If you are searching for places full of historical significance in Colorado, you should plan to visit Mesa Verde National Park located in Southwest Colorado. In Spanish, ‘Mesa Verde’ means ‘green table’, and the people who lived in Mesa Verde were known as ‘Anasazi’. ‘Anasazi’ is a Navajo word that means ‘the ancient ones’ or ‘enemy ancestors’. Once upon a time, Mesa Verde was home to the Pueblo people who built an entire village on the sides of cliffs during the 13th century A.D. They did not develop any writing system during that time yet, but they left behind the rich archaeological remains. From those remains and the stories passed down through the ages, the researchers reconstructed their past or imagination of their life. The people who built the cliff dwellings were very creative. They used the existing bedrock to determine the size and the shape of the rooms wedged inside the protective space. Rooms ranging in number from 3 to 150 were adjoined and tucked into the alcoves. In some places, dwellings were 2-3 stories tall which provided housing for farming communities living there from 1190-1270 AD. The fact why they left their homes or if there were any natural calamities such as drought, greener pastures, changing environment, or any advancing enemies- the reason is still unknown. The ruins still bear the proof of their presence and their day-to-day life. Researchers have found recently that the people at Mesa Verde were good at mathematics. They used the golden ratio to construct a Sun Temple.
To protect all these stunning ruins, in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt created this national park. Now, this national park protects nearly five thousand archaeological sites including six hundred cliff dwellings and is considered the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the world. In recognition of its exceptional archaeological relevance, in 1978 Mesa Verde National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are a lot of things to do here in this historical park. You can take the scenic drive Mesa Top Loop Road, make as much stoppage as you need, and enjoy the Cliff Palace view of both Sun Point and Sun Temple. Some of the must-visit viewpoints or overlooks in the park are – park point, spruce tree house overlook, cliff palace, etc. Some of the overlooks require people to hike. Cliff dwellings or the houses on the cliff are quite fascinating here- houses built into sandstone beneath the cliff. You can go for the cliff dwellings visit but you cannot do this on your own. You have to take the tour led by the ranger. So, please book the ticket for the tour in advance to visit the cliff dwellings. Also, most of the dwellings are open for a few months in the year. So, keep that in mind too. Step house paved trail (1 mile) will take you into a cliff dwelling that does not require any tour ticket. You can visit this one on your own. You can explore five of the cliff dwellings on a tour led by a Ranger: Cliff Palace, Long House, Mug House, Square Tower House, Spring House (As of 2021). The later three dwelling tours are strenuous, more intimate, in-depth tours which will take you to some of the lesser-seen cliff dwellings in the park. Among these three Spring House hike is the most strenuous one (8-mile, around 1500 feet elevation change) and date availability is also limited. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America with an estimated 150 rooms and 22 kivas, which is a testament to the engineering and artistic achievements of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Long House is the second-largest one.
Can you imagine how amazing it would be to experience all those cliff dwellings and get to know more about them? I know this national park is one of the less-visited ones, but it carries a lot of historical significance which I find intriguing.
At a glance
- Activity: hiking, sightseeing,
- Address: Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330
- Park Hours: The Park is always open. Trails, sites, and picnic area hours- 8:00 am to sunset.
- Permit/Fee: required. If you have a national park pass, your entry is free.
- Best time to visit: Between April and October.
- You can visit most of the cliff dwellings on a ticketed tour with a ranger (from May 2 to October 23rd). But you have to purchase tickets for that from here:
- Mesa Verde National Park Tours, Mesa Verde National Park - Recreation.gov
- Tickets are available online 14 days in advance of the tour. Please check out the time and date of the cliff dwellings visit while planning for the trip.
- Summer temperatures get really high. Please check the weather first and dress accordingly. Please bring your hat, sunglasses, water, and snacks.
- During the winter, you will need a four-wheel-drive or car chain if there is snow. Otherwise, it won’t be possible to enter the park. The drive to the park is curvy and there may be snow and ice on the road. This is something you should keep in your mind while visiting the park during winter.
- Please practice leave no trace and respect this historical site. Please do not do anything that may harm any of the ruins or anything in the park.