Mesa Verde National Park

What to See and Do and Where to Stay When Visiting
Mesa Verde National Park:

Get critical information, insider tips, and pictures, as well as ideas for where to stay when visiting this national park with the most famous Hisatsinom ruin, located in southwest Colorado.

Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Palace Details and Background

  • Address: PO Box 8, Mesa Verde, CO 81330
  • Phone: 970-529-4465
  • Date established as a national park: June 29, 1906
  • Size: 52,074 acres
  • Visit the Official Park Service Mesa Verde National Park site for park (which includes information such as entrance fees).

    Special advisories [NG]:

  • Visits to the cliff dwellings are strenuous. Wear sturdy shoes and use caution if you have heart or respiratory problems.
  • Hold onto children on cliff trails and canyon rims.
  • 10 interesting facts about Mesa Verde National Park

    1. Mesa Verde National Park is one of the oldest national parks and was the first national park of its kind -- with a mission to "preserve the works of man," as President Theodore Roosevelt said when he established the park in 1906. [NPS]
    2. Mesa Verde National Park preserves the ancient culture of a group of people (the ancestral Puebloans [NG]) living in the Four Corners region who chose Mesa Verde for their home about 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away for reasons that may never be known. [NPS]
    3. More than 4,800 archaeological sites can be seen in the park. [NG]
    4. Mesa Verde National Park
    5. Ninety percent of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings contain 10 rooms or less. One-third have only one or two rooms. This should help to put the more famous cliff dwellings of Cliff Palace (150 rooms), Long House (150 rooms), Spruce Tree House (130 rooms), and Balcony House (40 rooms) into perspective.
    6. Park Mesa, in the southeast section of the park, has been designated a Research Natural Area. Research Natural Areas are managed to maintain the natural features for which they were established, and to maintain natural processes. They are excellent areas for studying ecosystems or their component parts and for monitoring succession and other long-term ecological change. [NPS]
    7. Technically, the correct geological term for the area's major landform is "cuesta." Cuestas are similar to mesas, but instead of being relatively flat, they gently dip in one direction. Mesa Verde is inclined slightly to the south at about a seven degree angle and has been highly dissected by wind and water erosion into a series of canyons and "mesas." [NPS]
    8. Elevations range from about 6,000 feet in the canyon bottoms near the southern park boundary to 8,572 feet at Park Point, about 10 miles north.[NPS]
    9. Visible geologic formations in the park date to the late Cretaceous Period, from 90 million to 78 million years ago, and consist largely of sandstones and shales. The three youngest of these formations - the Cliff House, the Menefee, and the Point Lookout -- are known collectively as the Mesa Verde Group. [NPS]
    10. Mesa Verde lies in the transition zone between the arid scrublands to the south and the forested montane environment of the Rocky Mountains to the north. The climate is semi-arid, with an average annual precipitation of 18.4 inches. [NPS]
    11. Virginia Donaghe McClurg, who arguably did more than anyone to promote Mesa Verde in the late 1800s, felt Mesa Verde was too small to be a national park and pushed the idea of instead making it a state park run by a group of women. [KB]

    10 tips for getting the most out of a visit to Mesa Verde National Park

    1. You can visit year-round, though some facilities and services close in the winter. On the other hand, cross-country skiing is allowed in some locations in the winter. April through September is the best time for wildflowers. [NG]
    2. About 40 cliff dwellings and pueblos, some open to the public, are visible from park roads and overlooks. This page tells when they're open and what kinds of tours are available. [NG] [NPS]
    3. Park activities include bird watching, cross-country skiing, evening campground programs, geologic views, observing wildlife, photography, plant walks, and stargazing. [NPS]
    4. Mesa Verde National Park
    5. The National Park Service offers several downloadable PDF publications for planning a visit to Mesa Verde, including seasonal guides and a trip planner. [NPS]
    6. Pets are allowed in the park on a very limited basis. They are allowed in parking lots and in the campground only and must be under your physical control at all times. Pets should not be left alone or in vehicles. They are NOT allowed in archaeological sites or on any of the park trails. [NPS]
    7. The minimum time to spend in Mesa Verde National Park is four hours, two hours of which will be spent driving in and out of the park. The National Park Service offers suggestions here for park activities based on how much time you have available. [NPS]
    8. The Four Corners Lecture Series is an annual program that focuses on a single theme for lectures to be given year-round in various locations in the Four Corners area. [NPS]
    9. The National Park Service lists the best locations to view and understand the geologic features of Mesa Verde National Park [NPS]
    10. The Chapin Mesa Archaelogical Museum displays dioramas illustrating ancestral Puebloan life, along with many exhibits of prehistoric artifacts, a chronology of Ancestral Puebloan culture, and other items related to the park. [NPS]
    11. Kids can complete a Junior Ranger Booklet and receive a Mesa Verde Junior Ranger badge. [NPS]

    Where to stay when visiting Mesa Verde National Park

    Mesa Verde National Park Camping/RV park: Morefield Campground: 15 full hook-up RV sites with water, electric and sewer (reservations required); 17 group sites each accommodating up to 25 guests in tents only (reservations appreciated); nearly 400 dry tent/RV sites (reservations accepted, not required). 888-896-3831

    Other nearby RV parks:

  • Mesa Verde RV Resort
  • A & A Mesa Verde RV Park
  • Hotels

  • Far View Lodge: 888-896-3831
  • While you're visiting Mesa Verde National Park

    While you're in the area, you might as well see the beauty of the national forests currounding the park by also visiting the San Juan National Forest and Rio Grande National Forest to the northeast, as well as the Uncompahgre National Forest to the north. You might also consider visiting the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, just to the west.

    Guide to sources:
    NG = National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States
    NPF = National Park Foundation's The Official Guide to America's National Parks
    KB = The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
    AAA = AAA Guide to the National Parks
    NPS = National Park Service Website

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