Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Puebloan people who called it home for over 700 years from 600 to 1300 CE. The park protects nearly 5,000 known archaeological sites including 600 cliff dwellings. While still farming the mesa tops, many Ancestral Puebloans lived in pueblos built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage areas to villages of more than 150 rooms. They continued to reside in the alcoves—repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms—for nearly a century. By the late 1270s, the population migrated south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona.
The sites left behind are some of the most notable and best-preserved in the United States. In 1978, Mesa Verde National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of its exceptional archaeological relevance. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular look into the ancient lives of America’s First Peoples.
The park is open year round, but tours and some programs are only available seasonally. Check the park website for details when planning your visit.
Mesa Verde National Park Tours & Programs
Mesa Verde National Park offers knowledgeable tours of the cliff dwellings guided by rangers. Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House may only be visited on a ranger-guided tour; only Long House is open to visitors in 2021. Reserve your tickets online up to two weeks in advance starting at 7:45 a.m. Plan ahead—tickets sell out quickly!
Visitors can also attend an evening ranger program at Morefield Campground in the summer, Thursday–Saturday, to learn about a variety of topics.
If you miss the window for tickets or prefer to stroll and explore other areas if the park on your own, you may take yourself on a private, self-guided tour or a hike through the park.
Getting Around Mesa Verde National Park
We recommend making your way into the park from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center located near the park entrance on U.S. Hwy 160. You can explore the park on bike or on foot, as well as by car. The road into the national park is a mountain road that will carry you from 6,900 feet in elevation up to 8,570 feet on a narrow, steep route. Take time to slow down or even stop to enjoy the views rather than rushing; Plan for the drive into and out of the park to take no less than two hours.
Plot your beautiful and educational route through the park (or to your campsite for an extended stay in the park!) with these maps.
- Mesa Verde Country is a high desert so remember to wear sunscreen and pack extra water.
- Hiking and climbing occasional ladders are part of the Mesa Verde National Park experience. Be sure to come prepared, or consider visiting the mesa-top sites for incredible vistas and less demanding approaches.
- You can avoid crowds at the less busy Wetherill Mesa on hiking and biking trails, or by visiting in the beautiful winter off-season.
- Watch for all kinds of wildlife, wildflowers, and more—learn about the nature of the park here.
- Dogs aren’t allowed in much of the park, and cars get hot fast in this climate, so we urge you to either reserve a spot at the pet boarding location at Morefield Campground or find other boarding services while you explore.
- As tempting as it may be, please don’t pick up artifacts. The tradition of leaving artifacts behind is the only way you’re able to enjoy Mesa Verde National Park today! Learn more about caring for Colorado here.