Mesa Verde National Park is a national park in southwestern Colorado, USA, that protects some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the country. The park is located on the mesa top and within the canyons of the Montezuma Valley, and covers an area of more than 52,000 acres. The park contains over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, such as the famous Cliff Palace, which is considered one of the largest cliff dwellings in North America. Mesa Verde was established as a National Park in 1906 and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
At Mesa Verde National Park, visitors can engage in various activities, including:
- Guided tours: Park rangers offer guided tours of cliff dwellings, including the Cliff Palace and Long House, as well as other archaeological sites in the park.
- Hiking: There are several trails in the park, ranging from easy to strenuous, that offer scenic views and opportunities to see archaeological sites and wildlife.
- Camping: The park has two campgrounds for visitors who want to spend the night in the park.
- Ranger programs: Park rangers offer educational programs and activities, such as campfire talks, guided walks, and demonstrations, to help visitors learn more about the park’s history and cultural resources.
- Photography: Mesa Verde National Park offers opportunities for photographers to capture stunning views of the canyons and mesa top, as well as the park’s cultural and natural resources.
- Junior Ranger Program: Children can participate in the park’s Junior Ranger Program, which offers educational activities and opportunities for kids to explore and learn about the park.
Things to do in Mesa Verde National Park
Here are some popular things to do in Mesa Verde National Park:
- Visit Cliff Dwellings: Explore the well-preserved ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, including the famous Cliff Palace and Long House.
- Take a Ranger-led Tour: Join a park ranger for a guided tour of the cliff dwellings to learn more about the park’s history and culture.
- Hike Park Trails: Enjoy scenic views and visit archaeological sites while hiking the park’s trails, such as the Petroglyph Point Trail or the Knife Edge Trail.
- Attend a Ranger Program: Participate in educational programs, such as campfire talks, guided walks, and demonstrations, offered by park rangers.
- Explore the Visitor Center: Visit the park’s visitor center to learn about the park’s history, culture, and resources through exhibits and displays.
- Go Camping: Stay overnight in the park’s campgrounds and enjoy the peace and quiet of the park after hours.
- Take a Scenic Drive: Drive the park road for stunning views of the canyons and mesa top.
- Go Photography: Take advantage of the park’s scenic beauty and rich cultural resources to capture memorable photos.
How to reach Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado, USA, and can be reached by several modes of transportation:
- By Car: The park is accessible by car and is located about 45 miles west of Durango, Colorado, and 20 miles east of Cortez, Colorado.
- By Air: The nearest major airport is Durango-La Plata County Airport, which is located about 45 miles from the park. From the airport, you can rent a car or take a shuttle to reach the park.
- By Bus: There is no direct public transportation to the park, but there are shuttle services available from Durango and Cortez to the park.
- By Train: The nearest train station is in Durango, which is about 45 miles from the park. From the train station, you can rent a car or take a shuttle to reach the park.
It is recommended to have a personal vehicle for exploring the park as public transportation options are limited.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Mesa Verde National Park depends on what you’re interested in doing:
- Summer (June to August): Summer is the busiest time of year at the park, but it is also the best time to go hiking and attend ranger programs. The weather is warm and dry, and the days are long, which makes it a good time to explore the park.
- Spring (April to May) and Fall (September to October): These are shoulder seasons, with fewer crowds and mild weather, making them ideal times to visit if you’re looking for a more relaxed experience.
- Winter (December to March): Winter is the quietest time of year at the park, and the weather can be cold and snowy. While some park facilities and roads may be closed, winter is a good time to visit if you’re interested in snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Keep in mind that the park’s facilities and roads may be impacted by weather conditions, so it’s important to check the park’s website before visiting to determine which areas are open.
Where to Stay
Visitors to Mesa Verde National Park can choose from several lodging options, including:
- Campgrounds: The park has two campgrounds, Morefield Campground and Chapin Mesa Campground, where visitors can set up tents or park their RVs.
- Hotels: There are several hotels in the nearby towns of Cortez and Durango that offer comfortable lodging options for visitors to Mesa Verde.
- Vacation Rentals: Visitors can also rent cabins or vacation homes in the nearby area for a more private and comfortable stay.
- Lodges: The Far View Lodge is the only lodging option located inside the park, offering comfortable rooms and convenient access to park attractions.
Regardless of the type of lodging you choose, it’s important to book early, especially during peak season, as the park can be very busy and accommodations can fill up quickly.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado, and there are several nearby attractions that visitors may be interested in exploring:
- Four Corners Monument: Located about 90 minutes from the park, the Four Corners Monument marks the spot where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet.
- Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: A historic steam train that travels from Durango to Silverton, offering scenic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
- Hovenweep National Monument: A group of six ancestral Puebloan villages located about an hour from the park, featuring well-preserved towers, walls, and homes.
- Canyons of the Ancients National Monument: A 176,000-acre monument located near Cortez, featuring numerous ancient Puebloan ruins, rock art, and other cultural resources.
- Ute Mountain Tribal Park: A tribal park located on the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation near Cortez, offering guided tours and cultural experiences.
- Durango Mountain Resort: A ski resort located about an hour from the park, offering skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities.
- McPhee Reservoir: A large reservoir located near Dolores, offering boating, fishing, and other water-based recreational activities.
These attractions offer a diverse range of experiences and can add to your enjoyment of the area while visiting Mesa Verde National Park.