It has taken me way more time to talk about our visit to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado than it should have. Honestly, I think the reason is that there are so many things to see in Mesa Verde National Park that I hardly knew where to start.
Whether you’re visiting to experience the Mesa Verde National Park camping, explore the magical ruins, or hike some of the incredible trails that snake through the breathtaking landscape, this historical destination is one of the coolest National Parks in the United States.
Unlike other incredible National Parks in Colorado such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park, Mesa Verde NP is as much about the history of the Anasazi Indigenous people as it is about the stunning natural beauty.
About Mesa Verde National Park
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Mesa Verde National Park is, in a word, fascinating. This United States National Park, located in South-western Colorado, is home to some of the most incredible historical ruins in North America. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It’s these special ruins that draw a half-million visitors to the park each year. But it’s the incredible variety of things to do in Mesa Verde National Park that keep them coming back year-after-year.
Camping in Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most popular pastimes here. RVers and tent campers alike are known to spend a few days to a few weeks enjoying the Mesa Verde National Park attractions. Although there are loads of hotels and resorts in and around Mesa Verde NP as well.
Around 2,000 years ago, nomadic members of the Anasazi Indigenous community began to settle the table-rock forests that cover much of the park. Families began to settle down and over the next 2,600-years, some 4,000+ sites were established.
Among the many ruins at Mesa Verde National Park are the magnificent cliffside dwellings and communities. These small villages cling to the sides of the towering rock faces in ways that seem to defy understanding.
For reasons unexplained, the region was abandoned in 6th Century AD. Native communities spread out to the forested plateau and the fertile gorges. Life on these, more traditional settlements continued until the 14th Century before Mesa Verde was abandoned completely. And although the Anasazi people left Mesa Verde, it is still one of the most amazing places to visit in Colorado.
What remains of the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park include pit houses, cliff dwellings, multi-story adobe dwellings, and community sites including pueblos and kivas. These are scattered above the 2,000 ft cliffs and plateaus that reach elevations of 8,573 ft above sea level.
Mesa Verde National Park Camping and Accommodations
Thanks, in part, to it’s huge popularity, there are loads of amazing options for camping both in and near Mesa Verde National Park. If Mesa Verde National Park camping isn’t your thing though, we’ll share more options for accommodations in the park later on.
Whether you’re looking at camping in Mesa Verde NP, or around it, here are some of the best options:
If you really want to make the most of your visit, you’ll want to prioritise camping in Mesa Verde National Park. And the only campground in Mesa Verde National Park gates is the Morefield Campground.
With 267 sites for tent campers and RVs and 15 campsites that have full hookups for RVs, it might seem like it can be tough to find a campsite in Mesa Verde. But, surprisingly, the Morefield campground rarely fills up. Still, reserving ahead of time can save a lot of headaches.
The Morefield Campground is located about 4-miles inside the park entrance. In the Mesa Verde campground, you’ll find toilets and garbage bins. The campground has quite a few trees as well to provide some shade, although they don’t offer much privacy between campsites.
The campsite is very close to the main Mesa Verde National Park village. Here you’ll find a gas station, dumping station, coin laundry, showers, and a combined gift shop and grocery store. There is also a kennel for those who prefer to leave their pooch behind while they explore.
Mesa Verde is in bear country. So make sure to keep a clean campsite. If you’re camping with family, check out our complete guide to camping with kids here.
Far View Lodge
Mesa Verde National Park camping isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a comfortable bed and a bit more luxury, check out Far View Lodge. This gorgeous Mesa Verde National Park hotel offers spacious rooms, patios with a view, and some of the best sunrises in Colorado.
Far View Lodge is located at Mile Marker 15 on the main road. You won’t find tvs in the rooms. But you will find stunning views across three neighboring states, free WiFi, and air conditioning for those hot summer days.
You can also upgrade to one of their Kiva Deluxe rooms, which offer unobstructed views that stretch for hundreds of miles. It’s the perfect option for stargazing and wildlife lovers. You can check out their pricing and availability here.
Looking for more hotels near Mesa Verde National Park? You can check Booking.com for options in the nearby town of Cortez.
Other Places To Stay Or Camp Near Mesa Verde National Park
If the Mesa Verde National Park camping or Far View Lodge are booked, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to stay and camp near Mesa Verde National Park. You’ll have a bit of a longer commute, but the park is worth it.
Mancos State Park
Mancos State Park is located just 13 miles northeast of Mesa Verde NP. In the park you’ll find a wonderful reservoir, excellent hiking and mountain biking trails, and a landscape that make a visit here worthwhile, even if you aren’t camping.
Mancos State Park has two campgrounds with 32 sites. The campgrounds are located on opposite sides of the reservoir. There are no electrical hookups at Mancos State Park, but there is access to toilets.
The east campground is open year-round and has drinking water available. The west campground does not have drinking water and closes during the winter.
There are also yurt rentals available at Mancos State Park for those looking for a memorable glamping experience. The yurts sleep six and have both electrical and water hookups.
The park reservoir makes for an incredible place for a paddle. We always have our Bluefin inflatable SUP with us, just in case we have a chance to get on the water.
Mesa Verde Camping at the Cortez/Mesa Verde KOA
Part of the popular KOA campground chain, the Mesa Verde camping KOA has sites for tent campers, RVers, and cabins. Set in a resort-style atmosphere, the Mesa Verde KOA has a dog park, heated pool, basketball court, horseshoe pits, and easy access to grocery stores and restaurants.
You can book reservations on their website here.
Things To Do At Mesa Verde National Park
Whether you’re visiting for the history, the culture, or some adventure, there are more things to do in Mesa Verde National Park than you can fit into a day. Whether you’re exploring what to do in Mesa Verde National Park in a day, or visiting for a weekend or more, here are some of our top spots for taking in the park.
The Cliff Palace is one of the crown jewels of Mesa Verde National Park. If you can fit in only one guided tour in the park, this should be it. Standing at the base of this multi-story village is among the most spectacular experiences in the park.
The best way to see the cliff palace in Mesa Verde NP is on a ranger-guided tour. These book up fast, so make sure to book yours ahead of time, or as soon as you get to the park.
You can also drive the 6-mile Cliff Palace Loop. This route has scenic overlooks over many of the spectacular cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.
To get a glimpse inside the rich culture of the Native American communities that settled in what is now Mesa Verde National Park, make a stop at the beautiful Sun Temple. It might not have the ‘presence’ of some of the spectacular cliff dwellings, but it is believed that this is a place where many different groups within the area communed to worship.
You can reach the Sun Temple via the Mesa Top Loop Road. It is near the end of the loop. Here, hike the easy trail that loops around Sun Temple. It also offers a tremendous lookout point for Cliff Palace.
The Long House
Though it’s been abandoned for centuries, there is no place in Mesa Verde National Park where you can feel a connection with the Indigenous communities who once lived here than at the Long House.
The Long House can only be accessed on a ranger-guided tour. It’s not as popular as the Cliff Palace, but it’s never hurts to book early, especially during long-weekends and holidays.
The tour of the Long House can be more strenuous than other sites in the park. The entire tour takes approximately two to two and a half hours. The tour begins at the pavilion near the end of Wetherill Mesa Rd before the Far View Terrace.
Square Tower House
At four stories and 28-ft in height, Square House is the tallest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. This spectacular structure can be a little difficult to see. It’s located along the Mesa Top Scenic Loop, packed among many incredible sites.
It is believed that Far View is the site of a water reservoir. This site, which is about a mile past Far View Lodge is a fascinating place to wander. Exploring the site is easy. The flat .75-mile trail will take you around the site. But wandering through the remains of the buildings is by far the best way to see it.
For those who love a bit of adventure with their views, the Balcony House is for you. Accessing Balcony House requires a ranger-led tour that will have you climbing ladders, squeezing through caves, and climbing steep stone stairwells.
Those adventurous enough to make this journey will be rewarded with up-close and personal views of one of the most complete cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.
Spruce Tree House
The Spruce Tree House might now offer the access that Balcony House and Cliff Palace offers, but getting a glimpse of the best preserved cliff dwelling is one of the best things to do in Mesa Verde National Park.
Spruce Tree House is viewed from an overlook off of a path behind the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. And, while you might not be able to climb through the dwellings, the views alone are worth it.
Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum
If you’re looking for an incredible look into the history of the park, one of the top things to do in Mesa Verde National Park is to make a visit to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.
The museum has a comprehensive collection of artifacts from the park. You’ll find fabrics, dioramas, and a fantastic scavenger hunt that kids will love. The museum also offers air conditioning, which can offer a nice relief on a hot summer day.
Explore The Mesa Verde Hiking Trails
From the top of the mesas to the bottom of the gorges, hiking is one of the top things to do in Mesa Verde National Park. Both Chapin Mesa and Morefield offer amazing hiking trails.
One of my favorites is the Petroglyph Point Trail. This 2.4-mile loop offers magical views of the Spruce and Navajo Canyons. But the most stunning part of the trail is the large rock with petroglyphs left by the Anasazi community hundreds of years ago.
There are some steep drop-offs along the trail, so do be careful, especially if you are hiking with kids in Mesa Verde National Park.
Another fantastic Mesa Verde hiking trail is the Spruce Canyon Trail. This is an excellent trail if you want to truly explore the forested floor of the canyons in Mesa Verde NP.
This trail begins at the Chapin Mesa Museum and wanders 500 ft down to the canyon floor before crossing the valley and winding along the ridges on the far side. The Spruce Canyon Trail is 2.4 miles long.
Fire Tower Overlook
With an elevation of 8,572 ft, the Park Point Overlook trail to the Mesa Verde Fire Tower is the highest point in Mesa Verde National Park. There is a winding drive up to a short, 0.6-mile trail that offers 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.
Tips For Exploring and Camping Mesa Verde National Park
- Make sure to plan your trip to Mesa Verde National Park ahead of time. This is a big and complicated park. Tour tickets are required to access many of the park’s most important attractions. These include the Cliff Palace, Long House, and Balcony House. You can purchase tickets in advance here.
- Mesa Verde NP is open year-round. However, some of the top things to do in Mesa Verde NP are only open from May-October. Cliff dwellings and ranger-led excursions are only seasonal. You can find out the park’s current operating hours here.
- Mesa Verde National Park only has one entrance. It can take up to an hour to reach the cliff dwellings from the park entrance. So Mesa Verde National Park camping and accommodations can help you get an early start to the day.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Mesa Verde National Park?
Mesa Verde National Park is at its most popular and accessible between May and October. The park is open year-round. However, in the winter months, snowfall can cause road closures. A bonus for fall travel is that you can add a day of family fun on the Western Slope picking delicious (and historic) Palisade peaches, one of Colorado’s most legendary fruits.
While Mesa Verde National Park is popular, it rarely reaches capacity, so entrance isn’t usually a problem. However, ranger-guided tours can often be booked for the day very early. Consider booking your guided tours in advance.
Have you been camping in Mesa Verde National Park? Share your experience with us in the Family Travel Support Group on Facebook. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter for more amazing family travel inspiration.
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