Mesa Verde is quite a sight to behold. Spanning more than 52,000 acres in the Four Corners region, Mesa Verde is home to a number of natural and ancient man-made wonders. There are many amazing things to see in Mesa Verde. Plan your trip with our list of 8 can't miss things to see and things to do in Mesa Verde.
History of Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde, Spanish for ‘green table,” is the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S. It was established as a national park in 1906 by congress and President Threodore Roosevelt. However, this isn’t where Mesa Verde’s history begins.
Mesa Verde National Park
The history of Mesa Verde dates back more than a thousand years. The lands around Mesa Verde were originally seasonally inhabited by a group of nomadic Paleo Indians, starting around 7500 BCE. They left evidence of their time in Mesa Verde with arrowheads and projectile points, found in the region and beyond. As history progressed, Archaic people moved in with semi-permanent rock shelters. By 1000 BCE a new Basketmaker culture stemmed from the Archaic people, which eventually emerged into the Ancestral Pueblo culture.
The Ancestral Pueblo people had homes here for more than 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. The Pueblo made life in Mesa Verde work by hunting, gathering and farming. They grew crops including beans, corn and squash. However, but the year 1300 the Pueblans left their cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. Social and environmental problems stemmed from droughts and food shortages, and forced the Pueblo people to move to new lands in Arizona and New Mexico.
The Pueblo people certainly made a mark on Mesa Verde. More than 600 of their cliff dwellings remain in Mesa Verde, along with 5,000 other archaeological sites dotted along more than 40 miles of roadways through the park.
8 Can’t Miss Things to See in Mesa Verde
With such a rich history and breathtaking natural beauty, there are a number of can’t miss things to see in Mesa Verde. Here are a few of our favorite spots and sights.
Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum
You know a little about the history of Mesa Verde, but you can gain an in-depth knowledge of the region’s rich background at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. In this air-conditioned center, you’ll see artifacts, dioramas and a film outlining the lives of the Ancestral Pueblos who called Mesa Verde home. This is a great place to start when you are planning for things to do in Mesa Verde.
It’s not a trip to Mesa Verde without checking out the cliff dwellings. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Here you can see 150 rooms, once home to the Ancestral Puebloans. One great way to see Cliff Palace is through a 1-hour, ranger guided tour offered by the National Park Service. Tickets are required for the tour.
Balcony House is a medium sized cliff dwelling with approximately 40 rooms. You can take a 1-hour, ranger guided tour of Balcony House -- but it isn’t for the faint of heart. To take in the Balcony House tour, you’ll scale a 32-foot ladder, take a 100-foot staircase, shimmy through a 12-foot tunnel only 18 inches wide and scale 60 more feet on ladders and steep stone steps. Tickets are required for the tour. This is one of the most popular things to do in Mesa Verde.
You can find the Long House cliff dwelling in the western portion of Mesa Verde in the Wetherill Mesa. To get there, you’ll take a 12-mile, steep, winding road. A 2-hour ranger guided tour of Long House is available. It involves a 2.25-mile hike with a 150-foot elevation gain and requires climbing two 15-foot ladders. It can be strenuous. It’s worth the effort, though, as the views and dwelling are truly a sight to behold.
Park Point Fire Lookout
Get a birds’ eye view of Mesa Verde. Park Point Fire Lookout is the highest point in Mesa Verde National park. Originally built in 1939 and restored in 2009, Park Point is a wildfire lookout point that is open to the public for sightseeing.
Farming Terrace Trail
The Ancestral Puebloans grew crops including corn, beans and squash. You can see what remains of the terraces they used to grow their crops along the Farming Terrace Loop Trail. This half-mile trail is an easy walk and allows you to step back in time.
Petroglyph Point Trail
Find the Petroglyph Point Trail near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. This 2.5 mile hike is the only way to check out the prehistoric rock carvings in Mesa Verde. If you’re visiting Mesa Verde in the summer, head out on the trail early in the day to avoid the blistering summer heat. Like many of the things to do in Mesa Verde, it is a great way to get a look into the history of the area.
Metate Room Restaurant
Nothing beats a good meal after a day of exploring. Mesa Verde’s Metate Room continuously ranks among the best restaurants in the country’s National Parks system. Here you can enjoy locally inspired fare while taking in a view of the park. Other restaurants at Mesa Verde include Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe, Far View Terrace Restaurant and Knife Edge Cafe.
What’s your favorite spot in Mesa Verde? Learn more about things to do in Mesa Verde and plan your next Four Corners adventure at Durango.com! Take a guided tour or explore on your own on your next trip.