Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado’s got way more to offer than scenic mountain vistas. A few hours southwest of Denver, Mesa Verde National Park holds some of the most well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the nation -- ancient secrets on display for anybody willing to make the journey. At over 52,000 acres in size, the park preserves more than 4,300 archeological sites and over 600 cliff dwellings, perhaps the best-known (and most-photographed) of which is Cliff Palace, thought to be the largest such dwelling on the continent. Designated a national park by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the park also holds UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and has been the site of human inhabitation since approximately 7500 BC.

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park displays characteristic high desert weather patterns: a dry, relatively temperate climate, punctuated by violent thunderstorms during the summer monsoon season. Although average high temperatures hover in the 40-degree range in winter, snow storms can occur -- and often do as late as May and as early as October. Always check the park’s official weather page as well as the local forecast before you head out on your adventure.

Although it’s in quite a remote location, Mesa Verde National Park is in proximity to a number of small southwestern Colorado towns that offer basic facilities as well as fun cultural events and exhibits. Cortez, a community of about 8,500 inhabitants, lies 10 miles from the park entrance and offers a wide array of sights, services, and restaurants. The smaller village of Mancos is also nearby, and the relatively large city of Durango is 36 miles east, an easy drive that can be done in less than an hour.

Mesa Verde’s chief attraction is its unparalleled collection of archeological sites, which visitors can explore from its well-maintained network of hiking trails. However, for those seeking a deeper understanding of the location’s history and significance, the Park Service hosts a range of guided tours as well as ranger-led events, including a vibrant Four Corners Lecture Series. For the latest details on what’s going on at Mesa Verde, check the park’s official calendar page.

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Weather
Spring 26-67 F
Summer 49-84 F
Fall 46-74 F
Winter 16-37 F
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Nearby Cities
Cortez, CO
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Where To Stay

Mesa Verde National Park offers visitors the chances to stay on-site at its Morefield Campground, which is open seasonally and offers a range of camper conveniences and services.

Those traveling by RV can also choose from a variety of other campgrounds in the vicinity, including both low-cost public camping options and private, resort-style RV parks.

RV Rentals Near Mesa Verde National Park

Nearby RV Rentals

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Hit the Trails

Mesa Verde National Park features both traditional, self-guided hiking trails as well as ranger-guided tours of its best-known archeological sites. For the best experience of the park, try a couple of both!

Please keep in mind that tour tickets for the guided hikes come at an additional cost (beyond the price of park entry), and that they are very popular -- and thus routinely sell out. For best results, make your reservations early.

No matter which hike you take on at Mesa Verde (or in any natural landscape, for that matter), it’s important to be prepared! Summertime temperatures can reach 90 F in southwestern Colorado, and shade is often minimal. Be sure each hiker is equipped with enough water, sun protection, and snacks to make for a safe and enjoyable hiking experience.

Mesa Verde National Park Trails

Cliff Palace Loop

Distance: 0.25-mile loop

Terrain: If you don’t see anything else at Mesa Verde, see this, the largest known cliff dwelling in America. Visitors must purchase a guided tour to participate in this short walk, but Cliff Palace is a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- and totally worth it.

Knife Point

Distance: 2 miles

Terrain: This trail follows old Knife Point Road, originally constructed in 1914. Relatively short and easy with big paybacks in the form of valley views.

Long House

Distance: 2 miles

Terrain: This easy, largely flat trail is part of a guided ranger tour, and will introduce visitors to a variety of unique archeological sites within the park. Involves climbing two 15-foot ladders. See the park’s guided tours page for full details and prices.

Petroglyph Point

Distance: 2.4-mile loop

Terrain: This moderate hike features a narrow, rocky trail and involves scrambling up a large stone staircase. Visitors are rewarded with sweeping views of Spruce and Navajo Canyons, as well as an up-close look at a large petroglyph panel.

Point Lookout

Distance: 2.2 miles

Terrain: Trail features some switchbacks and may not be suitable for beginners. Hike to the top of the mesa for expansive views of the surrounding countryside.

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What to Do

With over 4,000 archeological sites to explore, there’s no getting around it: your Mesa Verde adventure is going to work up an appetite!

Along with great eats, there’s also lots of other stuff to see and do in this vibrant corner of Colorado. Here are just a few suggestions to get you started.

Restaurants

From cowboy-ready cuts of steak to lighter bites to get your morning started, the following restaurants in and around Mesa Verde National Park have your back when a snack attack… attacks.

Absolute Bakery and Cafe

Using only the freshest local, organic ingredients, Absolute Bakery and Cafe serves up some absolute gems for the breakfast crowd -- and a heap of tasty baked treats to boot. From quiche to granola and everything in between.

Type: Cafe

Location: Mancos

La Casita de Cortez

You’re only a few miles from New Mexico, so you’ve got to get some spicy bites while you’re in town. La Casita is loved by locals for its authentic south-of-the-border flavors.

Type: Mexican

Location: Cortez

Metate Room Restaurant

Date night? You don’t have to go to Durango -- this park restaurant serves up elevated local favorites inspired by the region’s storied heritage. The Metate Room is the recipient of an Award of Culinary Excellence from the American Culinary Federation Colorado Chefs Association in the area of sustainable cuisine. Reservations recommended.

Type: Upscale

Location: Inside the park

Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe

The best place for a quick and convenient cafeteria-style lunch without leaving the park. Better yet: enjoy the views while you dine al fresco on the patio.

Type: Cafe

Location: Inside the park

Thai Cortez

You may be clear across the globe from Asia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy its cuisine! This casual Cortez eatery serves up a wide range of Thai favorites, including a selection of surprisingly fresh and delicious seafood.

Type: Thai

Location: Cortez

Shopping

Film for your camera? An extra tube of toothpaste? Some completely extraneous souvenir -- which is totally worth it, for the memories of your trip? Here’s the best shopping near Mesa Verde.

Cortez Plaza Shopping Center

Located at the intersection of Highway 160 and State Street in eastern Cortez, if you’re looking for a whole mall’s worth of resources, this is your best bet without hauling yourself to Durango.

Location: Cortez

Goods for the Woods

If you need a new set of hiking boots (or some other outdoorsy gadget), this locally-owned outfitter’s got you covered. The store puts a heavy emphasis on hunting, offering both guns and bows.

Location: Cortez and Durango

Mesa Verde National Park Bookstore

The on-site park store at Mesa Verde is managed by the museum association, which works to support and assist in interpretive programs, research activities, and visitor services. So whether you buy a stargazing guide, a bumper sticker, or a T-shirt, you know your funds are going to good use!

Location: Inside the park

Notah-Dineh Trading Company and Museum

You’ve seen the ancient ruins, so now check out what the area’s original inhabitants are up to today. Notah-Dineh offers a wide range of authentic, handmade Native American arts, from pottery to rugs to jewelry -- both for sale and for admiration in its attached museum.

Location: Cortez

Museums

Maybe a rainy day has cast a shadow over your park plans… or maybe the incredible historic scenery has simply piqued your interest. Either way, there are plenty of places to get some educational entertainment of the indoorsy type.

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Displaying artifacts and dioramas depicting Ancestral Pueblo life, no visit to Mesa Verde is complete without at rip to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Hours shift seasonally; check the website for full details.

Location: Inside the park

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum

Ever wonder how the west was won? Well, one of the most important parts of the story is the railroad. Learn more about this uniquely interconnected history at this hands on museum, which even offers wine tastings on board a historic steam train! (Just in case history wasn’t enough of a motivator.)

Location: Durango

Durango Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum

This Durango spot raises a wide variety of freshwater fish to be stocked in the local rivers -- and gives visitors a chance to learn more about sustainability and wildlife in general.

Location: Durango

Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center

The park visitor center is home to over three million museum artifacts… and it’s where you’ll need to stop to get your tickets for Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House.

Location: Inside the park

Powerhouse Science Center

Dedicated both to educating visitors about the history of electric power and finding new, sustainable ways to make more of it, this science center offers interactive, hands-on fun for guests of all ages.

Location: Durango

Sightseeing

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Even more storied ruins await just west of the park at this BLM-administered monument. Don’t miss a visit to the Anasazi Heritage Center, which serves as both the visitor center and an informative on-site museum.

Cowboy Forge Blacksmith Shop and School

Learn more about this uniquely western art and craft by watching live demonstrations or even participating in a class… or just buy something cool and handmade.

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How to Get There

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde is quite remote, but is easily accessible by motor vehicle. From either Cortez or Durango, you need only to head toward the park on Highway 160 and follow well-posted signage. For full directions from a variety of other orientations, click here.

By plane

If you’re flying to the desert southwest, the nearest airports to Mesa Verde are in Cortez, Durango, or Farmington, New Mexico. Larger airfields are available in Las Vegas, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Albuquerque.

By RV

Whether you fly in and rent on-site or drive from your hometown, taking a rental RV is a great way to experience Mesa Verde -- or any national park. You’ll get front-row access to all the fun by camping within (or very near to) the park’s boundaries, and you can easily string together multiple parks to create an epic family vacation… without having to worry about packing and unpacking in a string of so-so hotel rooms.

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Entering the Park

There is a fee to enter Mesa Verde National Park, and it changes seasonally. Please note that the following fees are good for seven consecutive days of entry.

Private Vehicle : $20

Private, non-commercial vehicles (15 passenger capacity or less) and all occupants.

Motorcycle : $15

One or two passengers on a private, non-commercial motorcycle.

Per Person : $10

One individual with no car (bicyclist, hiker, pedestrian). Youth 15 and under are admitted for free.

No matter when you go or how you get there, we’re stoked to get all the juicy details about your Mesa Verde National Park trip! For a chance to be featured on our social media channels or blog, tag us in your posts or send photos and stories directly to [email protected]. We can’t wait to hear more!