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Adventurer’s Guide To Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

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Established in 1906

Mesa Verde, an archeological marvel, draws the attention of visitors from all over. Its towering sandstone cliffs contain intricate and mysterious dwellings of the ancient Puebloan people, waiting to be explored.

Mesa Verde National Park is located in Southwest Colorado, known best for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. The park is located in Mesa Verde, Colorado near Pueblo. Mesa Verde offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and experience unique cultural history while taking in breathtaking views and hiking beautiful trails.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Puebloans who build the Cliff Palace inhabited Mesa Verde for more than 700 years.

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Puebloans who build the Cliff Palace inhabited Mesa Verde for more than 700 years.

Mesa Verde was designated a National Park to “preserve the works of man” in 1906. This was the first national park with such distinction. Mesa Verde National Park is home to unique cultural and natural resources that are protected by the park staff. Mesa Verde National Park was established to preserve the archaeological sites that were built by the Puebloans who inhabited Mesa Verde for more than 700 years. At the park, you can find over 4,700 archaeological sites which include 600 cliff dwellings. Aside from the famous dwellings, you can find mesa top sites of pit houses and farming structures from back when the Puebloans inhabited the area.

The Puebloan people left modern-day Colorado in the late 1280s, migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan population had left modern day Colorado. The cliff dwellings that were left behind by the Puebloans are some of the most notable and best-preserved in all of North America.



Geology

Petroglyph Point in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. The Petroglyph Point Trail is a moderate 2.4-mi. roundtrip loop with narrow passages, stone steps, canyon views & rock petroglyphs.

Petroglyph Point in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. The Petroglyph Point Trail is a moderate 2.4-mi. roundtrip loop with narrow passages, stone steps, canyon views & rock petroglyphs.

The unique geology of Mesa Verde National Park was made when the Western Interior Seaway washed over part of the North American Continent, advancing and retreating with changes in climate. Around 100 million years ago, the sea reached the Mesa Verde area and deposited Dakota Sandstone, building up structures of rock and sand that resemble tables, or Mesa in Spanish. Today, you can still see the remains of shale deposits from the Sea’s movements and resemblance showing how the rock was carved to create the Mesas in the park today.

Enjoying the Park 

There are a number of options to enjoy Mesa Verde National Park. There is a lot of terrain in the park that is rugged and situated at high elevation, making for some great hiking. Aside from that, there are a variety of more accessible options including some of the archeological sites scenic overlooks, campsites, and even museums.

Tour a Cliff Dwelling

Cliff Palace overlook.

Cliff Palace overlook.

A trip to Mesa Verde National Park is not complete unless you pay a visit to the cliff dwellings. To get to the most remote and interesting cliff dwelling remains, it is recommended that you take a guided tour with a Park Ranger. The Ranger will be able to tell you specific historical details about the cliff dwellings you are visiting and how long they have been there. If you don’t have time for a guided tour or want to do your own thing, you can drive up the Mesa Top Loop Road, which will take you to 12 different archaeological sites including surface sites and Cliff Palace. You can look down on the cliff dwellings while taking in the breath-taking view of Colorado.

Hike 

In Mesa Verde National Park, hiking is limited to designated trails. Luckily, there is no shortage of designated hiking trails to really enjoy.

Morefield Trailheads

Sunset at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Sunset at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

There are numerous trailheads that start from the west end of the Morefield Campground. The Prater Ridge Trail is a longer hike, around 7.8 miles round-trip, It ascends the Prater Ridge, following a loop around the top of the ridge, returning along the same route. The Knife Edge Trail is a shorter hike, only around 2 miles. It goes from the northwest corner of Morefield Campground towards the Montezuma Valley Overlook. Back in 1914, this trail was the main access to the park. One last trail leaving from the Morefield Campground is the Point Lookout Trail. This is another short hike around only 2.2 miles that follows a switchback trail up the backside of Point Lookout and brings you to the top of the mesa. At this trail you will get excellent views of Montezuma and Macos valleys, along with the stunning, serene countryside.

Chapin Mesa Trailheads 

There are more trails that leave from the Chapin Mesa starting point. The most well known and well traveled trail from here is the Petroglyph Point Trail. Though it is only 2.4 miles but has some difficult sections. When reaching the end of the hike, you will have to get on hands and knees and scramble up the last final bit. Here you will see beautiful views of Spruce and Navajo Canyons, traveling past a large petroglyph panel about half way through the loop. A shorter hike from the Chapin Mesa Trailhead is the Farming Terrace TrailThis one is only about half a mile, beginning and ending on the road to Cedar Tree Tower. This short trail leads to a series of prehistoric dams built by the Ancestral Pueblo people. These were made to create farming terraces. On this trial, you can expect to see wild animals such as lizards and hummingbirds. Depending on the time of year you are visiting the park, you should check in at the Ranger Station to make sure the trail is open and in safe conditions to be hiked.

Camping

There is one main campground to be enjoyed if you are thinking of camping at Mesa Verde National Park. The Morefield Campground is located four miles inside of Mesa Verde and is one of the best campgrounds in Colorado. This is a fairly large site with over 260 tent sites. There is plenty of space and each site comes equipped with a table, bench, and a grill. Camping is available for tents, trailers, and RVs. If you are traveling by RV, there are 15 full hookup sites. The Campground is situated in the middle of loop roads that traverse through high grassy canyons, full of native wildflowers, deer, and wild turkeys. Here, you will see spectacular views of surrounding valleys and mountains and even get a glimpse of some native animals.

Hiker at Point Lookout in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Hiker at Point Lookout in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

The Morefield Campground is usually fully open from May to mid-October and limited camping is open from mid to end of April. Aside from the spectacular campsites and views, there is a full-service village that serves breakfast, has a gas station, an RV dumping station, laundry machines, showers, a gift shop, and even a grocery store.

Conclusion

Whether or not you are traveling to Mesa Verde National Park to experience the rich history that the park has to offer, or going to camp and explore the hikes, you will enjoy everything the park has to offer. With so much geological and historical significance, it is hard not to be awe struck by this National Park.


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As with each guide published on SKYBLUEOVERLAND.com, should you choose to this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While taking a trail, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. SKYBLUE OVERLAND LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following this route.