Stepping into Mesa Verde is like stepping into the past. The park contains a whopping 5,000 archaeological sites, including hundreds of ancient cliff dwellings built into rock caves and alcoves. The architects: the Ancestral Pueblo people, who inhabited the area over 700 years ago. Because of its incredible concentration of well-preserved sites, Mesa Verde became the first US national park established for cultural reasons in 1906.
Today, the park remains home to plenty of wildlife. You can spot porcupines, black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, and wild horses. And, birdwatchers, rejoice: About 200 species of birds, including the rare Mexican Spotted Owl, can be found here.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in the far southwest corner of Colorado. The park headquarters is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Durango. You'll need a car or bicycle to navigate the park (note that there are restrictions on trailers or towed vehicles). Make sure you're equipped for steep, winding roads and the occasional tunnel.
Because Mesa Verde is such a hotspot for cultural resources, there are a lot of protections in place to keep things well-preserved. Some of the biggest and most extravagant cliff dwellings, like Cliff Palace or the 1.9-mile trail to Long House, can only be visited as part of a guided tour (You can purchase tour tickets online. )
Mesa Verde is open year-round, but camping and lodging are only available between late April and late October. Summer is the busiest (and hottest) time to visit. Opt for spring or fall for thinner crowds and milder temperatures. During the winter, the park grooms snow-covered trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The park currently charges an entry fee, either via a day pass, a Mesa Verde annual pass, or a nationwide America the Beautiful pass. You can read more about pricing on the national park passes and permits page.
Some hikes require you to sign a trail register before you go. Stop at the visitor center to double-check before you head out.