In the southwestern corner of Colorado lies Mesa Verde National Park. This unique park is home to an impressive concentration of Native American ruins, including pit houses and cliff dwellings; protecting a tableland landscape covered with desert and woods.
UNESCO World Heritage in Southern Colorado
It’s this exceptional abundance of remnants of the once-thriving native culture and people known as the ancestral Puebloans, that makes Mesa Verde National Park a “must-visit park”. Mesa Verde is so important, both historically and culturally, that UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site.
Mesa Verde means “green table” in Spanish, an appropriate name for this fertile landscape, including and surrounding various tablelands. During a visit to this park, you get to discover the history of the peoples who once called this place home. Wonderful loop drives—the Mesa Top and Cliff Palace Loops—take you past series of ruins. The drives are laid out so that you can follow the architectural and cultural history of these people chronologically.
Highlights of Mesa Verde National Park
The park offers a fantastic view into the lives of ancestral Pueblo Indians, who used to thrive in this area. Archaeologists say that the Native American population in and around Mesa Verde was much larger than the modern-day population of the towns in the area.
The park encompasses more than 4,000 known archaeological sites, which include no fewer than 600 cliff dwellings. Many of these sites are among the best-preserved in the United States, which is exactly why a visit to this park is so recommended.
There are a number of impressive cliff dwellings in the park. However, the most notable are Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Spruce Tree House in the Chapin Mesa area, and Long House and Step House in the Wetherill Mesa area (which is closed in winter). You can visit most of these main cliff dwellings. Make sure, however, to check opening dates and times at the visitor center or museum. Some of them are closed during winter while others are only accessible on a guided group tour. You will be able to see almost all of them from lookouts along the loop drives, though.
In my opinion, the main highlights are Cliff Palace—which is the most famous cliff dwelling—and Balcony House. At the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum where an informative 25-minute film introduces you to the park’s history and attractions. If you like hiking, I recommend the Petroglyph Point Trail. This 2.8-mile trail loops past a rock wall with Native American petroglyphs.
How Long to Spend?
Although you can spend two or three days in Mesa Verde National Park, exploring its furthest and most remote corners, you can see most of its star attractions during a one-day visit. Make sure to arrive early in the morning, though. There may be lines at the ticket counters (for cliff dwelling tours), however the drive to Chapin Mesa takes about an hour, and there’s more to see and do than you would expect.
Mesa Verde National Park Photo Gallery
Have you ever been to Mesa Verde National Park? What were your impressions? Share them in the comments below!