Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde cliff dwellings (National Park) on June 29, 1906. This unique national park, the first of its kind, was created to “preserve the works of man.” Because of Roosevelt's foresight, the culture of ancestral peoples who created the mysterious Mesa Verde cliff dwellings is preserved for all to appreciate.

Ancestral Puebloans & Their World
mesa verde cliff dwellings

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Even today researchers work to learn more about who created the amazing Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. Because scientists now know that these peoples were actually the ancestors of not only some Navajo but also most of the tribes living in the southwest. These “ancient ones” are now referred to as the Ancestral Puebloans.

mesa verde cliff dwellings

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Balcony House. The Mesa Verde Balcony House is one of the park’s most adventurous cliff dwelling tours in the park. To enter, you must climb a 32-foot entrance ladder and crawl through a short tunnel to enter the “medium size” cliff dwelling. The Balcony House is made up of 40 rooms. Mesa Verde Balcony House can be explored by ranger-guided tour only.

Cliff Palace. The Mesa Verde Cliff Palace is the largest and most famous cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. Cliff Palace has over 150 individual rooms and more than 20 kivas, which are rooms dedicated to religious rituals. The dwelling is crafted of sandstone, wooden beams and mortar and has been remarkably well preserved from the elements for the past 700 years. Cliff Palace Tours are included in several of the popular Mesa Verde tours such as the Classic Pueblo Tour, 700 Years Tour, and viewed from the Sun Temple overlook on the Far View Explorer Tour.

Long House. Mesa Verde Long House is located on Wetherill Mesa in the western portion of Mesa Verde National Park and is the second largest dwelling behind Cliff Palace. The Mesa Verde Long House was excavated between 1959 and 1961 as part of the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project. Long House and Wetherill Mesa are only open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day. Mesa Verde Long House can be explore by ranger-guided tour only.

Spruce Tree House. Spruce Tree House is the best preserved cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde National Park. It is the third largest cliff dwelling behind Cliff Palace and Long House and was constructed sometime between 1211 and 1278. The dwelling has around 130 rooms and 8 kivas and was estimated to be the home to around 60 to 80 people.

Step House. Step House is also located on Wetherill Mesa along with Long House. The Mesa Verde Step House is very unique because it is clear there were two separate occupations in the same site. A modified basket maker site, dating to 626, is situated between the old stone steps on the south and the large boulders on the north. The rest of the alcove contains a masonry pueblo dating to the Classic Pueblo times of 1226. Step House is a self-guided cliff dwelling and can be entered before or after a Long House tour. Allow approximately 45 minutes to visit the site in addition to the 1-1/2 hour long tour of Long House.

Ancestral Puebloans

The Ancestral Puebloans moved onto the mesa around A.D. 500, but the cliff dwellings we see today were actually built around A.D. 1200. Though the Ancestral Puebloans lived along the cliffs for that 700 year period, the cliff dwellings were constructed at the end of this time frame and then only lived in for about 75-100 years. No exact reason is known for the Ancestral Puebloans move away from these massive structures.

Interesting Facts

  • Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
  • The average lifespan of cliff dwellers was 32-34 years.
  • Men's heights were ~ 5’4 to 5’5; women's 5’ to 5’1.
  • About 50% of children died before age 5.
  • Three primary construction materials make up the cliff dwellings: sandstone, mortar, wooden beams.
  • Ancestral Puebloan farmers used terracing.
  • The unfinished Sun Temple’s walls were 11-14 feet high!
  • Descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans include the Hopi, located in Arizona, and 19 Rio Grande pueblos of New Mexico.