- Hours: Open daily, year round
- Reservations: Not required
- Cost: Fee charged
- Location: Southwestern Colorado, a one-hour drive from Cortez, driving directions below
- How Long: Allow at least half a day
- Best Time to Visit: Fall and spring are best, as summer temperatures are in the 90s Fahrenheit, and Mesa Verde National Park can get as much as 3 feet of snow in winter
Mesa Verde National ParkSee It Now: Mesa Verde Photo Tour
Mesa Verde National Park preserves extraordinary cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived in the area from the 6th to the 12th centuries. The residents here built their dwellings in sheltered recesses on the canyon walls, and some 4,400 sites have been recorded.
The Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings are so historically important that they have been named a World Heritage Site. Accompanied by a ranger guide, visitors can hike to two of the ruins. If you want to tour them, stop at the Mesa Verde National Park visitor center to pick up tickets, and be sure you're in good enough shape to make the trip. Remember that Mesa Verde National Park is at 7,000 feet elevation.
- Cliff Palace: To see this large, spectacular ruin, you'll descend about 100 feet on a steep trail over 120 uneven stone steps. At the end, you'll climb five, eight-foot wooden ladders. If you can make it, it's worth the trip for a close-up look at how people lived here.
- Balcony House: The park's most challenging tour will take you down a 100-foot-long staircase and up a 32-foot tall ladder. You'll crawl through a 12-foot long tunnel, and climb another 60 feet on ladders and stone steps. When you get there, you'll find a smaller ruin, perched in a cliffside niche with such a steep dropoff that the residents built a wall to keep things (and people) from falling off.
Getting to Mesa Verde National ParkMesa Verde National Park
Near Cortez and Mancos, CO
Mesa Verde National Park website
Nearest towns with airports are Cortez and Durango, Colorado and Farmington, New Mexico.
From Cortez, drive one hour east on Highway 160 to the Mesa Verde National Park entrance. From Durango, it's a 1.5 hour drive west on Highway 160.