In the southwest corner of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is known for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and boasts a landscape of mesas and canyons. This UNESCO World Heritage Site attracts history and archaeology buffs who go to marvel at the pueblos built into cliffs, which were inhabited from about 1190 to 1300.
Start at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center to get oriented with the national park and purchase (optional) admission to the Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House cliff dwellings, which can be accessed only on popular ranger-guided tours. Or check out the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and drive along Mesa Top Loop Road, a 6-mile (10-kilometer) route that’s home to easily accessible surface dwellings and cliff dwelling overlooks.
The closest city to the park is Cortez, Colorado, but the historical railroad town of Durango is the more visitor-friendly base from where most day tours to the park depart. Book a tour if you want the ease of round-trip transportation; otherwise go on your own to explore at your own pace.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Mesa Verde National Park is ideal for lovers of archaeology, history, and nature.
- There is no bus or shuttle in the park so you will need a vehicle or bike to get around. Bikes are permitted on paved roads but not on most of the trails.
- Give yourself at least two hours just to drive in and out of the park, as the route is a narrow and steep mountain road, and weather and sporadic road work can cause delays.
- The park ranges in elevation from 6,900 to 8,572 feet (2,100 to 2,612 meters), so stay hydrated to help ward off altitude sickness.
- Free WiFi is available in the visitor center lobby and parking area.
- Mesa Verde National Park’s visitor center and most park attractions are accessible to wheelchairs, though some may require assistance due to gravel paths and grades.
How to Get There
The turnoff from Highway 160 to Mesa Verde National Park is about a 45-minute drive from Durango, between the towns of Cortez and Mancos. From there it’s a 21-mile (34 kilometer) drive to the first view of a cliff dwelling along a winding road.
When to Get There
The park is open daily year-round, but winter weather may cause some closures. While it’s typically mild in the winter, snowstorms are possible from October through May. It’s warm to hot from June to September, when temperatures can exceed 90°F (32°C) during the day with cool evenings. In July and August, be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms.
About an hour’s drive southwest of Mesa Verde lies the Four Corners Monument, where the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet. Managed by the Navajo Nation, the remote site features a marker where you can stand in four states at once.