Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Colorado Stops on the Way

10 Things to Do in Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park, located in southwestern Colorado, is unique for its incredible history. Explore ruins built by ancient peoples who abandoned their homes 200 years before Christopher Columbus set foot in the “new world.” Here’s our favorite things to do when touring this awe-inspiring national park.

1. Tour a Cliff Dwelling

The Cliff Palace tour at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.
Cliff PalaceGrant Ordelheide

No trip to Mesa Verde is complete without attending a ranger-led tour of an Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwelling. This is the only way to get to these beautiful and remote sites. Reserve a tour of the Balcony House, Cliff Palace or Long House 14 days or less in advance at starting at 8 a.m. MST or by phoning the call center at 1-877-444-6777. Demand for tours, especially in high season, is very high so be sure to reserve your spot as soon as ticket sales open.

2. Stop by the Museum

Museum exhibit at Mesa Verde National Park
Museum exhibitDeposit Photos

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum provides a fascinating look into the history of Mesa Verde. With dioramas, artifacts, a movie and air conditioning, this is a must-see stop to learn more about the Ancestral Puebloans who called southwestern Colorado home.

3. See Petroglyphs

Ancient rock art panel on Petroglyph Trail in Mesa Verde National Park
Ancient rock art panelNPS/Jacob W Frank

The 2.4-mile roundtrip Petroglyph Point Trail is the only place in the park to see petroglyphs. The trail starts near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Start early to avoid the summer heat!

4. See Cliff Dwellings from the Rim

Square Tower House in Mesa Verde National Park
Square Tower HouseDeposit Photos

Go on a drive through time on Mesa Top Loop Road. Stop at 12 archaeological sites including surface sites and overlooks of Cliff Palace and Square Top House. Allow yourself plenty of time to drive the 6-mile loop, as you’ll be stopping often to check out the views!

5. Attend a Campfire Program

These free, ranger-led programs go in-depth on the history of Mesa Verde and have been taking place since 1907. These programs occur every night during the summer at the Morefield Amphitheater near the campground, but check the schedule at the museum for the most up-to-date start-times.

6. Watch for Wildlife

Collared lizard in Mesa Verde National Park
Collared LizardNPS

Go for a drive around dawn or dusk for your best chance at seeing Mesa Verde’s desert wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, turkey vultures or bears. You may even see wild horses. They are considered illegal trespassers and cause quite a few problems for the park including damaging archaeological sites and park ruins and driving off native species from the scarce water sources. Remember to never approach or feed wildlife!

7. Go Back Even Farther in Time

Far View House in Mesa Verde National Park
Far View HouseDeposit Photos

Mesa Verde isn’t just cliff dwellings. Visit the Far View Sites to see where the Ancestral Puebloans lived before they moved down into the cliffs. The .75-mile loop will give you a sense of community as you pass by Far View House, four other villages and a dry reservoir.

8. See Ancient Farming Terraces

Farming terrace with check dams in Mesa Verde National Park
Farming terrace with check damsNPS

The Ancestral Puebloans farmed the mesa top for crops such as corn. See evidence of their farming terraces on the .5-mile Farming Terrace Trail. You’ll see prehistoric check dams which created the terraces. Can you imagine farming on the arid mesa?

9. Have Dinner in the Park

Open only for dinner, with reservations strongly recommended, the Metate Room ( received the “Award of Culinary Excellence” for sustainable cuisine from the Culinary Federation of Colorado Chefs Association. Dine on locally inspired dishes such as steelhead trout, smoked chicken with a blue corn waffle and ancient grain “risotto.’ You’ll be torn between keeping your eyes on the delicious food and the wall of windows offering a beautiful view of the park.

10. See the View From a Fire Lookout

Mesa Verde Fire Overlook
A short trail from the Park Point parking lot leads to a fire lookout and overlooks for a 360 degree view.Dsdugan/Wikimedia Commons

Built in 1939 to provide early wildfire detection, the Park Point Fire Lookout was renovated in 2009. Walk to the station’s nearby overlook and imagine keeping watch for wildfires, such as the ones during the summer of 2000 that burned many areas in the park. Park Point is also the highest point in Mesa Verde.