Mesa Verde National Park, CO
IF YOU GO
Park Entrance Fee:
From Jan. 2-April 30: $20 per car
May 1 - Oct. 31: $30 per car
Nov. 1 - Dec. 31: $20 per car
Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House tours: $7 per person
See website for more information, including prices for other tours
Mesa Verde National Park (Adobe stock image)
By Nushin Huq
Between 2 Pines Magazine
This National Park is unique because it protects ancient human history, not just natural world.
WHAT TO SEE
It’s all about history of indigenous people at Mesa Verde and exploring archeological sites are are over a thousand years old! Some of the sites are accessible, though the cliff dwellings aren't. The most iconic sites in the park are the cliff dwelling. While these can be viewed from accessible pull ups. If you want to tour the sites, you’ll have to be able to climb ladders. The cliff tours also required paid tickets for timed guided tours. Well worth it!
Note: The drive from entrance of park and visitor center to the cliff dwellings is about 60 minutes. Tours can sell out fast, so purchase them as soon as you enter the park.
WHERE TO STAY
The only onsite hotel at the park is the Far View Lodge. Morefield Campground is the park’s campsite.
WHERE TO EAT
There are a number of places to eat in the park. The Metate Room Restaurant, located in Far View Lodge, is a sit down restaurant featuring local produce and Southwestern cuisine. For more casual fare, there is the Spruce Tree Terrace Case near Spruce Tree House or the Far View Terrace Restaurant a quarter mile down the road from the Far View Lodge.
If your family is camping at Morefield campground, check out the Knife Edge Cafe for breakfast. It’s more of a takeout window adjacent to the camp store, but they serve pancake breakfast or breakfast burritos.
BEST HIKES FOR FAMILIES
NPS classifies the guided tours as strenuous. You must be able to climb at least one ladder at each of the one hour cliff dwelling tours. For parents, who must also decide once you climb down into the dwelling area, will your children be able to stand and listen to a talk for an hour. Between 2 Pines recommends tours for families with elementary school-aged kids and older, but parents are the best judge of what their kids can and cannot handle.
In addition to the cliff tours and Mesa Top Loop, there are a number of trails in the park. A couple of these start off at Morefield Camp Ground. An easy one from the campground is the two mile in-and-back Knife Edge Trail.
At the Chapin Mesa area, there are four trails, including the Petroglyph Point trail. This trail leads to the park’s only accessible petroglyphs. NOTE: The trail is not long, but it is STEEP. Only attempt if you are sure footed and you must register at the museum or trailhead before hiking this trail (or the Spruce Canyon Trail).
At the Wetherill Mesa area there are three short loops, which lead to pit houses, cliff dwelling overlooks and ancient Pueblo developments.
BEST TIPS FOR KIDS
The most popular activity at Mesa Verde are the cliff dwelling tours. They fill up fast! You can buy tickets two days in advance, but you must buy them in person, so if you are interested in going on a tour, consider buying tickets as soon as you enter the park’s visitor center.
Also, take time to look around the visitor center. Especially if you arrive in the middle of a hot summer day and you have some time before your tour, take the opportunity to look around at all the exhibits, get information on ranger talks.
Also be sure and ask about the junior ranger program. Kids get a booklet with activities. If they complete a certain number of activities (often age based), they are sworn in as a junior ranger by a park ranger and get a badge they can pin. It’s fun collecting pins from parks all over the country. Lots of state parks have their own junior ranger program as well.
The Morefield campground also has a scavenger hunt game for kids to participate in. It’s self paced. Ask for information at the campground shop.
There are a number of scenic overlooks. Feel free to pull over to let faster traffic pass you up. If you have time before your tour, drive along the Mesa Top Loop. There are a number of ancient pit houses and overlooks including ones with views of the cliff dwellings. This a good alternative to a cliff tour if you have family members with whom accessibility is a concern. It’s also a good alternative if you have a sleeping baby and multiple adults. Adults can take turn viewing pit houses.