Best Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

Exploring History and Natural Beauty at Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is situated in the southwestern region of Colorado, perched atop the Mesa Verde Plateau. This remarkable park offers a glimpse into the rich history of the Ancestral Puebloans, who thrived in this area for more than seven centuries.

A visit to Mesa Verde National Park is akin to a journey back in time, where you can witness the ancient settlements, cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, and historical artifacts left behind by these ancient peoples. This park draws in over 550,000 visitors annually, all eager to explore its historical and natural wonders.

Getting to Mesa Verde National Park

Location of Mesa Verde National Park: Mesa Verde National Park is located in Montezuma County in the southwestern part of Colorado. This expansive park encompasses 82 square miles and stretches across a desert landscape with numerous canyons. It is situated in proximity to the Four Corners area, where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet.

Nearest Airports to Mesa Verde National Park

For travelers planning to fly to Mesa Verde National Park, the two most convenient airports are Albuquerque International Sunport and Cortez Municipal Airport. Each of these airports has its unique advantages, catering to different preferences and travel plans.

Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)

Albuquerque International Sunport is the nearest international airport to Mesa Verde National Park. It is approximately a 4-hour drive from the park, offering scenic vistas along the way.

ABQ serves as a major hub with connections to more than 20 major cities and international destinations. Eight major airlines, including American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, operate flights from this airport.

Cortez Municipal Airport (CEZ)

Cortez Municipal Airport, located in Cortez, Colorado, is the closest airport to Mesa Verde National Park, just 15 miles away. This airport provides daily flights to Denver International Airport (DEN) and is exclusively served by Boutique Air.

Driving to Mesa Verde National Park

Embarking on a road trip to Mesa Verde National Park is an adventure that promises to create lasting memories. There are several routes to reach the park, depending on your starting point. Here are three routes to Mesa Verde National Park to assist you in planning your journey:

From the North to Mesa Top Ruins Road:

If you’re traveling from the north, take US-491 South to West Empire Street, followed by State Street. Continue on US-160 East, which will lead you to Mesa Top Ruins Road and Mesa Verde National Park.

From the East to Mesa Top Ruins Road:

If you’re approaching from the east, drive on US-160 West toward the Mesa Verde National Park exit. Follow the exit, which will guide you to Mesa Top Ruins Road and the park.

From the South to Mesa Top Ruins Road:

For visitors arriving from the south, head north on US-491, and then access Interstate 160. Take the Mesa Verde National Park exit, which will direct you to Mesa Top Ruins Road and the park.

Taking the Train to Mesa Verde National Park

Traveling by train is an exciting and scenic way to explore new destinations. It allows you to relax and enjoy the journey while leaving the driving to someone else.

While Mesa Verde National Park does not have a direct train station, Amtrak can get you close to the park. The Flagstaff, Arizona station is the nearest, providing access within a 4.5-hour drive of the park.

Taking the Bus to Mesa Verde National Park

Opting for a bus trip to Mesa Verde National Park is another viable transportation choice, particularly if you prefer not to drive. Greyhound Bus Lines offers a convenient option for bus travel.

Although there isn’t a bus terminal directly in Mesa Verde, there is one in Durango, Colorado, just a 40-minute drive from the park. Traveling by bus allows you to enjoy the scenic drive without the hassle of driving yourself.

Getting Around Mesa Verde National Park

The most common method of transportation within Mesa Verde National Park is by personal vehicle. The park features several scenic drives that offer breathtaking views along the way. The primary scenic route is the Mesa Loop Road, which leads to 12 major park attractions.

Alternatively, you can explore Mesa Verde National Park by bicycle. While some trails are bike-friendly, not all are suitable for cycling. If you choose to explore the park on a bicycle, be prepared for steep roads and uneven terrain.

What to See and Do in Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is a treasure trove of attractions and activities waiting to be explored. From ancient cliff dwellings to archaeological museums, the park offers a plethora of experiences. Here are some of the top attractions to visit in this incredible national park:

Balcony House

Balcony House is a must-visit attraction within Mesa Verde National Park. This site showcases a medium-sized village featuring 38 well-preserved rooms, kivas, and plazas. It stands as a testament to the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico, who inhabited the area during the 13th century.

Visitors to Balcony House can embark on adventurous tours that involve crawling through tunnels and climbing ladders, including a 17-foot ladder to exit the site.

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, dating back to 1922, is one of the oldest museums in the national park system. Constructed from Cliff House Sandstone, mirroring the materials used in the cave dwellings of the park, the museum houses galleries displaying artifacts from the Ancestral Puebloans. These artifacts include ceramics, jewelry, and sandals. Visitors can also watch a 25-minute film providing insights into the archaeology of Mesa Verde National Park.

Cliff Dwelling Tours

From May to October each year, park rangers lead tours to explore the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. These ranger-led tours offer a remarkable opportunity to experience these ancient homes and settlements up close. All cliff dwelling tours require the presence of a park ranger, except for Step House, which can be explored without one.

If you have to choose just one activity when visiting Mesa Verde National Park, participating in a ranger-led tour of a cliff dwelling would be the top recommendation. It provides a profound insight into the daily life of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace stands out as the largest and most frequently visited cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. It is one of the park’s most iconic attractions.

To reach Cliff Palace, visitors must join a ranger-guided tour. These tours offer an incredible opportunity to closely examine this historic site. Ensure that you check the tour schedule and make reservations, especially during the busy summer months.

Long House

Long House claims the title of the second-largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. It served as a home to the Ancestral Puebloans from AD 1200 to 1300. Long House boasts over 200 rooms and 21 kivas.

Exploring Long House entails a guided tour that allows visitors to delve into the complex kivas and rooms. The tour usually takes about 2 hours, and the dwellings are perched high above the canyons below.

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is another popular cliff dwelling awaiting discovery in Mesa Verde National Park. It ranks as the third-largest cliff dwelling in the park, featuring more than 130 rooms and 8 kivas.

One unique aspect of Spruce Tree House is that it can be explored without the need for a guided tour. Visitors have the freedom to independently explore this remarkable site.

Exploring Mesa Verde National Park is an opportunity to connect with history and marvel at the incredible architecture and ingenuity of the Ancestral Puebloans. Whether you’re embarking on a ranger-led tour or exploring on your own, the park promises an unforgettable journey into the past.

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