10 Best Things To Do in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Nikki Jain

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 through the park past several 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 the 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 ancient 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.

Let's explore the best things to do in Mesa Verde National Park.

Best Things To Do in Mesa Verde National Park

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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.

During the 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.

Address: Cliff Palace Loop, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

2: Take a Self-Guided Tour of Step House

Take a Self-Guided Tour of Step House

If you cannot 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, where most Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

3: Mesa Top Loop Road Tour

Mesa Top Loop Road Tour
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 several views and archeological sites to explore along the way. As you stop along the road, the sites move chronologically in history, providing an excellent visual timeline for what happened in the area.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO

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4: Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
Flickr/Jacqueline Poggi

One of the best things to do in Mesa Verde National park is visiting the Chapin Mesa archeological museum. The museum has numerous artifacts from different eras of Ancestral Pueblo life on display from the park's collection.

As you walk through the museum, dioramas and artifacts chronologically depict what life was like 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 a bookstore.

Address: 1 Mesa verde, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

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5: View Spruce Tree House

View Spruce Tree House
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 no longer exist, but the name stayed.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

6: Hiking and Biking

Hiking and Biking
Flickr/Ken Lund

In addition to all the archeological sites, other great things to do in Mesa Verde National Park is hiking the canyons off the mesa top. Starting at the Chapin Mesa archeological museum are the petroglyph point and spruce canyon trailheads.

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 the spruce canyon.

The 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 short by walking through the Badger House Community sites.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

7: Campfire Program

Campfire Program

Every night in the summer at Morefield Amphitheater, the park offers a ranger-led campfire program. This 45 minutes to hour-long program 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

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 wildfire mitigation was handled in the past.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

9: Visitor and Research Center

Visitor and Research Center
Flickr/Ron Cogswell

Stop by the visitor and research center as soon as you pull into the park. Here is where you can purchase tour tickets and pick up a park brochure and map. Park rangers have useful 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 the 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

10: Visit Wetherill Mesa

Visit Wetherill Mesa

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 by walking along the Long House Loop and through Badger Community House.

Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

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