long talks cover the archeological history of Mesa Verde and other topics related to the park. The amphitheater is located near the campground and is great to check out if you plan on camping in the park.
Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

8: Fire Tower Lookout

Fire Tower Lookout
There is more history to Mesa Verde than just Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites. On the entrance road, be sure to stop at the old fire tower lookout. The fire tower offers outstanding views of the surrounding area and some geological insight into how Mesa Verde was formed. Look inside the old fire tower for an insight into how wild fire mitigation was handled in the past.
Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

9: Visitor and Research Center

Visitor and Research Center
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Ron Cogswell
Stop by the visitor and research center as soon as you pull in to the park. Here is where you can purchase tour tickets and pick up a park brochure and map. Park rangers have good information on where to go depending on what you want to accomplish in the park and how much time you have. If you only have one day in the park, head out to Chapin Mesa since majority of the sites and trails are out that way. The visitor center also has a variety of exhibits on not only the Ancestral Puebloan culture, but also the modern decedents and more.
Address: 35853 Rd H.5, Mancos, CO 81328
Website: www.nps.gov

10: Visit Wetherill Mesa

Visit Wetherill Mesa
Photo Courtesy: Flickr/daveynin
If you have more than one day in the park check out Wetherill Mesa. This side of the park is much slower paced than the Chapin Mesa and does not see as many visitors in a day. Enjoy a self-guided tour of Step House of walk along the Long House Loop and through Badger Community House.
Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
Website: www.nps.gov

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