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Updated May 13 2023

Mesa Verde National Park was once the home of the ancient Ancestral Pueblo. Here they built intricate cliff dwellings hidden in the walls of these high mesas. You can tour these extremely complex cities. These offer visitors a look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

Mesa Verde National Park-Mesa Top View
Mesa Verde National Park-Mesa Top View

Mesa Verde National Park itself is a unique and remarkable park known for its well-preserved cliff dwellings and rich Native American history. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts numerous visitors each year.

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Today, visitors to Chapin Mesa can explore various cliff dwellings, including Spruce Tree House, Cliff Palace, and Balcony House. Guided tours are available for some of these sites, providing visitors with an opportunity to learn about the ancestral Puebloan people who once inhabited these dwellings and gain insights into their remarkable architecture and way of life.

Man on a wooden ladder used to access Balcony House-Mesa Verde National Park
Ladder to access Balcony House-Mesa Verde National Park

Getting There-Explore Fascinating Mesa Verde National Park

From Denver, Colorado: If you’re driving from Denver, take US-285 South to US-160 West. Continue on US-160 West until you reach the park entrance. The drive takes approximately 7-8 hours.

From Durango, Colorado: Take US-160 East and continue for about 35 miles until you reach the park entrance. The drive from Durango takes approximately 1 hour. Far View Lodge is 15-miles from the Entrance Gate. The museum and Chapin Mesa sites are approximately 20-miles from the entrance gate.

From Cortez, CO: Take E Main St./US-160E approximately 25-miles. Take the Mesa Verde National Park exit. From other nearby cities: Use GPS or online mapping services to find the best route from your location to Mesa Verde National Park. Major highways and roads in the area include US-491, US-160, and CO-184.

View of the scenic cliffs of Mesa Verde on the drive in
Mesa Verde Scenic Drive

Purchasing Tours for Tours of Spellbinding Mesa Verde National Park Houses

There is a requirement that you must be on a ranger-led tour to enter all cliff dwellings. The 2023 tour season will run from May 14 through October 21. We had purchased our ranger tour tickets online via the recreation.gov website. Ticketed tours are required to enter most cliff dwellings. Luckily, we could book all three of the tours for one day.

Note: You can purchase Tour tickets only on recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Tickets are available 14 days in advance, 8:00 am MST, on a rolling daily window.

Quote-Even though we physically moved away, the spirits of my (our)ancestors are still here. If you stop for a minute and listen,you can hear the children laughing and the women talking.You can hear the dogs barking and the turkeys gobbling. Youcan hear and feel the beat of the drums and the singing. You cansmell the cooking fires. You can feel their presence, their warmth,their sense of community.”

Beginning your Journey through Incredible Mesa Verde National Park

The visitor center is near the park entrance, just off the main road (Highway 160), approximately 15 miles east of Cortez, Colorado. This is worth the brief stop before driving the 40-miles into the park. The parking lot has plenty of oversized spots for trailers, RVs, and buses. The visitor center typically operates year-round, although the hours may vary seasonally.

The visitor center building sign at Mesa verde National Park
Credit: Heather Miller

The building itself is uniquely designed to blend with its surroundings. This visitor center serves as the major hub for information, exhibits, and services for visitors. The visitor center provides essential resources to enhance your understanding and experience of the park. There are many exhibits that offer insights into the culture and daily life of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Visitors can watch an orientation film that provides an overview of the park’s history, preservation efforts, and important safety information. Be sure to get your National Park passport stamp before leaving. There is also a bottle refill station and clean restrooms.

Travel NOTE: Mesa Verde Far View Lodge is located 40-miles inside the park and the roads inside the park will add more miles, so be sure to have a full tank of gas before entering the park. It’s a good idea to check the park’s official website or contact their visitor information center for the most up-to-date information on road conditions and park access.

Mesa Verde Visitor & Research Center
Mesa Verde Visitor & Research Center Photo Credit: Heather Miller

Substantial Ancestral Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde

ThisPPark is home to some of the most well-preserved and impressive cliff dwellings in North America. These dwellings, built by the Ancestral Pueblo people between the 12th and 13th centuries, are a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of this ancient culture.

Young women traversing a ladder to enter Balcony House in Mesa Verde National Park

Chapin Mesa-Discovery of the Ancient Cliff Dwellings

The mesa is named after George L. Chapin, an early explorer and photographer who played a significant role in the discovery and documentation of the cliff dwellings in the late 19th century. The discovery of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde can be attributed to several individuals, with notable contributions from Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law Charles Mason.

Chapin Mesa map
Chapin Mesa Map Credit: NPS

Richard Wetherill, his brother-in-law, Charlie Mason and Ute, Acowitz, were rounding up cattle in December 1888, and looked up and saw the ruins to what is now known as Cliff Palace. Over the years, word spread and a few chance explorers hired the Wetherills to guide them to Cliff Palace. Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiöld studied and photographed the cliff dwellings with the Wetherill family. This eventually led to the establishment of Mesa Verde National Park in 1906 to protect and preserve these unique archaeological sites.

Ladders & tunnels in Balcony House
Ladders & Tunnels in Balcony House

In 1909, Jesse Walter Fewkes, an anthropologist and archaeologist affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, conducted significant excavations and preservation work at the Cliff Palace alcove. He conducted detailed excavations at Cliff Palace, which involved removing debris and stabilizing the crumbling walls of the structures. His work aimed to document and protect the archaeological remains, as well as provide valuable insights into the ancestral Puebloan culture. Unfortunately, many of the first visitors removed many of the artifacts. 

NOTE: When visiting Chapin Mesa and the cliff dwellings, it is important to follow park guidelines, respect the fragile archaeological sites, and appreciate the cultural significance of these ancient structures.

Balcony House view down canyon from inside the alcove
Sunrise Balcony House

Take an Earlybird Tour of Mesa Verde’s Balcony House

This was my favorite tour of the three guided hikes we booked in the park. We booked the Earlybird tour online in advance. We met our ranger guide in the parking lot above the Balcony House alcove. Our group was small (12). Our ranger, Jan Tankersley, was friendly and very knowledgeable. She proceeded with the safety talk, outlining how the trek was strenuous. Climbing a 32 ft ladder and scrambling through a low tunnel on hands and knees is a tight squeeze.

Although I have a fear of heights, I did not have issues with any of the ladders-just remember to look up, not down. During her narrative, she informed us that the morning temperatures are way warmer than in the afternoon since Balcony house has full sun exposure in the morning. Bring plenty of water!

Man & Women on the balcony of balcony house
Us at Balcony House

History of Balcony House Ancestral Pueblo Abode

Our tour began with a narration on the history, construction and preservation of Balcony House. The inhabitants moved from the mesa top to the recessed alcove in the cliff face, for increased natural protection and stability for the structures. We accessed the dwelling through a narrow and steep ladder to a balcony-like structure that gives the site its name. The Ancestral Pueblo people, or Anasazi, who lived in the region from roughly 600 to 1300 CE, constructed and inhabited it. Archeologists estimated the construction of Balcony House to have taken place between 1190 and 1270 CE. They have found three plazas containing 38 rooms at this site, including living quarters, storage areas, and kivas (underground ceremonial chambers).

Earlybird Balcony House Tour

Our ranger guided walked us toward the back area of the cliff dwelling. There is a spring at the back of the alcove was probably the primary water source for the residents. The presence of a spring at Balcony House adds to the significance and functionality of the site. Water was essential for the daily needs of the ancestral Puebloan people who inhabited Balcony House. Our guide explained how it was used for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and irrigation of crops. Having a reliable water source nearby would have been crucial for the sustainability and survival of the community.

Man crawling through the tunnel at Balcony House
Tunnel at Balcony House

By the 13th century, most of the ancestral Puebloan communities in the Mesa Verde region had left their cliff dwellings, including Balcony House. The exact reasons and circumstances of their departure continue to be subjects of study and interpretation among archaeologists and researchers.

Balcony House multi-level structures
Balcony House multi-level structures

Unanswered Questions Balcony House

Many theories are thought to have affected this decision: environmental factors, social stress are the most prominent. The history of the Pueblo Indian dwellings is very interesting, and the colors and the rock formations of the canyons are amazing. Each ranger has its own narrative, ours was very informative.

Balcony House stands as a testament to the ingenuity and architectural skill of the familial Puebloan people, offering a glimpse into their ancient way of life in the extraordinary cliff-side dwellings of Mesa Verde. On all the tours it is important to bring water, lots of water.

Kiva at Balcony House
Excavated Kiva at Balcony House

Cliff Palace Tour in Intriguing Mesa Verde National Park

This is the most impressive cliff dwelling in terms of its in sheer size. Again, this is a ranger-led tour and requires the purchase of tickets in advance. The Cliff Palace tour typically lasts about one hour. Our group included the 700 year tour participants, so the number was around 40 for the 10:30 am scheduled tour. The short trail down to the Cliff House is not that strenuous, however, there are still a few ladders to climb to get out of the ruins. Ranger Jill explained the history behind the ancient Ancestral Pueblo people who built these magnificent structures. Once we reached the Cliff Palace, Ranger Jill guided us through the site, explaining the various rooms, kivas, and unique architectural elements. We learned about the daily life, social organization, and ceremonial practices of the ancestral Puebloans who lived here.

Couple stadning in front of a dwelling at Cliff House Mesa Verde

The site for Cliff Palace was chosen based on the natural alcove in the cliff face that provided shelter, stability, and protection for the structure. This particular location offered a defensible position and a vantage point overlooking the surrounding landscape. The ancestral Puebloans employed various masonry techniques to construct Cliff Palace. They created walls by stacking and fitting the sandstone blocks together with the mortar, forming rooms, kivas, and other structures. The walls were typically thick at the base and tapered as they rose higher.

  • Cliff House Ladder with lady on it
  • Cliff House Kiva
  • View of Cliff House
  • Cliff House Structures
  • Cliff House Alcove
  • Cliff House Dwellings

Impressive Craftsmanship of the Ancestral Puebloan at Cliff Palace

I can’t imagine that over 800 years ago, 100-120 families made this home in rooms that were only 6 foot x 8 foot. Daily they made the climb to the mesa’s top, using only shallow hand and footholds. These niches in the wall were all they used to reach the mesa to where they farmed-growing corn and squash. It must have been truly remarkable. The complex contains about 150 different rooms, storage chambers with an additional 21 ceremonial kivas. In the mid to late 1200s, Cliff Palace was the center of a thriving, active community, a place where administration and ceremonial activities prevailed.

Again this cliff dwelling demonstrates the advanced architectural skills, engineering knowledge, and cultural practices of the ancestral Puebloan people. I was amazed at their ability to adapt to the environment, utilize available resources, and create durable and functional structures within the cliffs of Mesa Verde.

CHAPIN MESA ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum Photo: Pixabay

Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum

the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum is a great starting point for anyone interested in learning about the ancient civilizations that once inhabited Mesa Verde. The museum is in the same location as the Spruce Tree House and the restaurant. Housed separately is the museum in an adobe-style building nearest the parking lot.

It was here we learned about the history of archaeological exploration and the discoveries made in Mesa Verde. It has an outstanding collection of artifacts, along with a very informative 25-minute video. The archaeological exhibits illustrate the Ancestral Puebloan lifestyle. Many of the displays are behind glass such as dioramas, pottery, jewelry, art, clothing, and weapons. The tangible representations of the cliff dwellings gave us a better understanding of their original appearance, architectural features, and layout. This museum could easily take an hour of your time or more, so plan accordingly if you want to immerse yourself in the details, gaining a deeper appreciation for the cultural heritage of the park.

Travel TIP: The Visitor’s Guide Newspaper available at the front entrance has a 10% discount coupon for the gift shop and bookstore.

Cliff House Tour

NOTE: Stay on the designated trail and avoid touching or disturbing the petroglyphs or archaeological sites. Be mindful of your surroundings, as the trail includes some exposed areas and cliffs.

Hiking Petroglyph Point Trail

The trail starts at the Spruce Tree House overlook. Pick up a map from the visitor center before starting the hike. There are numbered markers along the trail and the map provides explanations for each stop. The first half of the 2.4-mile loop trail hike is moving through the shaded forest. As the name suggests, the trail is known for its petroglyphs—ancient rock carvings made by the ancestral Puebloan people. Look out for the petroglyph panel near the start of the trail, featuring various symbols and designs. The latter half of the trail has more of a boulder scramble shifting towards the exposed top of the canyon. There is little to no shade here so be sure to bring plenty of water and a snack. From the top, of the mesa are sweeping panoramic canyon views of the expansive landscape of Mesa Verde.

petroglyphs
petroglyphs

Drive the Scenic Mesa Top Loop Road in Mesa Verde

The Mesa Top Loop Road is a 6-mile scenic drive that forms a loop through the central portion of Mesa Verde National Park. We travelled the winding road while listening to the Auto Tour – 700 Years of Mesa Verde History. Download Click here. The audio tour provides insightful information to twelve archeological sites along the road. The Mesa Top loop road takes you by multiple pithouses, scenic overlooks, the Square Tower House overlook, and the Sun Temple. There are good signs, information markers, and restrooms along the way. You could spend a few hours seeing these remarkable structures. Archeologists have unearthed kivas and other structures that date back to A.D. 900 to about A.D. 130.

Pit House, Mesa Verde National Park
Pit House, Mesa Verde National Park Credit: Heather Miller

The Mesa Top Loop Road takes you chronologically through the history of the ancient Puebloan peoples who settled these mesas and canyons. Stop at Sun Point View. From this viewpoint, you can see six major cliff dwellings – Sunset House, Cliff Palace, Mummy House, Oak Tree House, New Fire House, and Fire Temple. The early pit houses date to early 550 A.D. and show how the Ancestral Puebloans lived. As you follow the road, you can see how their living patterns changed, becoming more sophisticated cliff dwelling such as the Sun Temple (1200-1300 A.D). You can view here a virtual field trip.

Sun Temple-Mystical Mesa Verde National park
Sun Temple-Mystical Mesa Verde National park
Photo by Dougtone on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The Mythical Sun Temple on Chapin Mesa

The Sun Temple is a large and complex ceremonial structure built by the ancestral Puebloan people. It is not a freestanding temple but rather a ceremonial complex consisting of a central plaza surrounded by several interconnected rooms and kivas (underground ceremonial chambers). Looking at the ruins they likely played a significant role in their religious and social practices, including ceremonies related to agriculture, solstices, equinoxes, and other celestial events.

This a D shaped temple, it shows that they orientated it such that the builders understood the cycles of the sun. Therefore, it may have been an astronomical observatory. However, archaeologists are still debating its significance. The Ancestral people occupied this temple for 700 years before being abandoned. Still, the exact reason for the abandonment is unknown. I marvel at the engineering, the geometrical shapes used to capture the sun and understand the astronomical cycles. They have found similar structures in Chaco Canyon in the four corners area.

Far View Sites in Mesa Verde-View of the pueblo walls
Far View Complex Sites

Walking the Far View Complex Site on Chapin Mesa

Far View Sites Complex includes five villages. They include Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Far View Reservoir, Megalithic House, Far View Tower, and Coyote Village. The unpaved loop is a flat 3/4 1-mile. The Far View Complex is a large archaeological site that includes multiple dwelling units, kivas, storage rooms, and other structures. It was occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people between approximately 900 and 1200 CE. The self-guided trail map and insights booklet are available for $1. We downloaded the brochure ahead of our trip. Visitors have a tendency to underrate the Far View Complex compared to other sites in the park, but I think it is worth spending an afternoon.

The walking trail let us explore the site on foot viewing the excavations. Along the trail, interpretive signs and exhibits provide information about each of the site’s history. We found all excavations to be fascinating. As we walked through the site, we took a moment to appreciate the scenery and the connection between the ancestral Puebloans and their environment. I always imagine how hard it must have been to live here in the changing seasons. Summers are hot and the winters are extremely cold. It would definitely be a tough adjustment.

Far View Sites Complex-Touring Enchanted Mesa Verde
Far View Complex
Photo by Dougtone on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Note: The Wetherill Mesa area of Mesa Verde National Park will be closed for the 2023 season to accommodate the demolition and construction of a new contact station in the Wetherill area

Travel Along the Mesmerizing Wetherill Mesa Road

The Wetherill Mesa Road is a scenic 12-mile paved road that took us through picturesque landscapes, including forests, meadows, and canyons. It is open only during the summer months. The road leads to Step House and Long House. At the end is the paved long house trail where you can bicycle the road to the scenic overlooks of the mesa tops. We found our binoculars came in handy as some sites are at a distance. We spent most of our day on the Wetherill Mesa between the Long House, the Badger House Trail, Nordenskiöld Site 16 and the Step house. The loop is well-paved for strollers & bicycles, along with being wheelchair accessible.

Wetherill Mesa Map Credit NPS
Wetherill Mesa Map Credit NPS

Long House Tour Magical Mesa Verde National Park

To reach the Long house you have to walk about 2-miles (2.5 hrs) and navigate down a steep trail. The ranger narrative begins as you walk the paved trail to the house. Ranger RisingBuffalo Maybee stated that at one point the park paved the trail so that a tram could ferry passengers to the ruins; budget cuts closed that in the summer of 2015. Hiking the “long house loop trail” is a 6-mile walking-biking trail.  

As you walk to the long house, you are going down in elevation (remember; you have to walk back again). On the way, we stopped at a yucca plant that contained an immense packrat nest. Our guide explained the importance of these particular nests in this ecosystem. The nest comprises a pile of feet high of sticks, rocks, and pieces of yucca and they have been able to carbon date cactus back many years. Yucca plants were a dietary staple for the Ancestral Puebloan, eating it in the raw or cooked form. The plant fibers were used to make rope, the hard spines of the leaves for needles and the pulp were ground into a paste and used as soap or shampoo. In the distance, we could also see the wild horses on the opposite mesa. The ranger reiterated they can be dangerous, so never approach them.

Long House Cliff Dwelling with People on the Tour standing in front
Long House Cliff Dwelling

Embrace the Magic of Mesa Verde National Park delving into the Mysteries and Wonders of Long House.

RisingBuffalo Maybee began the tour with a spellbinding story. His story gave us valuable insights into the history, architecture, and cultural significance of the Long House. The village includes about 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a row of upper storage rooms. The architecture and layout of the site were designed purposefully to align with their spiritual beliefs and practices. We could feel the deep, sacred connection.

Long House View of the Alcove and down canyon
Long House View of the Alcove and down canyon

The collection of water is very ingenious. The water slowly percolates down through hundreds of feet of sandstone until it reaches a layer of impermeable shale. Small amounts of water seep out of the rock into round cavities dug by the Ancient Puebloans, who used a small ladle to collect it into large containers. The Ranger Maybee allowed us extra time to take photographs and examine the ruins before returning to the top of the mesa and making the journey back to the parking lot.

Long House Tour

Step House-Self-Guided Walking Tour

One of the main attractions along the Wetherill Mesa Road is the Step House archaeological site. This is a moderate hike from the parking lot. This dwelling is beautiful and accessible without a tour guide. Walking into the house is a self-guided tour that gives you the opportunity to climb around one of the cliff dwellings without the crowds. Plan for approximately 1 to 1.5 hours to complete the self-guided tour, allowing ample time for exploring the ruins, reading the interpretive signs, and enjoying the surroundings. Consider bringing water, sun protection, and comfortable walking shoes.

Step House access ladder Mesa Verde
Step House Credit: Jeff Hollett

Meandering the Ancient Cliff Dwelling at Step House

This cliff dwelling is smaller than Long House, but we combine it with a scenic hiking trail approximately 1-mile round trip. There were more pictographs here than other park locations. The shaded pathway will fork. Choose the right path. This will take you to a set of steep stairs that take you to the house with magnificent views as you approach. Take the left paved path, which is in full sun but has a gradual descent. There are places to rest as you come back up the trail.

Step House Wetherill Mesa
Step House Wetherill Mesa Credit NPS

This site is very different because it has ancient pit houses alongside the cliff dwelling, demonstrating multiple occupations at this site. They have reconstructed these pit houses. The house itself is small, but you can climb ladders and check out the kivas and other areas. We walked among the ruins, imagining the daily activities and cultural practices that once took place in this ancient cliff dwelling. If you have time built into your itinerary, this is worth the short hike.

Step House, Mesa Verde NP
Partially reconstructed pithouse at Step House

Fascinating Discoveries Badger House Trail & Exhibits

This is a self-guided experience that allowed us to explore the rich cultural history at our own pace. The paved trail begins near the Wetherill Mesa kiosk, following the long house loop road. Just past the Long house, you will find the graveled, self-guided walk to the Badger House structures. This flat trail that takes you through 4 excavated Ancestral Pueblo communities, including the Modified Basketmaker Pithouse, Developmental Pueblo village, Badger House, and Two Raven House. As we strolled, we took in the lovely wildflowers and caught another glimpse of the wild horse on the opposite mesa.

Badger House Restored Kiva
Restored Kiva

Nordenskiöld Site 16 Trail

Another short 0.9 miles round-trip trail will take you towards an overlook of the Nordenskiöld Site 16. Much of the gravel path passes through the skeletal remains of trees burned in the 2000 Pony Fire. This site is inaccessible to walk through, however we got splendid views from the overlook. They named the site for the Swedish archaeologist that studied these ruins in the early 1890s-Gustaf Nordenskiöld. There were 39 rooms, seven kivas, one tower and ten communal work areas in the cliff dwelling named after him.

View of OaK Tree House in Mesa Verde National Park
Oak Tree House

Enjoy the Journey to Oak Tree House

Ranger-guided hikes are occasionally held for Oak Tree House. A 1.6-mile hike winds through a picturesque landscape, including forested areas and open meadows, giving us opportunities to admire the natural surroundings. We can also view it from the overlook above. The site’s name derives from the ancient oak tree that grows nearby. Oak Tree House has some apartments rising four stories above the inner alcove. It appears to use every inch of alcove space. Along an upper ledge, there are additional storage rooms. There are about 50 rooms at Oak Tree House, along with six kivas.

The tree skeletons Wetherill Mesa
The tree skeletons Wetherill Mesa Credit: Jeff Hollett

Accommodations in Bewitching Mesa Verde National Park

When we were planning our stay, it was important to consider the proximity of the accommodation to the park’s entrance and the specific sites you wish to visit. Our overnight stay was inside the park at Far View Lodge, located 40 minutes inside the park on top of a mesa. Far View Lodge offers comfortable accommodations and stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The lodge features private rooms and cabins, a restaurant, and a gift shop. This is the only lodging available in the park. The front desk staff provided us with friendly service through check-in and checkout. Our room view is outstanding. You can see all four states sitting on your deck. The overall setting is serene.

farviewlodge-Mesa Verde National Park
Far View Lodge, Mesa Verde National Park

The Lodge is a series of buildings, each having 4 -6 rooms in each pod, spread out around the main lodge building. Our room had an uninhibited view, front row seating. The tastefully decorated rooms are quite nice. They include a small refrigerator, lovely hammered copper sink, fluffy towels, and handmade furniture. Best of all, no bugs when you sit outside to watch the sunset.

From the deck, we could see Fire 416 in nearby Durango. In the early morning on our first day. The smell of smoke was heavy in the air.

Far View Lodge Valley View
Mesa Verde View, Knife Edge Trail Photo Credit: Pixabay

Mesa Verde National Park has one campground where you can pitch a tent or park an RV. Morefield Campground offers various amenities, including a camp store, laundry facilities, and a gasoline station. Note that campgrounds in the park may have limited availability and may require reservations in advance.

Far View Lodge is Charming to Stay in Mesa Verde National Park

On our second morning, there was less smoke. We could watch the birds; the sky was clear and sunrise over the mesas was beautiful. The rooms are clean and comfortable, however, the room’s walls are thin, you will hear from your neighbors. Wi-Fi and cell signal have limited coverage. Being detached from the outside world for a while is actually nice, at least for a while. We never turned on the TV in our room. When we went out for dinner we came back, we noticed I left ajar the door to our room. However, nothing was missing when we from our room. This shows that is a good place to stay. I would make sure your door is closed prior to leaving for your day if you stay here. 

Mesquite dry log in Mesa verde NP
Mesquite in MVNP

Dining in Enticing Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park has limited dining options. Most of the locations are quite a distance from the Park Visitor Center. Plan accordingly.

Lunch at the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe

We did lunch at the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe. They have a very limited menu. You order at the counter and they bring your food to the table. We shared the Navajo Tacos since the portions are rather large. They are simply the best!! DELICIOUS! The service was quick, and we did not have trouble finding a table. There is also a nice little gift shop here. I would suggest that if you are eating lunch to avoid peak times as the seating is limited and can become crowded quickly.

Canyon Views Mesa Verde
Canyon Views Mesa Verde

Delightful Dinner at Far View Terrace

This is more of a cafeteria-style dining experience. We took breakfast at the Far View Terrace-Coffee Shop our first morning. Not an enormous selection, but good enough to get you going on your tours. We needed something quick, so I had the oatmeal, it was delicious. The coffee shop also has a selection of pastries and pre-made breakfast sandwiches heated in the microwave. The restaurant has a breakfast buffet that includes an Omelette station, eggs, bacon and sausage, waffles, cottage cheese, fresh fruit, and bagels. On our last day, we arrived just as the coffee shop opened at 7 am. We ordered a breakfast sandwich; the service was very unorganized. They were not ready to serve any food. We got the sandwich-nothing special, however; it was hot. There needs to be more organization here of the waitstaff from what I observed

 Enchanted Mesa Verde National Park
Enchanted Mesa Verde National Park

BBQ Dinner at Far View Terrace

We also had one dinner at the Far View Terrace. It took a little time, but we decided on the BBQ, based on reviews from TripAdvisor. Because it was the last hour of service, the food was a little overdone, not delicious. However, we were hungry from the long drive and the A/C was great to cool off on a hot day. The view outside the window of the park from the seating area was a delightful bonus. However, overall I was not impressed with the restaurant’s cleanliness. The first thing you noticed was they had not cleaned the tables and floors. Much of the staff was sitting around talking. I did, however, like the gift store here; it had an excellent selection of clothes and other gifts.

Fire 416 Mesa Verde National Park
Far View Lodge Fire 415

Amazing Dinner in the Metate Room Dining

On our last evening in Mesa Verde National Park, we made reservations for the Metate Room. Our view was incredible, with windows providing an unbelievable view of the valley below. The hostess took our drink orders; prickly pear martini and made suggestions for beer for Barry. They have excellent wine and cocktail choices. For our appetizer, order the Cheese and Cured Meat Board which it is very good. I had the perfectly cooked Pan Seared Steelhead Trout. Barry had the Short Rib & Cheese Tortellini. They served it with strands of short ribs, mushrooms, chards topped with crunchy bread crumbs. The tortellini was delicious. No dessert tonight, just too much food. The service by our server was very good, highly recommend eating here at least once.  

Mesa Verde Views
Mesa Verde Views Photo Credit: Heather Miller

Take Aways – Final Thoughts-Home of Ancestral Cliff Dwellings

I give the Park Service high marks because their rangers are extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the history of each site. They go out of their way to ensure you have a safe but enjoyable time. The Ancestral Puebloans ingenuity is clear as you explore the cliff dwellings. The multi-level design, efficient use of space, and incorporation of natural features demonstrate their ability to create functional and complex structures within the natural environment of the alcove. The exact spiritual beliefs and practices of the ancestral Puebloans may not be fully known or comprehensible to us today, as they are deeply rooted in their cultural and historical context.

Mesa Verde National Park is truly unique, and quite different from Arches national park or even the mystical Monument Valley. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. Whether you have 1 day or multiple days, at least do one cliff dwelling tour. Visit all the points of interest-step back in time and imagine how different life must have been. Mesa Verde National Park will leave you enchanted.

What did you find most intriguing about Mesa Verde National Park? Did you take one tour? Let us know what you did on your tour in the comments below.