Durango Hotels | Vacation Rentals | Things To Do | Mesa Verde | Events | Blog | Coupons | Rafting

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

During your visit to Mesa Verde National Park, you’ll discover the mysterious cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Pueblo beginning in the late 1190s. These famous dwellings and ruins in the Four Corners region preserve 700 years worth of Ancestral Puebloan culture before they migrated away for unknown reasons.

Getting There

You’ll have to drive approximately 45 minutes along a narrow, winding road to reach the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings from the park’s entrance. Make sure to book a nearby hotel to make traveling to and from the park as convenient and stress-free as possible.

Mesa Verde Hotels

Mesa Verde tours allow you to explore the preserved cliff dwellings at a 7,000-foot elevation from May through October. Here are some of the top cliff dwellings you can explore at the national park.

Go Inside the Cliff Dwellings

See the famous Mesa Verde cliff dwellings up close and personal through ranger-guided tours or on your own. You can go inside the cliff dwellings and observe traces left behind by the Ancestral Puebloans including handprints, painted murals, and structures that have remained preserved over the past 1400 years. Tours range in duration and difficulty, so be sure to choose one that best suits your group of travelers.

Mesa Verde Tours

Balcony House

The Mesa Verde Balcony House is one of the park’s most adventurous cliff dwelling tours and can only be accessed through a ranger-guided tour. To enter this mid-sized dwelling, you must climb a 32-foot entrance ladder and crawl through narrow tunnels and passageways. The Balcony House is made up of 38 rooms and two kivas, which were dedicated to ceremonious rituals. You’ll also discover a natural seep spring that was used by Ancestral Pueblos as a water source.

Cliff Palace

The Mesa Verde Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. It has over 150 individual rooms and more than 20 kivas. The dwelling is crafted of sandstone, wooden beams, and mortar and has been remarkably well preserved. In addition to housing people, it’s believed the Cliff Palace was a social and administrative site often used for ceremonies. Cliff Palace tours are included in several of the popular Mesa Verde tours including the Classic Pueblo Tour and 700 Years Tour. It can also be viewed from the Sun Temple overlook.

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. The Mesa Verde Long House was excavated between 1959 and 1961 and opened to visitors as part of the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project. The many rooms, kivas, and presence of a central plaza in Long House suggest it was a significant community space. To access Long House, you must book a ranger-guided tour and traverse a 12-mile winding road. Long House and Wetherill Mesa are only open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House 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. Spruce Tree House has been closed to the public since 2015 due to rock fall, but Mesa Verde National Park has a stabilization effort in place to eventually reopen the dwelling. In the meantime, Spruce Tree House can be seen from overlooks near the Park Headquarters.

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 that can be visited without purchasing a ticket.

Square Tower House

Located in Mesa Verde’s backcountry, the Square Tower House is one of the park’s lesser-seen but incredibly impressive cliff dwellings. It features the tallest standing structure in Mesa Verde National Park, an intact kiva roof, original plaster and paint, and rock art. While you can get a great view of the Square Tower House from the Mesa Top Loop overlook, a special ranger-guided tour offers a more intimate view. Square Tower House tours are held once daily and feature steep drop-offs, narrow ledges, and uneven trails that may be best suited for experienced hikers.

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 moving away from these massive structures.

Ancestral Puebloans

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.

Subscribe To The Durango Explorer