With about an eighth of the visitor numbers of Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park is a place to go to escape the crowds and find a little solitude. But don’t let visitor numbers fool you into thinking Mesa Verde is any less of a park, after all bigger isn’t always better. In fact, while Rocky is spectacular, amazing and incredible, Mesa Verde simply offers a different experience and is amazing in its own way.
Established in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt to protect the dwellings that were built by the Ancestral Puebloans between 550 A.D. and 1300 A.D., there are more than 5,000 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, which are some of the best-preserved archaeological sites in North America. The seventh oldest in the National Park System, it is also recognized as a UNSECO World Heritage Site.
Located in the southwest corner of Colorado in the Four Corners region, between Durango and Cortez, spring arrives sooner here than in the mountains which makes it perfect for an early season getaway.
At over 50,000 acres, Mesa Verde isn’t a small park, and so depending on how much time you have you can opt to spend your time exploring on your own or, if you don’t have much time but want to see the more impressive sites, you can hop aboard a bus. Either way, several key sites at Mesa Verde - Cliff Palace, Long House and Balcony dwellings - can only be entered with a park ranger for both safety and preservation reasons. Step House, however, is self guided.
There are a number of different kinds of tours at Mesa Verde, but the most popular is the “700 Years Tour.” It’s a particularly long tour at four hours, but you aren’t on your feet for even a quarter of that, making it suitable for almost everyone. Offering a good overview of the historical, architectural, horticultural, cultural, and religious dimensions of life for the Ancestral Puebloans, the tour includes short hikes as well as a walking tour of Cliff Palace, a large dwelling that contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas and had a population of approximately 100 people. While Mesa Verde is open year round, tours run between April and October.
For self-guided tours, pick up a map from the visitor center and set out (making sure you have provisions!). There is also Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. Built in 1924, the museum is a five-mile drive from the Far View Lodge and features exhibits and artifacts of the Ancestral Puebloans.
Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde
A complex of 150 rooms with Kiva-style locally sourced furniture, Far View Lodge is actually located 15 miles inside the park. Designed to encompass the spirit of Mesa Verde, the lodge sits at 8,250 feet and offers incredible views for 100 miles in every direction and into four states.
Rooms at Far View are nice enough, but their no-frills nature (combined with spotty Wi-Fi; consider taking a deck of cards) actually helps you to immerse yourself in the experience. Both sunrises and sunsets are magnificent at Far View Lodge, and they are of the “as nature intended” variety and illuminate vast stretches of land that is unencumbered by human development. There is something special and even soul enriching to feel connected to this land devoid of modern-day distractions.
Far View Lodge also has a few dining options.
The Metate Room is the Lodge’s signature restaurant and features modern and sustainable versions of regional heritage foods with a Southwestern twist. Far View Terrace Café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in a more informal setting with more of a food-court setting. Finally, there is Spruce Tree Café. With indoor and outdoor seating, the Metate Room features classic American dishes and Southwest specialties including the popular Navajo tacos.
The Lodge is open between April and October.
In 2018, Mesa Verde acquired a collection of more than 100 works of art representing Native American culture by Native American artists from the Estate of David Rockefeller.
Among the collection were pieces by tribal community members traditionally associated with Mesa Verde.
The pieces were primarily acquired by Rockefeller in the 1920s and 1930s during two trips to the park during which he pledged $3,500 toward completion of the first unit of the new museum, materials to construct exhibit cases, and funds to further scientific excavations.
Originally on display at the Rockefeller family’s property on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, the works were not seen by many people. Now, however, they are seen regularly by visitors through various exhibitions.
Colorado is under a statewide Stay-at-Home order, meaning you should stay home unless performing a critical activity, including participating in outdoor recreation at a legally-mandated safe distance of six feet or more from other parties.