Most people only think about the cliff dwellings when they think of Mesa Verde (and they are definitely the main reason to visit the park – read my Guide for Visiting the Cliff Dwellings for the full low down), but that is not all there is to do. 

There is actually some great hiking in Mesa Verde National Park.  From ancient petroglyphs to scenic overlooks and natural history walks, here are the best hikes in Mesa Verde National Park. 

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Hikes not to Miss in Mesa Verde National Park
Hikes not to Miss in Mesa Verde National Park

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This guide is to the ten best hikes in Mesa Verde, but in fact these are pretty much the only hikes in the park that you can do by yourself. There are also some backcountry hikes to lesser-visited cliff dwellings that you can only do on a ranger-led tour.  Read my Guide to Visiting the Cliff Dwellings for details on those hikes. 

If you are starting tp plan your trip, read my detailed Guide to Visiting Mesa Verde for all the practical information you need to know. And if you are looking for things to do in addition to hikes, check out my list of the 10 Best Things to Do in and Near Mesa Verde.

Before you set out on these hikes, you will want to make sure you have the right gear.

There are three main regions in the park, so, to make it easier, let’s break the hiking trails in Mesa Verde National Park down into each of those areas. 

Mesa Verde Hikes on Chapin Mesa  

1. Petroglyph Point Trail 

Petroglyph Trail 3 Mesa Verde National Park
  • Distance: 2.4 miles | 3.9km 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Trailhead: Near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum 

If you just have time for one hike in Mesa Verde, do the petroglyph trail. Mesa Verde is all about the history and the petroglyphs at the end of the trail are pretty amazing.  Plus, it’s a fun trail to hike.  

The trail starts near the museum along the same trail as the Spruce Canyon Trail, but you will soon come to a small sign indicating the Petroglyph trail. It skims along the side of a cliff, below the cliff edge, so you are often hiking under an overhang on a fairly narrow trail. 

Petroglyph Trail 2 Mesa Verde National Park

There are great views of Spruce and Navajo Canyons and you will pass the remnants of a small ancient dwelling.  The petroglyphs are at the far end of the loop.  They are quite extensive, well-signed posted and right next to the trail, so you can’t miss them.

In case you are wondering “What is a petroglyph?”, well, petroglyphs are rock carvings (as opposed to rock paintings, which are called pictographs).  They are made by chiseling away some of a stone’s surface.  

After the petroglyphs, there is a steep scramble up a large ‘staircase’ to the top of the mesa.  The return loop is a fairly flat and easy walk along the mesa through the forest.  

Petroglyph Trail 3 Mesa Verde National Park

Insider Tip: In winter, the lower section of the loop is usually closed, but you can see the petroglyphs on an out-and-back route along the upper section. 


2. Spruce Canyon Trail 

Spruce Tree House Mesa Verde National Park
  • Distance: 2.4 miles | 3.9km 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Trailhead: Near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum 

The trail begins near the Chapin Museum with wonderful views of Spruce Tree House.  It soon diverges from the Petroglyph Trail and heads down a fairly steep set of switchbacks to the bottom of Spruce Canyon. From there, it follows along beside a (seasonal) stream for about 0.75 miles.  It then starts back up more switchbacks for a steep climb out of the canyon, ending at the picnic area. 

Insider Tip: You need to sign in with a ranger before setting out. 


3. Soda Canyon Overlook Trail  

Balcony House seen from Soda Canyon Overlook Trail Mesa Verde
Balcony House seen from Soda Canyon Overlook Trail
  • Distance: 1.2 miles | 1.9km 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trailhead: One mile north of the Balcony House parking area along the Cliff Palace Loop Road 

This is one of the park’s most popular hiking trails. Mesa Verde National Park has several super famous cliff dwelling and one of these, Balcony House, can be seen from the overlook. There are also views of the canyon from additional overlooks.

It’s an easy walk on a gravel path through juniper, yucca, sagebrush and gambel oak.  None of which is shady, so wear a hat in summer! 

Insider Tip: This is the only place to see the Balcony House (other than visiting it, when it is open).


4. Farming Terrace Trail 

  • Distance: 0.5 mile | 0.8km 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trailhead: The spur road to Cedar Tree Tower

This is an easy loop on the top of the mesa around an area where the ancestral Puebloans farmed.  You can see the check dams that they used to create farming terraces for their crops. You will also see the damage done to the forest from fires in the area.  

Insider Tip: Did you know that check dams were a simple way to create terraces on sloping land by slowing the flow of water from melting snow so that soil built up behind each dam as the flow of water slowed down?  Look out for them on the trail.


5. Park Point Overlook 

park point lookout mesa verde national park
  • Distance: 0.4 miles | 640 m 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trailhead:  Parking area on the side of the road up to Chapin Mesa

On the way up to Chapin Mesa, stop at the small parking area close to the top and walk to two amazing viewpoints and see a historic fire tower.  

After a short distance, the paved path splits.  To the left is Park Point North Overlook and the path to the right goes past the Park Point Fire Lookout to the south overlook. You will have 360° views of the surrounding area. 

Insider Tip: Do not confuse this hike with Point Lookout (see below).  They are completely different places inside the park. 


Mesa Verde Hikes in the Morefield Area 

6. Prater Ridge Trail 

  • Distance: 7.8 miles | 12.6km 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Trailhead: The west end of Morefield Campground near the first dump station

The trail starts with a steep ascent up to the top of Prater Ridge.  Most of the trail circles in a big loop around the top of the ridge. There are lovely views of the surrounding canyon and the park road across the canyon heading up the mesa. 

There is a trail that you can use to cut through and do just the north loop or the south loop if you want to shorten the trail.  If you are there in the fall, this is a great place to appreciate the fall color. 

Insider Tips: The views from the (longer) north loop are slightly better than from the south loop, though both are worthwhile.  There is little shade on the top of the ridge, so take lots of water and wear a hat! 


7. Knife Edge Trail 

Knife Edge Trail Mesa Verde National Park
  • Distance: 2 miles | 3.2km 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trailhead: Near the facilities block on the Apache loop of Morefield Campground

This an easy trail along a section of the old Knife Edge Road, dating from 1914. Today it is an easy, mostly flat walk.  To build the road on the side of the steep bluff was a whole other story.   At the end are wonderful views of Montezuma Valley.   

Insider Tip: This is a great place to go for the sunset.  


8. Point Lookout Trail 

Point Lookout Mesa Verde National Park
Point Lookout
  • Distance: 2.2 miles | 3.5km 
  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Trailhead: The other end of the amphitheater parking area from the amphitheater/ restrooms

Not to be confused with Park Point, this trail goes up to Mesa Verde Point Lookout.  The trail leaves from the Morefield campground and goes up a set of steep switchbacks for about 0.5 miles up the back side of the mesa.  It then crosses along the top of the mesa to an end point with stunning views over the surrounding countryside, including both Montezuma and Mancos Valleys. 

Insider Tip: In summer, wildflowers bring this area to life! 


Mesa Verde Hikes on Wetherill Mesa 

9. Nordenskiold Site No. 16 Trail  

  • Distance: 2 miles | 3.2km 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trailhead: Wetherill Mesa information kiosk 

This is a flat, easy, out-and-back trail that goes through the remnants of a badly burned forest.  The gravel trail is easy to follow and ends at an overlook where you can see the Nordenskiold Site No. 16 cliff dwelling.  It’s a quiet trail that is worth the walk to see the cliff dwelling.  

Insider Tip: Take lots of water and a hat; there is no shade. 


10. Badger House Community Trail  

  • Distance: 2.25 miles | 3.6km 
  • Difficulty: Easy 
  • Trailhead: Wetherill Mesa information kiosk 

This easy gravel and paved loop trail passes four historic sites of the Badger House Community on the mesa top.  The area was occupied over a period of 600 years, so if you want to learn more about the history of this area, this is an interesting short hike.  

Insider Tip: There are signs explaining each of the site, so leave enough time to read them. The sites are much more interesting if you know what you are looking at 😉 


Happy hiking!  

What’s your favorite hike in Mesa Verde National Park?  Comment below.    

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Hikes not to Miss in Mesa Verde National Park
Hikes not to Miss in Mesa Verde National Park


About the Author 

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents.  He has visited all of the main national parks in the United States, as well as many national monuments and state parks.

He has rafted through the Grand Canyon; rappelled down slot canyons near Zion and Arches; hiked among the hoodoos in Bryce and the enormous trees in Sequoia; admired the waterfalls in Yosemite and the colored hot springs in Yellowstone; seen moose in Grand Tetons and seals in the Channel Islands, and much more.

Read more…


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