Visiting Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings in Southern Colorado

Last week, my archaeologist friend, Sami, and I went on our annual friend-dventure to Southern Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park. If you haven’t been to Colorado, that area is known for archaeology, history, and heritage that is native to the Four Corners Region.

In Mesa Verde National Park, there are the infamous cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo People. The Pueblos lived on Mesa Verde for almost 700 years, 100 of which were spent living in the spectacular cliff dwellings. Today, the park has a known 5,000 archaeological sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings.

Sami and I went on a tour to learn everything we could about the Pueblos and their lives. The tour involved getting on a bus, taking a road tour around the mesa, getting out to take numerous pictures, and taking excursions with Park Rangers to go inside actual Cliff Dwellings.

But we learned a few things about our trip on the way, which I plan to share with you. Mesa Verde is an incredible place and definitely worth visiting whether you’re an out-of-towner or in-stater.

Lodging Near Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde Road

Sami and I chose to go camping and decided to stay at Morefield Campground just a few miles from the cliff dwellings. Morefield Campground is located in the National Park, making it convenient for any national park visitors. It has a small grocery store and gift shop nearby as well as a restaurant, showers, and onsite washer and dryers.

Also within the park is the Far View Lodge, which offers stunning hotel accommodations with unbelievable views of the national park. If staying in the national park isn’t your thing, you can stay at any of the hotels in Cortez, Colorado less than ten miles from the national park entrance.

Tours and Costs

Mesa Verde Bus Tours

 

Tours are the best way to go as a first timer visiting Mesa Verde National Park. There is so much information you can gain from your tour guide when you’re going through the tour. They have been well-versed on what archaeologists know and the structures of the land. The 700 years tour, which covers all the major structures of most interest and enough info for Trivial Pursuit, is $55 and takes you into the cliff dwellings for a look at how people used to live.

There are many other tours you can choose as well. Once you’ve completed the tour, it’s easy to take your own self-guided tour around the area to visit other dwellings and structures you may have missed on the tour. Make note that all cliff dwelling tours you do outside of the tour are paid tours and you will be required to go with a Park Ranger.

Tips for the Tour

Sami Climbing steps at Balcony House

The tour is four hours long and runs twice per day, one tour leaves at 8:00 am and the other leaves at 1:30 pm. It is a long tour, so make sure you are bringing enough water and snacks to get you through it. Be mindful that on any of the cliff dwelling excursions, food and any drink other than water is not permitted. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes, especially if you plan to climb into the cliff dwellings.

Depending on the time of year, wearing clothes that cover your arms and hats that cover your head and face are recommended to reduce your exposure to the sun.

Don’t Touch the Structures

Tips for the Tour at Mesa Verde

The structures are delicate and because of people’s negligence and failure to respect history, some parts of the cliff dwellings you’ll notice a shiny black surface. This is not normal, and it is due in large part to the many humans who have chosen to touch the structures. The more we touch, the more it damages that history and its authenticity. The Park Ranger guiding you will tell you on the tour to keep your hands to yourselves and refrain from leaning up against them as well. I’m honestly surprised with how many people quickly forgot this and were leaning up against walls anyways.

So I will say again… DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING. Keeping this history intact will be beneficial to future generations who can learn and appreciate the histories of the Pueblo people long after we are gone.

What Cliff Dwellings Can You Go Into?

Window into the Balcony House cliff dwellings

You can go into Long House, Balcony House, and, of course, Cliff Palace. But depending on what part of the season you are in, some of those tours may be limited. It’s best to call Mesa Verde National Park to get the full scoop on when the best time to visit those dwellings will be. When going into these cliff dwellings, keep in mind you will be climbing ladders as high as 32 feet, and steep stone staircases where steps have been carved out of the rock.

Please be mindful and watch your step! Safety is a Park Ranger’s number one priority.

When’s the Best Time to Go to Mesa Verde?

Mesa Verde Landscape near Cliff Dwellings

If you’re looking to venture into more impressive cliff dwellings like Cliff Palace, it’s best to visit the park before September ends. After that time, the park will close those particularly larger dwellings to help preserve and stabilize the structure during the off-season. If Cliff Palace is big on your list, make sure to plan ahead for a trip in the summer. You can learn more about why they close this dwelling, here. Going before October also lessens your chances of getting stuck in any morning frost or cold weather if you decide to go camping.

Due to the shortness of our trip, we agreed we would be going back again to see the park. In addition to the tours, you’ll find a museum that is full of even more information about this historical area. I highly suggest making the trip from wherever you are because it is truly a special place.

You can plan your trip and purchase tickets, here.

If you enjoyed this blog, leave a comment below! Or visit my recent blog about things you can do in Colorado.