Moab UT lodging, hotels, motels, ranch resort
Red Cliffs Lodge Logo
Mile Post 14, Hwy 128, Moab, Utah 84532
Toll free: +1 (866) 812-2002
Local: +1 (435) 259-2002
Mile Post 14, Hwy 128 Toll free: 866-812-2002
Moab, Utah 84532 Local: 435-259-2002

[Back to National Parks]

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and experience a unique cultural and physical landscape. The culture represented at Mesa Verde reflects more than 700 years of history. From approximately A.D. 600 through A.D. 1300 people lived and flourished in communities throughout the area, eventually building elaborate stone villages in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Today most people call these sheltered villages “cliff dwellings”. The cliff dwellings represent the last 75 to 100 years of occupation at Mesa Verde. In the late 1200s within the span of one or two generations, they left their homes and moved away.

Mesa Verde National Park

The archeological sites found in Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. Mesa Verde National Park offers visitors a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Scientists study the ancient dwellings of Mesa Verde, in part, by making comparisons between the Ancestral Pueblo people and their contemporary indigenous descendants who still live in the Southwest today. Twenty-four Native American tribes in the southwest have an ancestral affiliation with the sites at Mesa Verde.

To fully enjoy Mesa Verde National Park, plan to spend a day or two exploring its world-class archeological sites as well as its beautiful landscape. The entrance to the park is 9 miles east of Cortez and 35 miles west of Durango in Southwestern Colorado on US Highway 160.

Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve the archeological sites which “Pre-Columbian Indians” built on the mesa tops and in the alcoves of a score of rugged canyons. The park, containing 52,073 acres of Federal land, is a unit of the National Park System and is administered by the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior.

Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table”, rises high above the surrounding country. For about 1,300 years, agrarian Indians occupied the mesa and surrounding regions. From the hundreds of dwellings that remain, archeologists have compiled one of the most significant chapters in the story of prehistoric America. If you are able to leave your modern self behind and think only in the past, you may be able to understand and enjoy a fascinating story of life in earlier times.

There are over four thousand known archeological sites in Mesa Verde National Park. Approximately 600 of these are cliff dwellings. Only a few of these sites have been excavated. Unoccupied for many centuries, they have been weakened by natural forces. Some were badly damaged by looters before the area was made a national park. Maximum protection must be given to the dwellings in order to preserve them. One regulation is strictly enforced: Visitors may enter cliff dwellings ONLY when accompanied by a Park Ranger. However, there are over 20 mesa top sites and view points which may be visited on your own. Some sites are closed during winter.

Archeological sites of many different types are accessible to visitors. They range from pithouses built during the 500s to the cliff dwellings of the 1200s. The cliff dwellings are the most spectacular, but the mesa top pithouses and pueblos are equally important. Seen in their chronological order, these sites show the architectural development of Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde National Park

The Mesa Verde area was inhabited for about 800 years by agricultural people who began to drift into the area shortly after the beginning of the Christian Era. We call the first farming people in the Mesa Verde area the Basketmakers (A.D.1-400), because weaving excellent baskets was their outstanding craft. At this early date, the people did not make pottery, build houses, or use the bow and arrow. No sites dating from the early Basketmakers have been found within the boundaries of Mesa Verde National Park.

Around the year A.D. 400, the people began to make pottery and build roofed dwellings. Around the year A.D. 750, they began to use the bow and arrow. Although the people were still the same, the culture was changing. Archeologists call these people the Modified Basket-makers (A.D. 400-750). The pithouses were built in alcoves and on the mesa tops. Scores of pithouse villages have been found on the mesas, and two pithouses have been reconstructed at Mesa Verde.

Starting about A.D. 750, the people grouped their houses together to form compact villages. These have been given the name of “pueblo”, a Spanish term meaning village. The name, Developmental Pueblo (A.D. 750-1000), simply indicated that during this period there was a great deal of experimentation and development. Many types of house walls were used; adobe and poles, stone slabs topped with adobe, adobe and stones, and finally layered masonry. The houses were joined together to form compact clusters around open courts. In these courts were pithouses which grew deeper and finally developed into ceremonial rooms we now refer to as kivas.

During their last century, some Pueblo Indians of Mesa Verde left the mesa tops and built their homes in the alcoves that abound in the many canyon walls. This last period marks the climax of the Pueblo culture in Mesa Verde and is known as the Classic Pueblo Period (A.D. 1100-1300). The exact number of dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park is unknown, but over 600 cliff dwellings have been documented.

Beginning in A.D. 1276, drought struck the region. For 23 years precipitation was scarce. One by one the springs dried up and the people were in serious trouble. Their only escape was to seek regions which had a more dependable water supply. People left village after village. Before the drought ended, these people had left Mesa Verde area.

Mesa Verde National Park

1765: Don Juan Maria de Rivera, under orders from Tomas Velez Cachupin, then governor of New Mexico, led what was possibly the first expedition of white men northwest from New Mexico. Rivera set out from Santa Fe to the San Juan River, crossed the southern spur of the La Plata Mountains, then traveled down the Dolores River, crossed eastward over the Uncompahgre Plateau and then down the Uncompahgre River to the Gunnison River.

1859: Professor J. S. Newberry, in his geological report of an expedition under the leadership of Captain J. N. Macomb to explore certain territory in what is now the State of Utah, makes the first known mention of Mesa Verde. It seems quite evident from his description that Newberry must have climbed to one of the highest points of Mesa Verde, possibly Park Point, and the manner in which he uses the name Mesa Verde suggests that the name was in common usage. Newberry must not have explored much of Mesa Verde because he makes no mention of cliff dwellings.

1874: The first cliff dwelling in the Mesa Verde area known to have been entered by white men, was Two-Story Cliff House in Ute Mountain Tribal Park, discovered by W. H. Jackson in September. Jackson was a photographer for the U. S. Geological and Geographical Survey. He had heard of ruins in Mesa Verde from miners and prospectors. One of these prospectors, John Moss, led Jackson into Mancos Canyon where the cliff dwelling was discovered. Jackson found other small cliff dwellings in the canyon, but Two-Story Cliff House was the only one he named.

1875: The second cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde area to be named was Sixteen Window House. It was discovered by W. H. Holmes, leader of another government survey party that passed through Mancos Canyon.

1884: Balcony House was entered by a prospector, S. E. Osborn. His name and the date March 20, 1884, were found in a dwelling in lower Soda Canyon.

1886: The first known suggestion that the area be set aside as a National Park appeared in an editorial in the Denver Tribune Republican, December 12, 1886.

1888: On December 18, Richard Wetherill and his brother-in-law, Charles Mason, rode out on what is now Sun Point in search of lost cattle and first saw Cliff Palace. That afternoon, Richard found Spruce Tree House, and the next day, the two men discovered Square Tower House. Al Wetherill, Richard's brother, saw Cliff Palace sometime the year before, but he did not enter the dwelling, so the credit for “discovering” the dwelling has been given to Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason.

1889: Four of the Wetherill brothers returned to Mesa Verde to explore and dig in the ruins. In a 15 month period, they claimed to have entered 182 cliff dwellings, 106 in Navajo Canyon alone.

1890: In the January 1, 1890 issue of the Durango Herald, there is an article on Montezuma County, expressing the idea of setting aside the Mancos Canyon cliff dwellings as a National Park.

Between 1887 and 1892 the Wetherills made several trips into Mesa Verde primarily for collecting archeological material. There were at least eight individual collections assembled by the Wetherills during this period, several of which were later combined and sold as four collections.

1891: Baron Gustaf E. A. Nordenskiold, of the Academy of Sciences, Sweden, visited Mesa Verde in 1891. He is credited as being the first scientist to visit the cliff dwellings. He made a collection of about 600 items which were sent to Sweden and are now in the National Museum in Helsinki, Finland.

1901: The first bill introduced before Congress to create a National Park in the Mesa Verde was introduced February 22. The bill provided for the creation of the “Colorado Cliff Dwellings National Park”. It never returned from the Public Lands Committee.

1901 to 1903: Two bills were introduced during the 57th Congress in the House of Representatives for the creation of the park. Both bills died in committee. Congressional authority was secured, however, authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate for the relinquishment of the Mesa Verde tract from the Utes and an appropriation for the survey of the area.

1903 to 1905: Two more bills were introduced in the 58th Congress for the creation of the “Colorado Cliff Dwellings National Park”. One of the bills (the Hogg bill) was reported back from committee with several amendments but did not receive any further action.

1906: The first bill for the creation of “Mesa Verde National Park” was introduced in the 59th Congress in 1905. This bill was subsequently passed on and Mesa Verde National Park was created June 29, 1906. It was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Another bill passed by the 59th Congress was an “Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities”, commonly referred to as the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906. This Act made it a Federal crime to collect or destroy any historic or prehistoric object or building on federally owned land.

1908: Two years after the establishment of the park, excavation and repair of the major sites was begun so that visitors could see and enjoy the park. Most of the early work was done by Jesse Walter Fewkes, archeologist, Smithsonian Institution.

1959 to 1972: The Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project is underway. Excavation of three cliff dwellings (Long House, Mug House, and Step House), a survey of Wetherill Mesa, and excavation of selected mesa-top sites are completed.

Open All Year
Open From 04/07/2002 To 10/14/2002 8AM to 6:30PM

Phone - 970-529-4631

Location - The museum is located on Chapin Mesa, 20 miles from the park entrance.

Closures - Only in extreme weather or fire conditions.

Special Programs - Self-guided trail of Spruce Tree House in spring, summer, and fall. Free ranger-guided tour of Spruce Tree House in winter, 3 times daily. Park video plays in auditorium every half-hour.

Exhibits - Museum shows the chronology of the Ancestral Puebloan culture.

Available Facilities - Water and restrooms are located near the museum. A snack bar, gift shop, and bookstore are located near the museum.

Mesa Verde National Park has limitations in accessibility for people with vision, hearing or mobility impairments. Visitors to Mesa Verde experience rugged terrain at an elevation of 7,000 to 8,000 feet (2,184m to 2,438m). Steep cliffs, deep canyons and narrow trails can be a danger to all visitors. Persons with heart or respiratory ailments may have breathing problems in the thin air at high altitude. Wheelchairs with wide rim wheels are recommended on trails. Visually impaired visitors will need an assistant to read exhibit labels since none of the exhibit displays have been transcribed into Braille. A general listing of accessibility information can be viewed on this page. More information is available on the links listed below.

Scenic Overlooks

Montezuma Valley, Mancos Valley, Park Point, Headquarters, and Mesa Top Loop Drive.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible with assistance, but may not meet legal grade requirements.

Morefield Campground and Picnic Areas:

Special Features: Designated parking, restrooms, campsites (Navajo Loop Signed), telephone, paved walks and gravel trails.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible with assistance, but may not meet legal grade requirements.

Far View Visitor Center:

Special Features: Primary information and orientation facility, designated parking, ramps, restrooms, telephones, drinking fountains, wheelchair for loan. Food service, gift shop, and lodging available and accessible spring through fall.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible without difficulty, but does not meet legal requirements. Paved Ramps.

Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Park Headquarters:

Special Features: Information center, designated parking, restrooms, drinking fountains, telephones, first aid station, picnic area, bookstore, wheelchair for loan, open-caption video about Mesa Verde for viewing. Food service and gifts available and accessible.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible with assistance. One to three steps in museum area; portable ramp available. Rangers and staff will assist.

Archeological Sites

Mesa Top Loop Road:

Special Features: This area is the most accessible and is HIGHLY recommended. It is a chronological sequence of Ancestral Puebloan cultural development. Features excellent views of Square Tower House and Cliff Palace. Guide book, designated parking, restrooms, and paved trails are available and accessible. Drinking fountains are available in the summer.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty. Guide book available.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible without difficulty. Paved trails.

Far View Archeological Complex:

Special Features: Mesa top sites with gravel paths. Portable toilets available. Please obtain guide book at Far View Visitor Center during the summer or at the Chapin Mesa Museum year round.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty. Guide book available.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible with assistance.

Spruce Tree House:

Special Features: Cliff dwelling open year round. Ranger-guided tours in winter, self-guided the rest of the year. Paved trail with gravel in front of dwelling; strenuous walk, one-half mile round trip. Picnic area with accessible sites is located on Chapin Mesa near the museum. Accessible restrooms and drinking fountains located in main parking lot. First aid station at Chief Ranger's Office.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty. Guide book available.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible with assistance, but does not meet legal grade requirements.

Cliff Palace and Balcony House:

Special Features: Ranger-guided tours only. Both cliff dwellings require climbing tall ladders and steep cliffs. An overlook accessed by a paved trail and one filght of stairs is available at Cliff Palace. Designated parking, drinking fountains, picnic tables, and restrooms are available and accessible at Cliff Palace. No overlook of Balcony House available. Designated parking and portable toilets available at Balcony House. No water is available at Balcony House.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance - not recommended.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible with assistance. Guide books available.

Ambulatory Limitations: Not accessible, not recommended.

Wetherill Mesa Information

Special Features: Distant area of the park with two major cliff dwellings, a self-guided nature walk, and mesa top sites available and accessible by shuttle service from main parking lot. Wheelchair lift available. Open only in summer, day use only. Drinking fountains, accessible restrooms, paved trails, gravel trails, and limited food service available. Vehicle length and weight restrictions on the road to the mesa.

Step House and Badger House:

Special Features: Pit houses, cliff dwelling, and mesa top sites are self-guided with ranger on duty. Paved trails, graveled in places. Step House is a very strenuous, one-half mile round trip trail. Access for wheelchairs by exit trail only. Wide wheels are recommended for this steep trail that does not meet legal grade requirements.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty. Guide book available.

Ambulatory Limitations: Accessible with assistance, but does not meet legal grade requirements.

Long House:

Special Features: Ranger-guided tours only. Strenuous trail with 50 steps, 3/4 mile round trip.

Visually Impaired: Accessible with assistance - not recommended.

Hearing Impaired: Accessible without difficulty. Guide book available.

Ambulatory Limitations: Not accessible, not recommended. Overlook available on shuttle service.

Use your National Parks Pass or Golden Pass (Age, Eagle and Access) for park entry! Park Entrance Fee for Private Vehicles

$10.00 7 Days

Commercial Tour Fees for 1-6 Person Vehicle Capacity (not including driver)

$25.00+Fee for Each Person 7 Days
Fee good for 7 days only if tour maintains the same group of people for each re-entry. Commercial Tour Fees for 16-25 Person Vehicle Capacity (not including driver)

$100.00 7 Days
Fee good for 7 days only if tour maintains the same group of people for each re-entry. Commercial Tour Fees for 26+ Person Vehicle Capacity (not including driver)

$200.00 7 Days
Fee good for 7 days only if tour maintains the same group of people for each re-entry. Commercial Tour Fees for 7-15 Person Vehicle Capacity (not including driver)

$75.00 7 Days
Fee good for 7 days only if tour maintains the same group of people for each re-entry.
Activity Fee
Ranger-Guided Tour Fee

$2.25 One Time
Fee per person per ranger-guided tour of either Cliff Palace or Balcony House and Long House. Beginning July 1, 2002 Restricted Visitor Access to Mesa Top Loop prevent public access to Cliff Palace and Balcony House until extreme fire conditions subside. Note that there are also free ranger-guided tours of other sites available.

Programs & Events

  • At Morefield Campground, evening campfire programs are given daily from early June to September.
  • During the summer months, non-denominational religious services are held.
  • At Far View and Chapin Mesa, exhibits illustrate the arts and crafts of both the prehistoric and historic Indians of the region.
  • Wayside exhibits throughout the park interpret the cliff dwellings and other archeological remains.
  • Ranger Nature Tours
  • Full interpretive services begin in mid-June and continue through Labor Day. Guided tours and evening campfire programs are given in summer. In winter, rangers lead guided tours (three a day) of Spruce Tree House, weather and trail conditions permitting.


Food, gasoline and lodging are available only from early spring through late fall. No services are available the rest of the year. Full services are available in Cortez, 15 miles west.

Spruce Tree Terrace (Cafeteria and Gifts): 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily

Far View Lodge: 970-529-4421 or 800-449-2288 -- open mid-April to mid-October.

Far View Terrace (Cafeteria and Gifts): 6:30 AM to 9:00 PM daily.

Far View Service Station: 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM.

Morefield Store (Groceries, Food, and Gifts): 7:00 AM to 9:30 PM.

Morefield Showers: Coin operated, bring quarters.

Morefield Service Station: 7:00 AM to 9:30 PM.

Wetherill Mesa: Sandwiches and cold drinks are available when open during the summer months.


Most of the park facilities are wheelchair accessible including Morefield Campground. A guidebook for disabled visitors is available at all ranger stations, the visitor center and the museum.

Precautions, Rules, Regulations

Emergency first aid is provided at the Chapin Mesa and Morefield ranger stations. Park roads and trails may be hazardous in winter. Stop at the entrance gate for current information on road conditions and tour schedules.

The federal Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 prohibit the appropriation, injury, destruction, or removal of any object of antiquity or the excavation, injury, or destruction of any ruin on Federal land. Entering a cliff dwelling without a park ranger present will result in a citation and fine.

  • Gathering firewood or injuring trees and shrubs is prohibited.
  • Firearms are prohibited. They must be broken down or otherwise packed while in the park.
  • Pets must be physically restrained at all times; they are not allowed in public buildings or on trails.
  • Camping is permitted only in designated campgrounds.
  • To protect fragile ruins, hiking is restricted to five trails within the park.
  • Do not throw rocks or other objects into the canyons-there may be people below.
  • Feeding, capturing, or teasing wildlife and picking, cutting or damaging any wildflower, shrub, or tree are prohibited.
  • Bicycling is permitted on all park roads except those on Wetherill Mesa, but lanes are not designated.
  • Motor vehicles are allowed only on roadways, turnouts, or parking areas.
  • All accidents or injuries should be reported to a park ranger.
  • Trailers and towed vehicles are prohibited beyond Morefield campground.
  • All towed vehicles must be parked at the entrance parking area or at Morefield Village parking area.
  • Don’t litter. Use the trash cans located throughout the park.
  • Parents should be alert for their children’s safety when near the canyon rims.
  • Be careful with fire. One careless match can wipe out the growth of a lifetime.
  • Visits to cliff dwellings are strenuous. Altitudes in the park may vary from 6,000 to 8,500 feet. Trails may be uneven; steps and ladders must frequently be climbed. Hiking or touring cliff dwellings is not recommended for persons with heart or respiratory ailments. You can view most of the major cliff dwellings from overlooks.

Click here for The Story Of Mesa Verde National Park

[Back to TOP]

[Back to National Parks]