Mesa Verde in One Day
Mesa Verde in One Day
For a full experience, take at least one ranger-led tour of a major cliff dwelling site, as well as a few self-guided walks. Arrive early; it's about a 45-minute drive from the park entrance to your first stop, the Far View Visitor Center, where you can purchase tickets for Cliff Palace and Balcony House tours on Chapin Mesa. If it's going to be a hot day, you might want to take an early morning or late-afternoon tour. Drive to the Chapin Mesa Museum to watch a 25-minute film introducing you to the area and its history. Just behind the museum, hike the ½-mi-long Spruce Tree House trail, which leads to the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park. Then drive to Balcony House for a ranger-led tour.
Have lunch at the Spruce Tree House cafeteria or the Cliff Palace picnic area. Afterward take the ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace. Use the rest of the day to explore the overlooks and trails off the two 6-mi loops of Mesa Top Loop Road. Take Petroglyph Point Trail to see a great example of Ancestral Puebloan rock carvings. A leisurely walk along the Mesa Top's Soda Canyon Overlook Trail gives you a beautiful bird's-eye view of the canyon below.
On the drive back to the entrance stop and see the view from Park Point.
Mesa Verde in Three Days
If you're lucky enough to have a second day at Mesa Verde, devote it to Wetherill Mesa, weather permitting. Start early, pack a picnic lunch, then drive to Far View Visitor Center to purchase tickets for the Long House tour. The 12-mi drive from the visitor center to Wetherill Mesa is steep and filled with hairpin curves. Take your time and enjoy the view from any of the five turnouts. Once on the Wetherill Mesa, take the hour-long, ranger-led tour of Long House, then try the self-guided tour of Step House.
Eat lunch at the Wetherill Mesa Picnic Area before a view of Wild Horse Canyon. After lunch drive to the parking area for the Badger House Community. Plan to take about two hours to wander through the Badger House Community, which consists of several stops along a level, pleasant trail through the woods. Leave Wetherill Mesa in time for a long stop at breathtaking Park Point, off the main park road. At over 8,500 feet, it's the highest point in the park. On a clear day you can see four different states. Look to the southwest for the flat-topped Black Mesa, over 100 mi away in Arizona and south for the ghostly igneous sails of Shiprock in New Mexico, a 1,800-foot-tall rocky outcrop that plays a central role in Navajo legend.
On Day 3, take a tour of whichever cliff dwellings you were unable to fit in on either Day 1 or 2, then hike around the Morefield Campground area. Hardier hikers will appreciate the 7.8-mi Prater Ridge Trail, while those with less stamina or time can opt for the 1½-mi Knife Edge Trail. Enjoy the view at Mancos Valley Overlook before leaving the park.
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