In the plain west of the Rocky Mountains, on the Colorado Plateau, you reach Mesa Verde – the culturally and historically most important national park in the USA. Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green board”) is located on a densely forested, green plateau, which gave the park its name. Table Mountain rises up to 600 meters above the surrounding landscape, reaching almost 2,600 meters above sea level at its highest points.
Mesa Verde National Park offers interesting insights into the life of the Ancestral Pueblo People (also called Anasazi). They lived in the region for more than 700 years – from about 550 to 1300 AD. Today the park includes almost 5,000 archaeologically valuable sites. This also includes 600 characteristic cliff dwellings (translated: cliff dwellings). These are among the best preserved in the United States.
Having lived on the plateau for more than 600 years, the Ancestral Pueblo People continued to expand their dwellings below the ledges. The size of the buildings varies from a simple one-room warehouse to a village with more than 150 rooms. While the Ancestral Pueblo People continued to farm on the plateau, the Cliff Dwellings below continued to be repaired and expanded. From 1270 onwards, the population suddenly began to migrate south – to what is now New Mexico and Arizona – for reasons that have not yet been clarified. From the numerous finds found within Mesa Verde, archaeologists have been able to gain amazing insight into prehistoric life in America.
Mesa Verde National Park information
Location and size
According to Topschoolsoflaw, the Mesa Verde National Park, founded in 1906, has a total size of approx. 210 square kilometers and is located in the southwest of the state of Colorado.
Mesa Verde National Park is easily reached by car via Highway 160. The park entrance is only about 15 minutes east of Cortez or a good hour west of Durango. Flights, buses and rental cars are available in Durango. Gasoline is only available in the park at Morefield Campground. Colorado’s capital, Denver, is around 8 hours’ drive away, Monument Valley around 2.5 hours and the Four Corners Monument just under an hour’s drive.
VUSA TIP: It is important to note that it takes quite a long time from the entrance to the park (in the north at the foot of the plateau) until you actually get to the important sights at the southern end of the plateau. It is therefore essential to plan at least one full day with two overnight stays in the region or one overnight stay in the park itself.
Opening Hours and Seasons
Mesa National Park is open year-round.
The Mesa Verde Visitor Center at the park’s entrance is open most of the year from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, and even from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm during the summer months. Detailed opening times can be found on the national park website (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). In addition to general information about the history of the park, you can also register for the popular ranger-led tours of the larger Cliff Dwellings such as Balcony House or Cliff Palace in the Visitor Center there.
In the winter months, parts of the park are not accessible or only accessible to a limited extent. The entire western part of the plateau (Wetherill Mesa with Long House) is closed and the guided tours to Balcony House and Cliff Palace are not offered. The Spruce Tree House, on the other hand, can only be reached by (free) guided tour in winter. Far View Lodge, Morefield Campground and the ranger station there are also closed during the winter months.
prices Park admission is valid for all visitors for up to 7 days. Those arriving by private vehicle must pay an entrance fee of USD 25 per car in high season (USD 15 in low season from November to April, when not all parts of the park are accessible). By motorbike the fee is USD 20 (or USD 10 in low season). Individuals, on foot or by bicycle, pay USD 12 and USD 7 (off-season) respectively.
Some of the Cliff Dwellings (Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Long House) can only be visited as part of a guided tour. Tickets can only be reserved in person, up to two days in advance, and cost an additional USD 4 per person per tour. Points of sale are the Visitor Center, the Morefield Ranger Station at the campground, and the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum on the south side of the park. Outside of the park, tickets for these tours can also be purchased at the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez.
In addition, there are special programs such as photography tours or special, guided backcountry hikes, for example to the Square Tower House, which cost between USD 12 and 25 and must be reserved in advance by telephone or online at www.recreation.gov .
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
The annual pass costs $80 and entitles you to visit over 2,000 US federal recreation areas and national parks for one year from the date of purchase. The entrance fee applies to the driver and all passengers of a private, non-commercial vehicle (or up to a maximum of 4 adults in total if per-person entrance fees are charged). Children under 16 are free. If you visit more than 4 national parks, it is usually worth buying the America the Beautiful Annual Pass. The pass can be purchased at many stores across the US and is also available in advance from various tour operators.
Park Shuttle Service
Own vehicle is required to explore Mesa Verde National Park. However, the private concessionaire Aramark, which also operates the hotel in the park (Far View Lodge), offers guided minibus tours for an additional fee if you don’t want to drive so much yourself and also want to have an experienced guide at your side.
The western part of the plateau, Wetherill Mesa, is only open from May to October and can only be navigated by vehicles with a length of up to 25 feet (about 8 meters) due to the sometimes very tight curves. This part is therefore unsuitable for medium to large mobile homes. The Long House located there used to be accessible only by tram, but the way there now has to be covered by bike or on foot. However, tickets for the guided tours are still mandatory and must be purchased at the Visitor Center, at the Morefield Ranger Station or at the Chapin Mesa Museum before driving up Wetherill Mesa.
With the Far View Lodge , the Mesa Verde National Park offers a hotel within the park, which is only open during the summer months (usually from April to October). Above all, the lodge impresses with spectacular views thanks to its location at one of the highest points of the plateau. In addition, with the Metate Room, it offers a really fantastic restaurant for national park standards, which shines with local cuisine and dishes inspired by the indigenous people.
The Morefield Campground is the only campsite in the national park (approx. 6 km after the park entrance). With more than 250 parking spaces, it usually has sufficient free capacity. The campsite is equipped with all important facilities and also a small shop and a gas station. Reservations can be made in advance on the website www.visitmesaverde.com and are highly recommended in the summer months. The campsite is closed during the winter.
Other accommodation options include Cortez, a small town about 15 minutes from the park entrance. Above all, simple and relatively cheap chain hotels and a manageable range of entertainment await you here.
If you value a more varied nightlife and/or a larger selection of partly historic hotels, you should consider staying in Durango , which is about an hour away . The quaint Durango impresses with classic, Victorian architecture, a large number of restaurants and bars, as well as a variety of tourist attractions such as the famous narrow-gauge railway, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The summer months (June to mid-September) are generally warm to hot and very dry, but it often gets quite cool in the evenings. Daytime temperatures can sometimes even exceed the 30 degree mark. The risk of thunderstorms is particularly high in July and August.
Winter is usually mild, but occasional snowstorms can occur as early as May or October.
It should be noted that parts of the park are not or only partially accessible during the winter months.
|Average temperatures in Mesa Verde National Park in °C|
Good gear, clothing appropriate to the season and sound planning are essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay. Due to the altitude and the often exposed hiking trails, it is also important to always apply plenty of sun protection and to have enough water with you.
The Visitor Center provides information and exhibits about Mesa Verde National Park’s fascinating and diverse ecosystem, wildlife, geological formations, and the early humans who inhabited the area.
However , the main attractions of Mesa Verde National Park are undoubtedly the various cliff dwellings. Five of these are open to the general public: Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House can only be visited as part of a guided tour (additional fee). Spruce Tree House and Step House can be explored independently during the summer months. Three other Cliff Dwellings can be visited at specific times on guided backcountry hiking tours, but require special tickets.
VUSA TIP: The time it takes to visit the park is often underestimated, since the usual route planners only indicate the entrance on the north side of the park. Within the park, however, you first have to climb a winding serpentine road up to the plateau and then the relevant attractions, such as the Cliff Dwellings, are also located at the southern end of this plateau. Since, as is usual in national parks, the speed limit on the roads is very low, you have to plan 2 to 2.5 hours for the driveways within the park alone, without seeing anything important.
We therefore recommend that you set aside a full day for the park, either by planning two nights in the immediate vicinity or at least one night in the park itself.
- Stop at the visitor center at the entrance to the park, where you can purchase books and maps in addition to visiting the exhibit. Rangers will be happy to help you with the further planning of your stay and can reserve tickets for the guided tours for you.
- Take a ranger-led tour of the Cliff Palace or Balcony House (a bit more strenuous and sometimes involves crawling through tight spaces)
- Stop at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to learn more about the life of the Ancestral Pueblo People and hear rangers’ explanations at the Cliff Palace. There is also a 25-minute video presentation about the park here.
- You can then walk to the Spruce Tree House on your own. Plan an hour for the round trip.
- If time allows, drive the Mesa Top Loop Road scenic drive. Highlights here include the view of Square Tower House & Cliff Palace.
Before you travel, please find out which activities are particularly recommended for your desired travel time and what weather conditions you will find: www.nps.gov/meve