A Walk Through The Past: Visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is filled with artifacts, ancestral homes, and petroglyphs. Take a trip to learn about the Puebloans who inhabited this area for more than 700 years.

By Courtney Johnson
Explore Ambassador

Established as a national park on June 29, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt, Mesa Verde National Park is home to more than 4,000 archaeological sites created by the Ancestral Puebloans dating back as far as A.D. 550. More than 600,000 people visit the park each year to see cliff dwellings, kivas, pit houses and the farming structures built by the Puebloans who inhabited the area for more than 700 years.

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

The park offers several options to see the sites, from self-guided and ranger-led tours to driving and stopping at several pullouts along the main roads, including Park Point. There are nearly 30 miles of hiking trails within the park that take you to petroglyph panels and cliff dwellings across the mesa top and even along the original road that went through the park. Divided into designated areas including Morefield Canyon, Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa, each part of the park offers its own views of the past. 

Most hikes and tours lack shade, and desert temperatures can easily reach the 90s in June through August. For this reason, you will always want to get out early to avoid the sweltering heat. Access to water can be found in each designated area (often at the museums or bathrooms), but it is best to come prepared with your own water. 

It is especially important to check the current conditions at Mesa Verde before planning out your trip. Construction on roads, restoration projects and safety measures may mean that certain areas of the park are closed. Certain areas of the park are also closed during the off-season (late fall through spring).

In 2021, Mesa Verde was certified as the world’s 100th International Dark Sky Park. View of Point Lookout and the Milky Way (Photo: NPS/Jacob W Frank)

Mesa Verde National Park was recognized as an International Dark Sky Park in 2021. 

Stay for a sunset at the Far View Restaurant, and take in the stars in the light-pollution-free sky. Ranger programs throughout the summer also focus on sky viewing and take place at the Morefield Campground. 

Because this is the ancestral home to over 26 tribes, it is especially important to remember to treat the land within Mesa Verde National Park respectfully and leave no trace. No artifacts should be removed from the park. Petroglyphs should not be touched, and visitors should refrain from carving into the sandstone. Hiking should be on designated trails only. 

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Personal Visit Recommendations


With over 30 miles of trails within the park, there is a hike for everyone. 

Chapin Mesa 

Petroglyph hike (Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Petroglyph Point Trail: A 2.4-mile loop, this trail takes you to a petroglyph panel and serves as the only place in the park to currently view petroglyphs. You will also see views of Spruce and Navajo canyons as you climb the mesa and return via the rim. Stop by the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum after the hike to see ceramics, jewelry, sandals and more found in the Mesa Verde area. The museum is constructed from Cliff House Sandstone — the same stone the Ancestral Puebloans used to build the cliff dwellings. Be advised that the trail is through gate access for Spruce Tree House. Check in with rangers or the park website for current access status. 

Morefield Canyon

Knife Edge Trail (Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Knife Edge Trail: Built in 1914, this 2-mile round-trip trail once served as the original road into the park. The trail is a beautiful place to take in the sunset and views of the Montezuma Valley. Be sure to pick up a hiking trail guide at the trailhead or visitor center for information, including local flora and fauna and other facts about the trail. 

Wetherill Mesa

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Take aself-guided hike to see Step House (hours vary) and see petroglyphs, a pit house and dwellings. On-site rangers enhance the experience by explaining life during A.D. 900 to 1350. The Badger House trail is 2.25 miles in length and takes you past four mesa top sites. If you hike the paved Long House Loop (5-plus miles), you can also see an overlook of Long House and the Nordenskiöld dwelling. This is the only trail in the park where dogs are allowed. 


(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Ranger-Led Tours 

The best way to get a closeup view of life for the Ancestral Puebloans is to book a guided tour of some of the dwellings. Rangers carry a wealth of info and can really make a visit to the sites a special experience. Book a tour ahead of time for Square Tower House, Balcony House and/or Cliff Palace for an adventure into the past. This page will help with tour details. You can book tours 14 days in advance. 

Square tower (Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Self-Guided Tours

One recommendation for a self-guided tour is to drive the Mesa Top Loop for over 700 years of history you can see steps away from your car. There is also an audio tour to listen to while you drive the road. Here is some great info from the national park website on self-guided tours within the park.

Square tower (Photo: Courtney Johnson)


Stay at the Far View Lodge mid-April through the end of October for close access to the dwellings, no matter what section of the park you choose to explore. The location is also great for night sky viewing. Camp at Morefield Campground April through early June and September through mid-October. Summer means warm temperatures, even in the evening. Consider staying in an RV, at the Far View Lodge or outside the park in Cortez or Mancos. 

(Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Other Recommendations

  • Download the free National Park Service app for maps and other info.
  • Attend a ranger program at the Morefield Campground. 
  • Dine at the Metate Room Restaurant. Take in an unobstructed sunset view and dine on delicious fare at the Metate Room.
  • If traveling with kids, be sure to participate in the Junior Ranger Program. Find books and badges at the info kiosk at Wetherill Mesa, the entrance kiosk or the visitor center. 
  • Arrive early and plan ahead as there is only one road around the park. Flexibility when traveling in the park is also needed due to construction and other factors. 

Close to the Four Corners, there are many additional places to take a walk through time. Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument are two recommendations for additional looks into the past. Within Cortez is the Hawkins Preserve, where you can see pueblos once occupied by the Ancestral Puebloans. 

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