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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!