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4 Tips for Making the Most of Mesa Verde National Park

After visiting all of Colorado’s 4 National Parks, which are all amazing by the way, something is extra special about Mesa Verde. It’s not only BEAUTIFUL like it’s fellow parks, but it has so much man made history and mystery to explore.

Located in stunning southwest Colorado, this park is known for it’s spectacular cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited these structures from 600-1300 AD. With more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, you are in for a experience you will never forget when you visit this not only a National Park, but also a World Heritage site. 

Start at the Visitors Center – This is usually our first stop at any National Park we visit, because it is the best way to become aquatinted with the park, get directions, see exhibits, and talk to rangers. I particularly advise a visitors center stop at this park because not only is this park large and requires a map, but also because tickets for tours are bought at this location.

Lines can be long and tours can sell out fast, so get there early and purchase your guided tour tickets to secure a spot. You are able to purchase tour tickets 2 days in advance in person, which may be helpful in planning your visit.

Take a tour – If I had to give you one mission when you visit this park, I would highly recommend taking a cliff dwelling tour. Seeing the dwellings from a distance is AMAZING don’t get me wrong, but actually stepping inside one and hearing the history from a guide was the highlight of our trip.

This experience takes you back in time and you feel as if you are in history witnessing it all take place as you walk in their footsteps. During our visit, guided tours were offered for 3 cliff dwellings which include Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House. Balcony House and Cliff Palace are located close together and are 1 hour tours, so we did those two tours in one afternoon.

The Long House tour is located on a different mesa (the park is split into the Chaplin Mesa and the Wetherill Mesa) and is a 2 hour tour. Unfortunately, we decided a 2 hour tour with a 2 year old in a carrier on our back might have been too much for her attention span, so we did not attend that tour.

Cliff Palace was our favorite of the two, due to it’s impressive preservation and grandness. Balcony House is a more strenuous hike that requires climbing a 32 ft. ladder, crawling through a 12ft.-long tunnel, and climbing up a 60ft open rock face with two 10ft ladders to exit the site. It sounds more intimidating than it is in my personal experience, but that all comes down to where your comfort and activity level would fall. Maybe I should use the word LAND instead of FALL while talking about ladders in this instance.

Adults and kids of a wide range of ages where participating in this tour, but I would still recommend taking a look at the requirements or talking with a ranger before attempting these tours. If you want to see us taking these tours for some amazing views and a closer look, check out our day 1 and day 2 videos of Mesa Verde.

Do Your Research – I would recommend taking a look at the requirements or talking with a ranger before attempting these tours. Because we hike with a toddler in a carrier, we love talking with rangers to make sure we are safe while hiking and to get trail recommendations at all parks we visit. The ranger gave us a green light on all the tours with a carrier and we felt safe during our tours. We love our hiking carrier and we highly recommend one if you love hiking with a toddler. We feel comfortable and use our carrier very often, so we didn’t have any issues with the difficulty level of the tours.  Mesa Verde is open year round, but some areas and tours are seasonal, so visit their website for current information. 

Take a Drive – Driving in Mesa Verde is a fascinating experience without even leaving your car.  If overlooks are your interest and you would rather do a car tour, make sure to take a drive down Mesa Top Loop Road and make a stop at my favorite view from Sun Point Overlook. You get a stunning view of multiple cliff dwellings from this one overlook. It’s an incredible sight. 

Wetherill Mesa is a little over an hour from the park entrance, but well with the car ride. You will feel as if you are driving into the clouds while being surrounded by some of Colorado’s most beautiful scenery.  Located at the Wetherill Mesa is Step House, which is a neat dwelling that you can tour on your own and a ranger is on site to answer any questions you may have. Not only is it a breathtaking drive to Wetherill, but there is a walking/bike trail that allows for some lovely overlooks including Long House. 

Mesa Verde has so much to offer from camping and hiking to restaurants and lodges. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore and soak in the beauty and history you will find when you visit this one of a kind National Park.

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