National Parks/Monuments

Mesa Verde National Park

(Last Updated On: April 19, 2021)

Way back when we first got married I asked my wife if she’d ever been to Yellowstone. She said no, and our first trip was planned. My next question was have you been to Arches and Mesa Verde. Again she said no, and our second trip was planned. This anecdote also gives you an idea of my favorite trip list. My wife loved it as much as I did, and we’ve been waiting for our boys to get big enough to go. This summer we finally visited Mesa Verde National Park.

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Mesa Verde is one of three amazing Native American history sites in the Four Corners area along with Chaco Canyon and Aztec Ruins National Monument. Surprisingly, Mesa Verde stays fairly cool in the summer as it is at an elevation of over 6,000 feet. There are two beautiful mesas to drive along and look at the ruins. There are also many hikes and ranger led tours. Be sure to read full reviews of the hikes for kids, as well as individual posts on the ranger led tours: Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, and Long House.

Cliff Palace is a must see site at Mesa Verde.
Cliff Palace is a must see site at Mesa Verde.

Plan for the Drive

A few things that you should know before going to Mesa Verde include the road conditions. It is 23 miles down the mesa to Cliff Palace, but the travel time is nearly an hour. The road is paved and in good condition, but it is twisty, windy, and up and down. It is important not to underestimate the time it takes to drive. Plan for that hour from the Visitor Center driving with no stops. You will miss your ticket time if you don’t plan accordingly.

Tickets

The best ruins are only accessible through a ranger-guided tour. Tickets are now available to be purchased ahead of time, which makes planning for the drive, so much easier. Tour tickets can be purchased only on recreation.gov or by calling the park. Tour tickets are available 14 days in advance, on a rolling daily window. For more information, visit the Mesa Verde website. Tickets will go quickly, so we highly recommend getting them as soon as possible for your trip. As of 2021, not all sites are open for tours right now.

Visitor Center

The Visitor Center is one of two museums in Mesa Verde National Park. This museum sits on the edge of the park, and is a great place to learn more about this amazing park. There is also a small gift shop, a few displays, and you can pick up your Junior Ranger information here, too.

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The Visitor’s Center sits on the outside of the entrance gate to Mesa Verde.
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There are a few displays talking about why the Ancestral Pueblans settled here and how they survived.
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Make sure to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet and find some answers while you walk through the visitor’s center.

Chapin Mesa

The first mesa, known as Chapin Mesa is home to Cliff Palace (tickets required), Spruce Tree House, and Balcony House (tickets required). The road is better and shorter, and many visitors only use this side of the park. There are lots of overlooks that are worth stopping at along the loop, as well as the Far View Sites which our kids loved visiting.  

Here you will also find the second museum in Mesa Verde: the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum where you can also overlook Spruce Tree House. It has diorama scenes and artifacts dating from 800 AD to 1200 AD when the Pueblo People lived in this area. The road to Chapin Mesa is open year round, even though many of the ranger guided tours are only open May-September.

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Stop at the overlooks to see lots of different ruins in the cliff side.
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There are also many stops to see pit houses and villages. Many of these are covered to help preserve them.
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The museum is out on Chapin Mesa.
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The museum has quite a few dioramas depicting life during the early AD period.
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There are lots of different displays showing artifacts found here in Mesa Verde like these awesome socks.
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The patterns found on the pottery here are amazing.
Spruce Tree House is right behind the museum. Make sure to walk to the overlook.
Spruce Tree House is right behind the museum. Make sure to walk to the overlook.
Balcony House is out on Chapin Mesa and is the most adventurous tour.
Balcony House is out on Chapin Mesa and is the most adventurous tour.

Wetherill Mesa

The second mesa is called Wetherill Mesa and is home to Long House and Step House. Since the shuttle service ended, far fewer people are even driving out to this mesa. Now, after you arrive at the Step House parking area, only bicycles and foot traffic are allowed to go farther. We hope they fix this soon. The hike to Long House is over 2 miles long, and we didn’t take our boys out there, although we visited Long House years ago. Our boys really loved Step House because you can walk right through the ruins. The road to Wetherill Mesa is open May through September based on the weather.

Step House is a fun one to visit for the kids because you can walk through so many parts of it.
Step House is a fun one to visit for the kids because you can walk through so many parts of it.
Long House was one of our favorite hikes when we visited 10 years ago, but now the hike was a little long for our smallest. We will have to visit next time.
Long House was one of our favorite hikes when we visited 10 years ago, but now the hike was a little long for our smallest. We will have to visit next time.

We had a wonderful time in Mesa Verde, and found it to be more family friendly than we expected. Use the links in this post to read all the details about Mesa Verde on our website. For a list of all the kid hikes in Mesa Verde: click here!

Square Tower is a great stop along the Chapin Mesa Drive.
Square Tower is a great stop along the Chapin Mesa Drive.

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