Mesa Verde National Park
Guide

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Introduction

The unique cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park are a striking testament to the preservation efforts made here. It is a true archaeological wonder. Mesa Verde is actually the first national park to be set aside in order to preserve works of mankind. It is an unparalleled opportunity to explore and experience a unique culture among a landscape just as surreal. The park provides such a wonderful opportunity to glimpse into a diverse past.

The park features only one campground, yet harbors about 600 cliff dwellings. It’s a popular park to visit, and with good reason. Your stay is sure to not only be pleasant and rewarding, but also comfortable. The people of the park work hard to ensure you stay in a place you’ll be itching to come back to. With so many parts to explore within the park, you’ll have to take multiple trips just to take it all in.

Pack up and get moving! Most of your travels here will be on foot or by bicycle, especially if you’ve parked a rig at Morefield Campground. There are no shuttle buses, but, plenty of guided tours are provided. Just try and take in as many ruins as you can. You may even lose count. It’s amazing how many areas were carved out to support this growing community.

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

To get to Mesa Verde, you will have to travel along steep, narrow, and winding mountainous roads. They aren’t for the faint of heart. Depending on how weather conditions are holding out and the way traffic is flowing (or not flowing…), you’ll want to plan for at least two hours just to drive in and out of the park. At least the drive is scenic. You certainly won’t mind getting to take your time to take in the views. There are a number of pull-offs and overlooks along the way that provide superb vistas.

Parking

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 area highlights of the park. Morefield campground provides parking spaces for campers, trailers, and RVs, as well as traditional tent camping.

Public Transport

A vehicle is needed to explore Mesa Verde National Park, as no shuttle services are provided. The best ways to get around are on foot or by bicycling 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 KOA

Durango, CO puts you within an hour’s drive of the Animas River and Mesa Verde National Park. Make Durango KOA your home and wake up to fantastic views of the San Juan Mountains from atop a 7,000 ft. mesa. Sites 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. Stay entertained with Wi-Fi or cable TV, keep fit at the pool, or play some mini golf. Find firewood, fire rings, charcoal grills, propane, a snack bar and a pavilion on-site.

Durango North / Riverside KOA

Marvel at hundreds of well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings at the Mesa Verde National Park less than 40 miles to the west by car, or hop on the Durango/Silverton train which will take you through beautiful scenery. Use the Durango North/Riverside KOA as your launching point and pick a spot along the Animas River with full hook-ups easily able to accommodate up to 65 foot rigs. Gravel site pads come with a fire ring, picnic table, cable TV and electricity with up to 50-amp service. Here, you can also find a pavilion, pool, fishing pond, snack bar, and firewood.

Cortez / Mesa Verde KOA

Set up camp at Cortez/Mesa Verde KOA and explore nearby Mesa Verde National Park. Here, you can see over 600 cliff dwellings. Historical spots like Hovenweep National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center are also in close proximity. At Cortez/Mesa Verde KOA, walk the one-mile trail around Denny Lake, take your dog to the dog park, or go swimming at the pool. Firewood is available on-site for purchase, and pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 80 feet.

Morefield Campground

The only sites at Morefield Campground that require a reservation are the 15 RV hookup sites. Full hookups are provided for electric, water, and sewer. A dump station is also accessible. The campgrounds do not provide sites that accommodate rigs or trailers longer than 46 feet. In addition to the amenities right at each RV site, you’ll have easy access to laundry facilities, showers, groceries and convenience items. Not to mention a starting point for a number of excellent hiking trails.

First-come first-served

Morefield Campground

Many choose not to end their fun at Mesa Verde National Park, and instead, spend a few nights in Morefield Campground. The grounds are located just four miles within Mesa Verde. There are over 260 sites available for camping, meaning there is always plenty of space - even during peak seasons. The campground very rarely fills to capacity. Each site includes a picnic table, benches, and a grill. Those with RVs and trailers are welcome here among traditional tent campers. There are 15 full RV hookup sites, however, these require reservations. Remaining dry sites are still open to RVs, but do not require reservation. The looping roads throughout the grounds extend through high grasses and many have the opportunity to witness all sorts of wildlife. Several hiking opportunities also start from Morefield Campground and extend out to climb toward awe-inspiring views of the surround valley and mountains. 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. With all these creature comforts, Morefield stands out as a truly hospitable and comforting stay. Every part of this park is spectacular.

Alternate camping

Other Options

Mesa Verde National Park’s own Morefield Campground is a perfect getaway to really help you stay immersed in the landscape’s splendor. However, there are a number of places to stay around Mesa Verde, so you can be choosy about where you stay. Local RV parks and resorts offer luxuries like dog parks, swimming pools, hot tubs, mini-golf, and WiFi, not to mention full hookups, including sewer.

Seasonal activities in Mesa Verde National Park

Spring

Observe Park Wildlife

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, at the very least. 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

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. It begins about a mile north of the Balcony House ruins parking area. The trail takes you to the canyon’s edge and provides spectacular views of Balcony House, itself. It’s the perfect location to take in this archaeological wonder as well as other sites along Soda Canyon.

Balcony House Tour

This cliff dwelling tour leads to Balcony House ruins. 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.

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.

Summer

Wetherill Mesa Bike & Hike

When you can’t choose between hiking or biking, this is the adventure for you. It’s a guided, 4.5 hour (or so), 9 mile trek. For those wanting a more in-depth experience at the park - you’ll get it, especially with a Ranger as your companion. You’ll take in expansive canyon vistas, spectacular overlooks of cliff dwellings, and tour the celebrated Long House ruins. Didn’t bring your own bike? That’s not a problem, as many of the local communities offer rentals.

Bus Tours

Aramark Leisure provides guided bus tours with modern views of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Visitors choose from either the 700 Years or Far View Explorer tours. The Mesa Verde Visitor Center, Far View Lodge and Terrace, and Morefield Campground are all areas where you are able to purchase tickets. In all, tours usually last around 4 hours and include some minor hiking.

Lunch at the Terrace Cafe

The Far View Terrace Cafe is located right near the Lodge. It’s a rather casual setting, with an espresso bar. You’ll also find quick 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.

Stargazing

Since there are no large cities in the Four Corners region, there is very little artificial light to obscure a perfect night sky. 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 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.

Visit a Palace

Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling is Cliff Palace. The tour to get to these ruins usually takes about an hour and includes descending uneven stone steps, climbing four ladders, and gaining some elevation. The total distance is only ¼ mile, but it is rather strenuous and isn’t recommended for everyone.

Fall

Lecture Series

The Four Corners Lecture Series is provided by several local organizations that sponsor speakers each year. Presentations include talks about archaeology, Native American cultures, the natural resources of Mesa Verde, and much more.

Prater Ridge Trail

This is an almost eight mile hike round-trip. It 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. A cut-off trail is provided. This shortcut will take off a good two miles, so it’s nice for saving some time. The beauty of such a long hike is getting to experience the changes elevation has to landscape and vegetation. Surrounding views are spectacular, to boot - another added bonus.

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 overlooks. The overlooks are ideal for panoramic views and postcard-worthy shots. It’s a photographer’s paradise.

Twilight Tours

Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace is not only an active venture during peak daytime hours, but also creates an intimate setting for evening learning. The tour is guided. Dramatic sunsets make this place an ideal setting for photographers to capture the Palace’s splendor. Tours are limited to only 15 people at a time and can be purchased online in advance.

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

Cross-Country Skiing

Also known as Nordic skiing, this Winter recreation is a sure favorite for those looking to get some peace and quiet. Trees stand bare, making it easy to spot wildlife roaming between trunks. It’s always important to sign the trail registers so that Rangers know that you are out there. Weather conditions can be tricky, so be sure to bring adequate food, water, and appropriate gear.

Petroglyph Point

This moderately strenuous trail leads to just what it’s name suggests - a large petroglyph panel. The trail begins near the museum and travels about 2.4 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.

Spruce Tree House Ruins

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, tours to the ruins no longer continue as perpetual rockfall has deemed the site hazardous to visitors. The dwellings can still be readily observed at viewpoints and overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. They are such a sight to behold. It’s amazing how time has seemed to stand still, here in these rocky alcoves.

Museum

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

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 take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to complete the loop. It is a perfect half-day excursion.

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