Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park (our 44th national park!) offers a unique combination of wildlife, history, archaeology, camping, lodging, and hiking. But its remote location — and the long distances between park sights — mean that a little advance planning can help you get the most out of your park visit. Here are five tips to maximize your Mesa Verde adventure!
Hike in the morning. Summer afternoon temperatures can get hot — and the rocks can absorb and radiate daytime heat. The heat, along with low humidity, high elevation, and lack of shade can lead to dehydration — or at least, some cranky travelers!
Bonus Tip: Besides cooler temperatures, mornings offer smaller crowds and better light for taking photos!
Carry water. Water fountains are available at many trailheads and parking lots — save money by bringing your own bottles, and be sure to keep them topped off! No matter what time of day you’re hiking, pack along some water (and maybe a snack, too!).
Bonus Tip: Need a cold beverage while you’re driving on the Cliff Palace loop? Stop at the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation info station, located where the park road meets reservation land at the southernmost tip of the loop. They sell cold soft drinks that can really hit the spot!
Bring binoculars. Many of the viewpoints are across a canyon from the cliff dwellings themselves. While still impressive to see, binocs give a closeup look at the structures. And if you’re a birder, keep your eyes open for swifts, swallows, vultures, towhees, phoebes, bluebirds, and more!
Bonus Tip: if you’re a photographer, bring your wide angle lens. Many of the sites are wide, even though you’re far away.
Book tours in advance. Daytime ranger-led tours of the cliff dwellings require tickets ($4), which can be purchased up to two days in advance. Beat the crowds at the visitor center by purchasing them at the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez, Colorado, before heading to the park. A few special tours (Twilight Photography and backcountry tours) can be reserved ahead of time online (additional cost). The Twilight Photography Tour was fantastic because we got extra time at the Cliff Palace and the group was limited to twelve people. If you’d prefer a little extra time and a less crowded tour, this is a great one, photographer or not. If you are a photographer, definitely do this tour!
Bonus Tip: Not going on a tour but want a closer look at some cliff dwellings? Check out Square Tower House on the Mesa Top Loop drive. A short trail leads from the parking area to an overlook that seemed much closer to the ruins than most others.
Sleep in the park. Most park sights are a 60-90 minute drive from the park entrance, which is another 10-15 minutes from Cortez. Consider staying at the Far View Lodge instead of at a hotel in town. While not as inexpensive as hotel options in town, the time (and gas!) saved by not having to make the long drive in & out of the park every day made the additional expense well worth it! (There’s also a campground in the park, close to the park entrance.)
Bonus Tip: Request a non-adjoining room so you don’t have to listen to your neighbors!
We had a fantastic time at Mesa Verde, and hope that these tips help you to have a great visit, too!
Do you have any tips for making a trip to Mesa Verde even better? Let us know in the comments, and enjoy your next national park adventure, whether it’s for a week or a weekend!