Mesa Verde National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Located within Montezuma County, Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is a must-see destination for RV lovers of all ages thanks to the unique Ancestral Puebloan Cliff Dwellings. The history of the park dates back to more than 7500 BCE when the Mesa Verde was inhabited seasonally by a group of Paleo-Indians known as the Foothills Mountain Complex. The unique cliff dwellings were built by the Foothills Mountain Complex, and they are still standing today thanks to the preservation efforts made at the park.

The dwellings are the main attraction to guests of the park, and they stand as true archaeological wonders. A fun piece of trivia is that Mesa Verde was the first national park in the United States known to preserve works of mankind when the park was established way back in 1906.

Along with over 5,000 archeological sites, the park also has many other great activities on offer, including hiking, birding, stargazing, and campfire talks. With so many parts to explore within the park, you’ll have to take multiple trips just to take it all in. The park is also known to hold special events throughout the year, so depending on when you visit you may be able to experience one. Wouldn't that be a nice bonus!

If you have considered renting or even buying an RV for exciting getaways you will be pleased to note that there is a campground within Mesa Verde National Park. Here you will find 267 sites for you to choose from. Mesa Verde National Park is open daily and the peak season is during the summer months.

Park Alerts (1)

[Caution] Beware of Rocks on Road

Due to a wet winter and spring, the park is experiencing rock falls along sections of the main park road. Please drive carefully and be aware of rocks on the road that may pose a hazard to vehicles. If you see rocks in the road, please report to a ranger.

RV Rentals in Mesa Verde National Park

Transportation in Mesa Verde National Park

Driving

Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado and has one entrance and exit point located off the US-160. There are a few small towns located near the park that you will be able to pick up any supplies or amenities you might need for your visit. These include Mancos (around eight miles away), Cortez (around 10 miles away) and Dolores (around 18 miles away).

Driving to and from Mesa Verde National Park is quite difficult as you will have to travel along steep, narrow, and winding mountainous roads. These roads aren’t for the faint of heart, and depending on how weather and traffic conditions are, you’ll want to plan for at least two hours just to drive in and out of the park. While this can be a bit of a drag at least the drive is scenic. If you want to take your time, there are a number of pull-offs and overlooks along the way that will provide you with superb vistas.

Parking

If you are staying the night it’s best to park your rig at Morefield Campground and get around from there. The campground is an ideal location to get to many other areas of the park and there will be plenty of parking spaces for campers, trailers, and RVs.

Public Transport

Due to the remote location of the park there are no public transport options available. A vehicle is needed to explore Mesa Verde National Park, but for those who are bringing their RV the best ways to get around are on foot or by bicycle in the park. When traveling, it’s important to only stay on designated roadways and trails. The surrounding archaeology is very precious, and each of the park’s visitors must do their part to keep this wondrous place so pristine.

Campgrounds and parking in Mesa Verde National Park

Campsites in Mesa Verde National Park

Reservations camping

Durango North/Riverside KOA

A further 20 miles north of Durango KOA is the Durango North/Riverside KOA. Close to the Animas River, Durango North/Riverside KOA is another great choice for those looking to stay in a campground that isn't too far from Mesa Verde National Park, while still having the option to be able to do other activities outside the park.

The sites at Durango North/Riverside KOA are known for being in very good condition with over 100 different RV friendly sites to choose from. All sites feature full hookups and are easily able to accommodate RVs up to 65 feet in length. You will also find a fire ring, picnic table and the option to connect to cable TV if you want to experience a little more luxury. Other amenities within the campground also include a pool, fishing pond, snack bar, and pavilion.

If you are thinking about staying at Durango North/Riverside KOA make sure you reserve a site before your stay as it is known to be a very popular campground.

Durango KOA

Located around 45 miles west, Durango, CO puts you within an hour’s drive of the Animas River and Mesa Verde National Park. If you choose to make Durango KOA your home for your trip you will wake up to fantastic views of the San Juan Mountains from atop a 7,000 ft. mesa. The sites here are either full hookup with their own deluxe patio and built-in fire pit with up to 50-amp service, or water and electric only. Maximum pull-through length is 100 feet so they are suitable for even the biggest of rigs.

The campground also has some very classy amenities, including Wi-Fi, cable TV, a pool, mini-golf course, and a snack bar. Wanting to do some grilling? You can do so by going to find firewood and using one of the many charcoal grills at the campground.

Reservations at Durango KOA can be made all year round, and we recommend you make one in advance to guarantee a place for you to stay during your visit.

Cortez / Mesa Verde KOA

If you are looking for a campground outside of the park but still close enough to civilization we recommend you check out Cortez / Mesa Verde KOA. Here you will find 25 sites with electric and water hookups and a further 40 sites that are full hookup. All sites at Cortez / Mesa Verde KOA are known for being kept in very good condition, offer guests a good deal of privacy, and some sites can accommodate rigs up to 80 feet.

The campground is known for being a little more luxurious than Morefield thanks to the extra amenities, such as a pool, six-acre dog park, basketball hoop, playground, and laundry facilities. Historical spots like Hovenweep National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center are also in close proximity and you can walk the one-mile trail around Denny Lake. Firewood is available on-site for purchase, and reservations can be made online all year round.

Morefield Campground

The only at Mesa Verde National Park is Morefield Campground. The campground contains over 260 sites, so there is plenty of room for guests throughout the year. Each site at the Morefield Campground includes a picnic table, benches, and a grill. Most of the sites are primitive but there are 15 full RV hookup sites that are available via reservations. The remaining sites are also open to RVs and they do not require a reservation. Please note that RVs over 46 feet in length will be too large for the sites on offer.

One of the handy features about Morefield Campground is that several hiking opportunities also start from this area so you will be able to get a lot of quality exploring done if you choose to stay here. Morefield also has the added bonus of providing a full-service village where you can go out for breakfast every morning. You’ll also find a gas station, laundry facility, hot showers, a gift shop, and grocery store within the area. With all these creature comforts, Morefield stands out as a truly hospitable and comforting stay.

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Mesa Verde National Park

Spring

Bird Watching

The park is home to several habitats, all distinct in their surroundings. The types of birds avian enthusiasts will encounter here will vary just as greatly as the landscape. A “Checklist of the Birds” is available for purchase through the park and can help you locate where particular species can be found in the park. Late spring visitations will reward you with being able to witness many birds migrating and nesting. The Petroglyph Point or Spruce Canyon trails are popular during this time.

Balcony House Guided Tour

This cliff dwelling tour will give you the chance to see the Balcony House ruins up close and personal. It is a one-hour guided tour that involves climbing a 32-foot tall ladder to reach the site’s entrance. Next, you’ll crawl through a 12-foot, narrow tunnel, then climb 60 feet up an exposed cliff face. This is certainly not a tour for everyone, but for those seeking a little more out of their Mesa Verde exploration, Balcony House provides a perfect outing.

Wildlife Viewing

Mesa Verde offers a diverse range of species, from mammals, birds, and everything in between. The park’s range in ecology allows for such a diversity and offers visitors an intimate look at the area’s wildlife. Expect to spot a mule deer and turkeys, squirrels, and skunks are all other popular residents. A few lucky park visitors will even be able to witness coyotes, gray fox, elk, or black bear. Regardless of who you come across in the park, it’s best to observe all wildlife from a safe distance.

Evening Programs

Looking for something to do during the evening? Campfire talks are popular at Morefield Campground and are a tradition of Mesa Verde National park. Talks are free and presentations usually last around an hour. You’ll find Rangers at the Morefield Amphitheater every evening (weather permitting) to carry on this beloved pastime. Be sure to bring your flashlight!

Soda Canyon Overlook Trail

The trail is one of the few easy walks within the park so it is suitable for people of all ages. The trail begins about a mile north of the Balcony House ruins parking area and will take you to the canyon’s edge. This location on the trail provides you with incredible views of the Balcony House in particular, as well as other sites along Soda Canyon.

Summer

Lunch at the Cafe

Located right near the lodge, the cafe at Mesa Verde National Park is the perfect place for you to recharge the batteries before continuing on with your day. The cafe features a relaxed, casual setting and is usually quite busy thanks to the guests of the park. Within the cafe, you will find an espresso bar, snacks, as well as grab-and-go breakfast and lunch options. It’s a perfect stop for those who want to stay on the move and stay well fed during their visit to the park.

Bus Tours

While there are no public shuttle buses that allow you to explore the park, there is a private company that provides guided bus tours with modern views of the Ancestral Pueblo people. The Mesa Verde Visitor Center, Far View Lodge and Terrace, and Morefield Campground are all areas where you are able to purchase tickets. The tours usually last around four hours and include some minor hiking, so be mindful of this before you book the tour.

Cliff Dwelling Tours

The main attraction to Mesa Verde National Park is the cliff dwellings and you should make the most of this by going on a tour of the largest cliff dwelling in the park. Known as Cliff Palace, the tour usually takes about an hour, and you will be able to learn a lot about their history thanks to the expert knowledge of the park staff. Please note that tour is not recommended for those who cannot climb stairs as there are descending uneven stone steps and four ladder climbs.

Wetherill Mesa Bike & Hike

Available during the summer months, Wetherill Mesa Bike & Hike is a great way for you to experience a long guided tour within the park. Lasting around four and a half hours, the bike and hike tour will take you over nine miles in expansive canyon vistas, spectacular overlooks of cliff dwellings, and the celebrated Long House ruins. If you didn't bring your own bike to the park there are rentals available from the park office.

Stargazing

Since there are no large cities in the Four Corners region, there is very little artificial light to obscure a perfect night sky. This makes for perfect stargazing conditions and on clear nights it’s easy to get a look at an arm of the Milky Way. Some of the best areas for stargazing are to be found at the Montezuma or the Mancos Overlook. Both of these overlooks are located along the Main Park Road and provide views of valley lights below and the twinkling stars above.

Fall

Photography

The ruins and ancient dwellings here are perfect settings for photographers to capture scenes of archaeological wonder. Certain dwellings are only open from late Spring and through early Fall, but, even during off-seasons, visitors can utilize the overlooks to take some memorable snaps. The overlooks are ideal for panoramic views and postcard-worthy shots. It truly is a photographer’s paradise.

Prater Ridge Trail

The Prater Ridge Trail is an almost eight-mile round-trip that is recommended for experienced hikers. The trail begins on the western end of Morefield Campground and ascends Prater Ridge before following the loop at the top. The return follows that same route and a cut-off trail is provided that will take off a good two miles of walking distance. You will see spectacular views, interesting vegetation, and elevation changes if you choose to take it on.

Lecture Series

Throughout the year there are many special talks held at Mesa Verde National Park under the Four Corners Lecture Series banner. This series is provided by several local organizations who sponsor the speakers each year. Presentations include talks about archaeology, Native American cultures, the natural resources of Mesa Verde, and much more. All of the talks are held free of charge, so if any are happening during your stay take advantage of the opportunity and go check them out!

Twilight Cliff Tours

If you want to check out the Cliff Palace without having to deal with the hot sun you will be pleased to know that twilight tours are also available. Like the daytime tour, the twilight is guided and you may get to see one of the famous dramatic sunsets that is an ideal setting for photographers to capture the beauty of the palace. Tours are limited to only 15 people at a time and if you are interested we recommend you purchase them in advance online.

Exhibits

The Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center is a facility located right at the park’s entrance. It serves as the prime area for greeting and orienting Mesa Verde’s visitors. The Visitor Center is open all year round, with the exceptions of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Here, you can enjoy exhibits and browse through the store for books and guides.

Winter

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Store is a stop you won’t want to miss during your visit to the park. Located approximately 20 miles from the park’s entrance, the museum is a great destination for those looking to gain insight on the daily lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people. When visiting in Winter seasons, note that the museum does not operate on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years Day. Along with being a hub of information, you can also enjoy the museum’s store, cafe, fully accessible bathrooms, and a gift shop.

Spruce Tree House Ruins Observation

The park’s third-largest cliff dwelling and best-preserved, Spruce Tree House is a natural outcove that houses 130 rooms, eight kivas (chambers), and may have held up to 80 people. Unfortunately, there was a rockfall in 2015 and tours to the ruins no longer continue as this event has deemed the site hazardous to visitors. Despite this, the dwellings can still be readily observed at viewpoints and overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

Winter Recreation

If you love cross-country skiing then you will love visiting Mesa Verde National Park. There are two groomed trails available for you to enjoy at the Morefield Camping area, plus many more backcountry trails that are more suited for those looking to ski in solitude. The park also has free snowshoe rentals if you are wanting to explore the park during the winter on foot. Weather conditions can be tricky, so be sure to bring adequate food, water, and appropriate gear.

Petroglyph Point Trail

This moderately strenuous trail leads to just what its name suggests - a large petroglyph panel. The trail begins near the museum and travels around two and a half miles. Winter seasons tend to make this route rather snowy, even icy, so it is best to come well-prepared. If conditions are intolerable, you may be directed to hike the mesa top section of the trail. When conditions are ideal, the hike can be taken as a full loop. Make sure you check in with the Ranger at the museum to get an idea about the trail’s conditions and to sign the trail’s register.

Scenic Drive

This tour feels like a drive through time. Along this six-mile stretch, there are many access points to paved trails that lead to archeological sites. There are twelve in total and highlights include the Square Tower House overlook and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point View and Sun Temple. The drive typically takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to complete the loop. It is a perfect half-day excursion.

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