The 10 Best Things to Do in Mesa Verde National Park

Maybe you’re think about visiting or maybe you’ve already decided to visit Mesa Verde and are starting to plan a trip, but aren’t sure what to do in Mesa Verde National Park.  Well, there are actually plenty of amazing things to do.

Mesa Verde is famous for its cliff dwellings, of course, but there are other historic sites, hiking trails, a fascinating museum, and more.  Plus, other fun activities for the whole family in the surrounding area.   

Let’s take a look.

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What to See and Do in Mesa Verde National Park
Best Things You Must Do In and Near Mesa Verde

Best Things To Do In Mesa Verde National Park

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Best Things to Do in and Near Mesa Verde National Park

1. See the Cliff Dwellings  

Cliff Dwellings Mesa Verde

It’s easy to know what to see in Mesa Verde National Park.  It’s the only cultural national park in the United States, and seeing the cliff dwellings is the main reason most people visit the park.   

There are over 600 houses, villages and storage rooms built in alcoves in the cliffs below the top of the mesa, though only a few are open each year for visits.  

For a more information about how to visit the cliff dwellings, read my comprehensive Guide to Visiting the Cliff Dwellings of Mesa Verde

2. Visit the Chapin Archaeological Museum 

Chapin Archeological Museum Mesa Verde National Park

There has been a museum in the national park since 1917, displaying some of the archaeological finds from the many historic sites in the park.  The current museum, located on Chapin Mesa, was built in 1925.   

It is a little dusty, but nonetheless has fascinating dioramas depicting the life of the Ancestral Puebloan people. There are also displays on the chronology of the Ancestral Pueblo culture and various artefacts from the parks’ sites.   

The museum is an accessible and interesting introduction into the fascinating history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people. 

Note that the museum is currently closed for renovations. 

3. Explore the Mesa Top Sites 

Mesa Top Sites Mesa Verde National Park

If you’ve seen some of the cliff dwellings and are wondering what to do at Mesa Verde now, well, there is much more history to explore. 

While the cliff dwellings get most of the attention, the ancestral Puebloans actually lived on top of the mesa for more than 700 hundred years – and farmed there the entire time they lived in the area. 

There are several historic sites on the mesa top that you can visit to learn more about their history and culture. These sites are open 8:00 am to sunset all year round. 

A good place to start is the Mesa Top Loop Road.  The 6-mile/ 10-km drive has 12 places you can pull over, park and walk a short distance to see various archaeological sites. 

Some of these are overlooks to see cliff dwellings, but there are also several surface sites.  The largest site is the Sun Temple. There is an audio tour for the drive that you can download

An additional site worth exploring on foot is the Far View Sites Complex, which has the remains of five Mesa-top villages, including Far View House, and a (dry) reservoir.  There are signs along the 0.75-mile trail between the sites so you can learn more about Ancestral Pueblo life from 900 to 1300 CE. 

Another place you can visit on foot is Cedar Tree Tower and the Farming Terrace Loop trail.  The farming terrace takes you past several check dams, while nearby is an Ancestral Puebloan tower and kiva.  

On Wetherill Mesa, you can visit Badger House Community, which has four mesa-top sites along an easy 2.25-mile round-trip walk. 

4. Go Hiking  

Petroglyph Trail 3 Mesa Verde National Park

In addition to ranger-led backcountry hikes to rarely opened cliff dwellings, there are several great hikes you can do by yourself.  Whether they are walks to lookouts over the surrounding countryside, hikes to views of cliff dwellings or ancient petroglyphs, treks down into the surrounding canyons, or short strolls along the mesa top, there is a hike for you.  

Read my detailed guide to the 10 best (and pretty much only) hikes in Mesa Verde National Park for more details. 

5. Enjoy the Evening Programs 

Evening program Mesa verde National Park

There are also things to do in Mesa Verde, CO at night.  Throughout the main tourist season, there are a variety of evening programs at the amphitheater at the Morefield Campground. 

The first such presentation was way back in 1907, when archeologist Jesse Fewkes gave the first campfire talks on the history of the National Park Service at Mesa Verde. Today, each evening there is a 45- to 60-minute presentation by rangers, ranging from history lectures and talks about the local wildlife to performances by local native American dancers.    

The programs are free and you don’t need to be staying in the campground to attend. 

6. Admire the view from a fire lookout 

park point lookout mesa verde national park

The historic Park Point Fire Lookout was built in 1939 and fully renovated in 2009.  It stands at the highest point in the park – 8,572 feet.  The octagonal building is made of native sandstone from Chapin Mesa.  This area gets more lightning strikes than anywhere else in the United States other than one place in Florida – hence the importance of the lookout (and the large areas of fire damage in the park). 

The fire lookout is a short walk from a nearby parking area.  There are two lookouts with wonderful views – you can see Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah on a clear day. 

7. Go rafting 

White water Kayaking near Mesa Verde National Park Durango

OK, so this is technically not in the national park, but is something fun to do nearby.  A 2-hour rafting trip on the Lower Animas River has you going over Class III rapids and is a great rafting taster. Suitable for ages 4 and up. 

Book a 2-hour family rafting trip 

For something even more adventurous, opt for a longer trip. With Class II and II rapids, this is suitable for families and novice rafters who want longer on the water. 

Book a 6-hour rafting trip 

8. Go Water Tubing

You can enjoy a fun trip floating down a scenic section of the Animas River in a tube.  The trip includes one hour floating down the river plus all day access to their swimming ponds, sand beaches, waterslide, waterslide jump, and paddleboards.

Book a water tubing adventure trip

9. Go Ziplining 

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Ride 12 different ziplines in this three-hour adventure in the nearby San Juan Mountains. A six-line option is also available. 

Book a half-day 12-line zipline adventure 

10. Take the steam train from Durango 

Durango Train near Mesa Verde National Park

A historic steam train runs between Durango and Silverton.  The five-hour round trip takes you up into the Rocky Mountains through the San Juan National Forest alongside the Animas River.   

Book a train ticket from Durango 

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Best Things to Do in and Near Mesa Verde National Park

Have a great time in Mesa Verde!  

What are your favorite things to do in Mesa Verde, Colorado?  Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.    


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Best Things You Must Do In and Near Mesa Verde
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About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and most of the national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including USA Today, Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

Read more…

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