Mesa Verde National Park is the perfect destination for those who love history, archeology, and nature. The park effortlessly blends culture and nature with experiences such as guided walking tours of archeological sites.
This summer, you can hike through the history of our country by visiting the cliff dwellings and protected archeological sites of Mesa Verde National Park.
History Comes Alive in Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde National Park is best known for the hundreds of cliff dwellings scattered throughout the park. To protect these important archeological sites, Mesa Verde was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. This status gives the sites the necessary protection while allowing qualified researchers to access the sites and continue to study findings. Park staff and scientists strive to preserve both the cultural and natural resources of the park so future generations can continue to enjoy this majestic and historic place.
Mesa Verde was once inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans, who lived and traded in cliffside dwellings while farming the mesa top. The Pueblo people lived in this area for more than 700 years. Today, there are over 4,700 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These cliff dwellings are some of the best-preserved archeological sites in North America.
Visitors to Mesa Verde can take guided walking tours while learning about the history of the people who used to live in the cliff dwellings.
Mesa Verde’s Cliff Dwellings
When the Pueblo people initially inhabited this area, they lived on the mesa top for approximately 600 years. Then, for the final 100 years or so that they lived in this area, they began to build and live in cliff dwellings. These structures are built under the overhanging cliff and range from one-room storage spaces to villages of 150 rooms.
The Ancestral Puebloans resided in the cliff dwellings for almost a century before some began migrating south in present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the area of Mesa Verde had been abandoned.
During self-guided and guided tours, visitors to Mesa Verde can see some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings and learn more about the people who used to live in this area. The best-preserved and well-known cliff dwellings include Balcony House, Cliff Palace, Long House, Spruce Tree House, and Step House. Make sure to check operating dates ahead of time on the website as some of these sites are closed during certain seasons for preservation.
With 40 rooms, Balcony House is one of the medium-sized cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. During a guided tour, visitors can explore this cliff dwelling and learn how passageway construction evolved over time. One-hour guided tours of Balcony House take visitors on an adventure through the different rooms and up the 32-foot entrance ladder.
As the largest and most famous of the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, you won’t be surprised to learn that Cliff Palace has over 150 individual rooms and 20 kivas or rooms for religious rituals. A visit to Cliff Palace is part of the 700 Years Tour.
Long House was excavated as part of the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project between 1959 and 1961. This cliff dwelling is only open to visitors for part of the year. Depending on when you visit Mesa Verde, you might be able to catch a tour to Long House. Tours to Long House operate from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day. Tickets are for a 90-minute tour, full of rich history!
Spruce Tree House
In 1888, local ranchers looking for a stray cattle chanced upon something more than what they were looking for. After scrambling down a Douglas Spruce tree, the ranchers found what’s known today as Spruce Tree House. This cliff dwelling has 130 rooms and eight kivas or religious areas. Archeologists believe this space was once home to 60 to 80 people. This is the third-largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde.
Between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, visitors can make the trek for a self-guided tour of Step House. The trail down to Step House is steep, with a 100-foot elevation change in just three-quarters of a mile. If visitors have questions, they can ask the onsite ranger, who is present from 10 am to 4:30 pm.
Where to Stay: Far View Lodge
To be sure you have plenty of time to take in all that Mesa Verde National Park has to offer, book a night or two at the Far View Lodge. As the only lodging inside the park, it is the perfect headquarters for your adventures into history.
At the lodge, you’ll find a quiet retreat with no TVs and minimal cell phone service so that you can focus on the views and wildlife. Onsite dining includes the Far View Terrace Cafe and the Far View Lounge for drinks and a light bite.
This summer, get immersed in history with a visit to Mesa Verde National Park. Once the home of Ancestral Puebloans, this park gives you access to stunning views, hiking, and guided history tours of well-preserved archeological sites.