Mesa Verde National Park is stunningly beautiful and incredibly fascinating. I dare say it is one of my favorite places in the world. One of the first ten named World Heritage Site’s and a national park since 1906, Mesa Verde showcases the cliff dwellings of the ancestral Pueblo Indians.
Along with amazing dwellings and ceremonial sites, Mesa Verde Park offers breathtaking views of 4 U.S. States. Before you plan and set out for your own park visit, check out these tips:
Mesa Verde National Park Must Knows
1. This National Park Is Not For Everyone. If you have a serious fear of heights, think twice about visiting. Elevation of the park ranges from 7,000 to 8,500 feet (National Park Service). The drive up to parking areas near cliff dwellings and other sites requires travel on roads with hair pin turns. Views of steep drop offs to valley and canyon floors appear frequently while driving.
The cliff dwellings and other sites of significance are often located hundreds of feet up the sides of the mesas. Even this gal, whose fear of heights has greatly lessened over the years, found herself uncomfortable at times with proximity to major drop offs.
If you have mobility issues, certain parts of the park are simply inaccessible. When they say that ancient ancestors built cliff dwellings, they truly mean it. Accessing the 3 major cliff dwellings with a ranger, requires navigating steep stairs, tight spaces, climb ladders, etc…
If you have young children, be aware that there will be places in the park such as major cliff dwellings, that really are not suitable for them. The ascents and descents into sites can be treacherous. Major sites require taking ranger lead tours which may be an hour long or more. The attention span of younger children tends not to gel will with this timeline.
2. Staying In Or Near Mesa Verde National Park Should Be Priority. Because of the winding roads and ,consequently, low speed limits, it will take approximately an hour to reach some of the major sites of Mesa Verde Park. To make the most of your day(s) in the park, don’t leave yourself a long initial drive to the park.
During our visit, we stayed two nights at the Far View Lodge, which lies at about the half way point in the park. Rooms were very clean, offered balconies for sitting and relaxing, and where located near meal options. We splurged (although no big price difference from regular room) to get a deluxe room with a view. And buddy was the view ever worth it!
Be aware that the lodge rooms are not cheap. Limited supply means higher prices. I would totally stay at the Far View Lodge again, though!
Also, available within the park are a limited number of full hook up RV sites, dry RV/tent camping sites, and group tent sites. In a 10 to 12 mile range outside the park, you will find a variety of hotel, RV, and campground options to chose from.
FOR ALL ACCOMMODATIONS, I highly recommend that you call and reserve as far ahead as possible (months ahead if feasible). Do not just show up on site and expect your pick of places as the best places to stay book up quickly.
More Mesa Verde National Park Must Knows
3. Some Major Sites Of Interest In the Park Are Only Open Certain Times of Year. The three major cliff dwelling tours are only offered in the late April-early May to mid-October time period. You cannot visit these sites without a guided tour. The seasonal limits correspond with the areas weather patterns. Check out current Operating Hours & Seasons information on the official Mesa Verde National Park website.
4. Bring Warm And Cool Weather Clothing Even In The Height Of Summer. Temperatures can vary, even in the summer, widely between morning and evening. We visited in late May and the temperatures ranged from the 40s at night to the mid-80s during the day. I recommend dressing in layers.
5. Sunglasses And Sunscreen Are A Must Year Round-The 7000 feet plus altitude amps up the sun’s intensity. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water whether you feel thirsty or not to prevent dehydration.
6. Cell Phone Service Is Not Found In Many Spots In The Park.-The locations where Wi-Fi service are available include the Morefield Campground Store, Far View Lodge, Far View Terrace, and Spruce Tree Terrace. In other locations in the park, put your phone in airplane mode to avoid battery rundown (Great tip from our bus tour guide).
7. Altitude Change Is Not To Be Underestimated.-If you live in a location that does not sit at or near 7000 feet (Like us at sea level), you will need factor altitude adjustment into your plans. We were overambitious. We thought with only a couple of days of altitude adjustment and drinking lots of water, we would easily be able to climb in and out multiple cliff dwellings in a day. Not so.
Even super fit folks will often find this to be the case.
8. Pet-Friendly Locations Are Limited at Mesa Verde- Pets are allowed in parking lots and campground but must be leashed and under your control at all times. They are NOT allowed in archaeological sites, buildings, or on most park trails with the exception of service animals. Kenneling is available at a cost at the Morefield campground in the park.
Other Mesa Verde Tips Not To Miss
9. The Guided Tours Are So Worth It! Soaking in the knowledge of individuals who embody walking encyclopedias of all things Mesa Verde National Park makes the experience so meaningful. I learned so many things that I never would have on my own.
I highly recommend the half-day (4 hour) guided bus tour. The 700 Year tour is lead by entertaining and informative nationally certified interpretative guides. And your spots on the tour can be booked well in advance of your visit.
Park ranger led tours of the Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House can be purchased in person up to two days in advance at the Mesa Verde Visitors and Research Center, Durango Welcome Center, and with limited options at the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum in the park.
10. Sunrise And Sunset Are Especially Neat Times In the Park. The lighting during these golden hours plays off the cliffs and valleys in neat ways. During early morning and evening, we noticed wildlife that we didn’t at other times.
By researching before you go, your National Park experiences will make for wonderful adventures and great memories.
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