Did you know that Mesa Verde has over 700 cliff dwellings, amazing petroglyphs, and represents more than 700 years of human history? Mesa Verde National Park is home to some of the best preserved and most culturally relevant archaeological finds in North America. 

1. The cliff dwellings are ancient homes. 

Cliff Palace - OutThere Colorado
Cliff Palace ruins left behind by the Ancient Puebloans at Mesa Verde National Park near Durango, Colorado. Photo Credit: Mesa Verde National Park (flickr).

Cliff dwellings are homes built by the Ancestral Puebloan peoples in naturally formed alcoves.  These alcoves are made of hard limestone and sit high off the ground in the sides of cliffs, protecting the inhabitants from wild animals and enemies. Ancient peoples would farm the mesas above and the valleys below for food.

2. How to Locate Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park - Jirka Matousek - flickr
Mesa Verde National Park. Photo credit: Jirka Matousek (flickr)

Mesa Verde is located in the four corners area of Colorado between Cortez and Durango. From Cortez, it’s an eight-mile drive east to the entrance, and from Durango, it’s a 35 mile drive west. Be aware that the entrance to the park from the highway to the ruins can take up to 45 minutes. Bring lots of extra water and snacks.

3. Where to Stay at Mesa Verde   

Graham Styles - Mesa Verde National Park - flickr
Mesa Verde National Park. Photo credit: Graham Styles (flickr)

The park is 52,485 acres, making it the largest archaeological site in the United States. It will take at least two days to really immerse yourself in the history. There is every kind of accommodation available to you in the park from primitive tent camping, to RV’ing, and upscale lodging—something for every interest and budget. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance of your visit. Food and restaurants are also available.

4. You can get a tour of the park. 

Mesa Verde National Park.

Many tours are available and are the only way to visit certain ruins within the park. The NPS recommends that you make a reservation for tours, as they fill up quickly. Some tours are described as strenuous and require visitors to climb ladders, have good balance, and be independent (they may be difficult for small children). Make sure you do your research!

5. Check for alerts!

Mesa Verde National Park - Doug Kerr - flickr
Mesa Verde National Park. Photo credit: Doug Kerr (flickr)

Depending on the time of year, your visit could be disappointing if you don’t check the NPS website for alerts. Certain cliff dwellings could be closed for various reasons, or even shut down for long-term safety repairs.

6. Get off the beaten path.

Mesa Verde National Park - Doug Kerr - flickr
Mesa Verde National Park. Photo credit Doug Kerr (flickr)

Did you know you could purchase special tickets for hikes and tours that will get you into the backcountry of Mesa Verde? These special hikes are recommended for “prepared” hikers only. Call the NPS to reserve your tickets.

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