This breathtaking archeological site became Colorado’s first National Park in 1906; it was also the first in the country established to preserve man-made structures, rather than natural wonders. There are nearly 5,000 archeological sites—600 of which are cliff dwellings—within the boundaries of the park.
Mesa Verde was the home of the native Ancestral Puebloans for approximately 700 years. Their culture evolved as farming began to replace a previous nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Archeologists have called the first generations of Puebloans “Basketmakers” for their skill in the craft. The population flourished as they settled, developed trade routes, and honed plant cultivation, and by 1100 AD (1100-1300 AD, the Classic Period) the Puebloans were utilizing skilled masonry to construct more permanent stone homes and structures.
The cliff dwellings that you can visit today range in size from single room structures to village spaces of more than 150 rooms (Cliff Palace and Long House). Though the Ancestral Puebloans left no written records, their culture lives on with the 26 tribes in the Four Corners region that descended from and/or have an historic relationship with the peoples that lived at Mesa Verde.
- The Cliff Palace is an exceptionally large structure for Mesa Verde sites—the 150 rooms and 23 kivas (religious spaces) were likely home to more than 100 residents. Archeologists hypothesize that this site was likely ceremonial, largely social, and administrative. The ranger-led tour runs for approximately one hour and includes uneven terrain and ladder climbing. The total walking distance is one quarter mile.
- Tunnel passageways and a 32-foot descent by ladder make the Balcony House site “the most adventurous” Mesa Verde tour. This medium-sized dwelling includes 40 rooms, numerous kivas, and spacious plazas.
- The Long House is located on Wetherill Mesa on the Western side of the park. The less-visited site is also the second largest cliff dwelling in the park. You will hike approximately 2.25 miles on the two-hour ranger-led tour, climb two 15-foot ladders in the site, and explore what many consider to be the most beautiful site in the park.
Our Favorite Hiking Trail:
The 2.4-mile round trip Petroglyph Point Trail begins from the Spruce Tree House. The highlight of the trail is a petroglyph panel, the only one viewable from a trail in the park.
Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking:
The park seasonally grooms trails to optimize for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking. The park is peaceful in winter; it is also the perfect season for viewing wildlife.
Four Corners Lecture Series:
This annual lecture series highlights the archeology of the region, current Native American cultures, and natural landscape of the Four Corners region. 2016 lectures included, “The Making of a Village: Growth and Change at Spruce Tree House”, “San Juan River: Then and Now”, and “The Hopi Connection to the Four Corners”.
Recommended season(s): Park is open year round and daily. Some sites may be inaccessible in winter.