Whether you’re a tourist discovering the secrets of the Ancestral Pueblos of Mesa Verde for the first time or a long-time Durango resident interested in seeing the surrounding area in a new light, Mesa Verde National Park has something for every visitor. From a quick afternoon jaunt to a multi-day camping extravaganza, you’ll find countless ways to explore this incredible UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visitor & Research Center
The Mesa Verde Visitor & Research Center should be everyone’s first stop, if only to purchase tickets to a guided cliff dwelling tour. But it’s also in your interest to stick around for a few minutes and view some of the exhibits on display. You can learn about everything from Pueblo history and art to the energy-saving and sustainable features of the visitor center itself. You can view more Ancestral Pueblo artifacts at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, but the real attractions of the park are outside.
Cliff Dwellings Guided Tours
Some of the more strenuous cliff dwelling tours can only be completed with the aid of a park ranger. The Cliff Palace, the mesa’s largest cliff dwelling, takes about an hour to explore with a guide and includes a 100-foot vertical climb. You can also opt for a longer twilight tour, led by actor-portrayed historical characters. For a more adventurous tour, visit the Balcony House, where over the course of an hour, you’ll climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl through a 12-foot tunnel, and scale a 60-foot open rock face. Or, dive deeper into Pueblo culture, with a two-hour tour of Long House. You’ll hike a little over two miles round-trip, and the tour conveniently ends at the Long House trailhead, so you can easily continue exploring the Wetherill Mesa area on your own afterward.
Driving the Mesa Top Loop Road
One of the easiest ways to see the sights of Mesa Verde is on a leisurely drive along the Mesa Top Loop Road. Seven hundred years of history are packed into this six-mile trail. The self-guided tour around Chapin Mesa includes clearly marked stops at the Sun Point Overlook, the Square Tower House, and Sun Temple, as well as various pit houses and cliff dwellings.
Hiking the Petroglyph Point Trail
There are nine designated hiking trails in Mesa Verde, but the best choice for day visitors is the Petroglyph Point Trail. This loop near Chapin Mesa is less than two and a half miles round trip and can easily connect to Spruce Canyon Trail for more rigorous hikers. In addition to commanding views over both Spruce and Navajo Canyons, this trail is the only one in the park where you can see authentic Pueblo rock carvings. After your hike through Mesa Verde, you may also want to check out other scenic hikes in Durango.
Pitching a tent at Morefield Campground
Like most attractions with a rich cultural heritage and boundless natural beauty, there’s far too much of Mesa Verde to see in one day. Extend your stay at Morefield Campground, which lies just four miles from the park’s entrance. Without all that driving to do, you’ll have more time to hike and bike your way through centuries of American history.