Top Tips For Visiting Mesa Verde National Park

the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park. Trees and a little bit of the sky are at the top of the photo.

This summer we’re traveling as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation and are so excited to share with you some of the best things to see, do, and eat at some of our favorite destinations. We’re picking up where we left off two years ago when we visited Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Zephyr Cove at Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and Denali National Park and Preserve. Are you ready to hit the road with us and see what we find? For starters, come see our top picks for the best things to see, do and eat at Mesa Verde National Park.

General Info for Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde is not only a national park but it also the newest International Dark Sky Park. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s also a World Heritage Site. The main attraction for visitors are the mesa and cliff dwellings that were built by the Ancestral Puebloans around AD 550. There are over 4,500 archeological sites in the park and roughly 600 of them are cliff dwellings.

The highest point in the park, Park Point, is situated at 8,572 feet. Far View Lodge and Far View Terrace are both located above 8,000 feet.

The park’s main road is open 24 hours a day, year-round.

Balcony House, Cliff, Palace, and Long House require a ticket. Tickets are sold at the visitor and Research Center. Other tours are offered as well, more on those below.

Visitor and Information Centers

35853 Rd H.5, Mancos, CO 81328

Visitors should check online to see the most current and up to date hours as they have changed during COVID-19.

Best Things to Do at Mesa Verde National Park

Take a tour!

One of the best things to do at Mesa Verde National Park is to take the Introduction to Mesa Verde Tour.

As soon as you know you are going to be visiting Mesa Verde National Park we recommend booking a tour. Two are offered, the Introduction to Mesa Verde Tour and the 700 Years Tour. Both tours are given by NAI Certified Interpretive guides who have a deep understanding of the park and will be able to answer pretty much any question you ask. The tour lasts 3 hours and is a great way to start your trip. You’ll visit the highest point in the park, visit the Far View Sites, view Spruce Tree, and see several of the cliff dwellings from Mesa Top Loop. Note: This tour does not get you up close to any cliff dwellings but you will be able to view see some from a distance.

Departure: Far View Terrace (30 minutes from the park entrance – plan ahead!)

The Introduction to Mesa Verde Tour is hosted by a NAI Certified Interpretive guide. Pictured here: the Far View Sites.

The 700 Years Tour is also another great tour, a fantastic sequel to the Introduction to Mesa Verde Tour. That said, it’s not a prerequisite that you take the Intro tour first. This tour is approximately 4 hours long and takes guests on short hikes to several archaeological sites along the Mesa Loop Road. (The Intro tour only looks at these sites from the road.) Tour guests will also get a walking tour of Cliff Palace and an NPS Ranger will join visitors on this section. The 700 Years Tour is also given by an NAI Certified Interpretive Guide.

Departure: Far View Terrace

Go on a hike in Mesa Verde National Park!

One of our favorite activities to do anytime we’re in a national park is to take a hike. If hiking is your thing, you’re in luck because there are several to choose from.

Point Lookout Trail

The Point Lookout Trail is a strenuous 2.2 mile (roundtrip) trail that starts out near the Morefield Campground. The out and back trail, though only a little over a mile in either direction, starts out flat but fairly quickly starts going uphill. Hikers will follow a bunch of switchbacks and will be rewarded with incredible views along the way. At the top of Point Lookout, you’ll be at 8,427 feet of elevation and rewarded with incredible panoramic views of Mancos and Montezuma Valleys.

Petroglyph Point is another trail that, if you’re up for a strenuous hike, should be on your list when in Mesa Verde National Park. At 2.4 miles, this trail is slightly longer than the Point Lookout Trail, but it is also rugged. Wear sturdy shoes and bring lots of water. You will not want to miss the large petroglyph panel that also gives hikers views of Spruce and Navajo Canyons. Note: This trail is only open when Spruce Tree House is open.

As always, whenever you’re hiking, be sure to bring plenty of water, wear sunscreen, and Leave No Trace.

Take photographs

Mesa Verde National Park is a wonderful place for both beginner and advanced photographers. The park has very little light pollution so it makes for an ideal spot to practice astro/night photography. There are also numerous scenic overlooks on which to set up and take photographs of the sunrise and sunset. And, of course, this goes without saying, there are the cliff dwellings!

Visit Park Point

This is the tallest point in the park and at 8,572 feet you get a great view of the surrounding area! The parking lot is a short distance along a paved pathway up to the point and there are a few benches along the way for you to take a break. There is also a fire lookout tower at the top which makes for a cool photo op.

Best Places To Stay in Mesa Verde National Park

The Far View Lodge is our choice for the best place to stay when visiting Mesa Verde National Park.

Far View Lodge | Mile Marker 15, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

There is no doubt about it. When you’re looking for a place to stay in Mesa Verde National Park, look no further than Far View Lodge. It’s conveniently located within the park meaning, you can wake up, grab coffee and breakfast at the nearby Far View Terrace, which is only a ten-fifteen minute walk or two minute drive from the lodge, and then begin your adventures. Sure, you could stay in nearby Cortez, Colorado, but then you’d have to make the drive through town and then to the park. This is the only lodge within the park so be sure to make reservations well in advance.

Plus, the rooms at the lodge are super clean, comfortable, and like you might have guessed, they have incredible views. Our room had a balcony that looked out onto the mesa and the large picture window helped us enjoy every sunrise, sunset, and starry night. Parking is easy, there are ice machines nearby, a desk to jot some notes in your journal, and a micro fridge to chill your drinks. Stay in comfort and stay in style at the Far View Lodge.

Morefield Campground at Mesa Verde National Park makes a great basecamp for all of your RV, tent, or camper van adventures.

Morefield Campground | Mile Marker 4 U.S. 160, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330

Are you interested in camping in Mesa Verde National Park? Check out Morefield Campground. The campground is located near the entrance to the park at Mile Marker 4. There are 267 sites, some of which are group sites. In addition, there are 15 RV full-hookup sites that include water, electric, and sewer. There is also a dump station which is free to use for campground guests.

Note: RV’s longer than 46 feet cannot be accommodated in Morefield Campground.

Morefield Campground amenities include a fire pit/grill, picnic table, access to potable water, showers, bathrooms, laundry, a payphone, and a camp store. Firewood is available at the camp store as well as gifts, ice, camping supplies, and food and drink (including select liquors, wine, and beer).

In addition, there is also a kennel nearby for guests who wish to board their dog. Options are for a half-day (4 hours or less) or a full day (4 hours or more).

Lastly, the nearby Knife Café is open from May 1 – September 30th and offers all you can eat pancakes from 7am – 10am. If that doesn’t make getting up in the morning easier, we don’t know what will!

Best Places to Eat in Mesa Verde National Park

Wondering what are the best places to eat in Mesa Verde National Park?

Be sure to make a reservation for dinner at the Metate Room Restaurant, located in the Far View Lodge.

Metate Room Restaurant in the Far View Lodge

If you’re staying at the Far View Lodge, be sure to make a reservation for dinner in the Metate Room Restaurant upon check-in. Dinner service begins at 5pm each night and is a wonderful way to end the day. The large windows in the dining area offer picturesque views of the national park and make for a great way to unwind after a long day of adventuring.

The Metate Room Restaurant has a deep selection of wines by the glass and a very nice bottle selection. It also has several signature cocktails to choose from and some local craft beers. My favorite was the Modus Hoperandi IPA by Ska Brewing Company.

Be sure to pair your drink with a starter. We loved the Smoked Salmon Green Chili Mousse and the Roasted Mushroom Flatbread. Both of them were super tasty and fun to share. We also ordered two of the salads, the Ancient Grain Salad and the Strawberry and Pistachio Salad, both of which you can add chicken or grilled salmon to. It was a bit too much food for us once we ordered an entree but it meant we got to take home a couple of boxes which made for a really nice snack the next day.

As far as entrees go, you really can’t go wrong. Chef Scott Bauman is cooking up some delicious food. We absolutely loved the Honey Garlic Salmon served with green chili rice, Brussels sprouts, and chili oil. It was cooked perfectly and seasoned just right. The Braised Short Rib was also a big hit with us. The portion was huge and it was accompanied with au jus, smashed Yukon potatoes, herb Boursin cheese, and wilted spinach.

Note: You do not have to be a guest at the Far View Lodge in order to dine in the Metate Room Restaurant.

Far View Terrace Café

Not to be confused with the Far View Lodge, the Far View Terrace Café is your spot for hot, fresh coffee, breakfast, lunch, and grab-n-go food. We really enjoyed the made-to-order omelet station and when paired with the yogurt with granola and a fruit cup, we were full and energized for the day.

As far as lunch goes, the Far View Terrace Café has paninis, soup, salad, and even pizza, and Navajo tacos for sale. It’s open from 11am – 2pm but if you are going to be out in the park you may want to consider packing something with you for the day. We opted for the grab-n-go salads (I got the Mexican Street Corn Salad and Caroline opted for the Chicken and Apple Spinach Salad each day) and chips. They were super fresh each day and easy to tote around with us.

Note: You can also shop for gifts and book a tour in the same building that the Far View Terrace Café is located.

Top Tips for Visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Cell phone signal is pretty good in nearby Coretz, Colorado but it’s tough to find a clear signal in the park. There’s a wifi signal at Far View Terrace and Far View Lodge but neither are great. If you need to make a call, we found a little LTE at some of the overlooks on Wetherill Mesa. (We have Verizon.)

Make a reservation for dinner each night you’d like to dine in the Metate Room at Far View Lodge.

Change your clocks if you have traveled from another time zone. Mesa Verde National park is on Mountain Daylight Time.

The sun is strong, the elevation is significant, and the air is dry so hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Tickets are required for visiting Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House as well as the Introduction to Mesa Verde and 700 Years Tour. Purchase tickets ahead of time to reserve your spot. Tickets are not needed for Spruce Tree House or Step House.

There are numerous sights to see along the roads in the park but do not pull off on the shoulder and park. Use the designated pullouts.

Leave No Trace! Help do your part to keep the park pristine.

Mesa Verde National Park Recap

We’ll admit, Mesa Verde National Park wasn’t on our radar until a few years ago. But after talking to my Dad, he reminded me that it was one of my grandparent’s favorite places to visit. And they had traveled all over the country so I had some pretty high expectations. And you know what, the park exceeded them all.

Haven’t been to Mesa Verde yet and want to remember everything you just read? Save, share, or pin this post and come back to it later so you remember where to stay in Mesa Verde National Park as well as where to eat and what to do. What is your favorite thing about Mesa Verde National Park? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

Caroline Whatley and Erin McGrady of Authentic Asheville are currently traveling as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation. To learn more about their expedition, head on over HERE.

Published by Erin McGrady

Web Design + Photography + Travel Writing

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