Visit Mesa Verde National Park (Includes a 1-Day Itinerary)

Jan 12, 2021 | Colorado, Itineraries, Mesa Verde National Park, National Parks, Simple Suit

Visiting Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is a must for families.

While Mesa Verde National Park may not be as popular as the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Yellowstone, this park is a huge hit among kids and should be part of a family road trip! 

Mesa Verde is home to some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the United States. These ancient ruins are truly remarkable. 

Kids love the hands-on exploration

Hiking to Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling

About Mesa Verde National Park

Who Lived in the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings?

For over 700 years, Native Americans called the Ancestral Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi) inhabited the flat mountaintops and eventually constructed living quarters in the sandstone mountainsides of Mesa Verde National Park. 


What Does Mesa Verde Mean?

Mesa means “table” in Spanish and verde means “green”. So, Mesa Verde literally translated means “green table”. Some mountains are flat on top with no mountain peaks. These are commonly referred to as mesas because they are straight like tabletops! Green likely describes the shrubs that grow on top. 


Where is Mesa National Park Located?

Mesa Verde is located in southwest Colorado within a short driving distance of Four Corners Monument (where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado meet) and the popular travel destination of Durango, Colorado.


How Many Days Do You Need at Mesa Verde?

Most people find that a one-day visit to Mesa Verde National Park gives them a good overview of the park. If you want to see as much as possible, a two-day trip is advised.

The park is 52,000 acres and has over 600 cliff dwellings.  Most of the dwellings are small with only one or two rooms, but the larger dwellings, like Spruce Tree House, has over 100 rooms!  Not all rooms are accessible to the public, but there is plenty to see and experience during one full day in the park.


When is the Best Time to Visit Mesa Verde?

During the winter months and into early spring, park guests aren’t able to explore the cliff dwellings and ruins, but they can still view them from scenic lookouts. If your family wants to physically explore the Mesa Verde ruins (highly recommended!), plan a visit when the cliff dwellings can be toured, preferably during late spring through fall.


Can You Explore the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde?

Yes! While not all the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are open to the public, some are. Places like Spruce Tree House allow self-guided tours, while places like Cliff Palace and Balcony House are paid, ranger-guided tours.

Visit the park website for tour details and to check for any closures or alerts that may be in effect.


Mesa Verde Hiking and Trails

For those families who love to hike, Mesa Verde offers almost a dozen trails to explore! Most hikes are in the 2-3 mile range.

1-Day Mesa Verde Itinerary

To help you plan your visit to Mesa Verde National Park, we’ve put together a one-day itinerary to help you save more, see more, and enjoy more!


Stop by the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center

After entering the park, you’ll want to stop by the visitor center. It’s here that you can learn more about the park, get a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids, and schedule a ranger-guided tour. While tours can be reserved online before your visit, you’ll still need to get a hard-copy ticket from the visitor center.


Become a Junior Ranger

The National Parks Junior Ranger program is a fun educational opportunity…with the benefits of a free souvenir! Kids who complete the program (usually a small activity booklet) and take the Junior Ranger pledge, will receive a small wooden Mesa Verde Junior Ranger badge!

It doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s free to participate, and the kids can complete pages while driving from one location to another or while sitting on the side of the trail. Each booklet teaches about the park’s history, ecosystem, and geology.

Simply return your completed booklet to a ranger at the visitor center at the end of the day and claim your reward!


My kids love asking the rangers questions–park rangers are the best!

Tour the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

From the Visitor’s Center, you wind your way through the mountains to the hub of the park, The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, and the trailhead for Spruce Tree House Cliff Dwellings.

The museum has a variety of exhibits about the people of the park as well as a 25-minute film that gives an overview of Mesa Verde.  

While you certainly can hike before watching the film, we like learning some of the park’s history before exploring.


Hike to Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is visible from the museum, and it’s a fairly easy hike to the cliff dwellings. Kids will love exploring at their own pace, climbing ladders, and peeking through ancient windows.

visit mesa verde national park

Eat a Picnic Lunch

Find a picnic table, or sit cross-cross-applesauce on the ground, and enjoy the beautiful scenery while you eat your packed lunch. If you didn’t pack and lunch, you can also grab a bite to eat at the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe.


Take a Ranger-Guided Tour of Another Cliff Dwelling

After lunch, take a guided tour with a ranger! The cheapest one to two-hour tours include Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House.  

Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde while Balcony House has a short tunnel. All tours require visitors to climb large, sturdy ladders, so they may not be suited to very young guests…although we all know that 18-month-olds are the world’s fiercest mountain goats. 


If You Have Extra Time in Mesa Verde

If you find yourself with extra time in your day (some of us hike and eat faster than others), try exploring Petroglyph Point Trail (more challenging) or Soda Canyon Overlook Trail (easy)!

young girl climbing ladder in kiva at mesa verde national park
family hiking spruce tree house trail at mesa verde national park

Enjoy Your Day in Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde is such a unique place and the perfect place to spend a day exploring. Are you planning a trip to Mesa Verde? Do you have any questions? Ask me in the comments below!


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