Mesa Verde is not only one of the most incredible National Parks in Colorado, it is the only cultural national park in the US.  Imagine seeing circular ceremonial rooms, three-story towers and bricked storage facilities all built in deep alcoves in the side of cliffs, only reached by hand and foot holds carved into the sheer rock face.

These days, there are ladders and chains to help you – and many you can see from overlooks on top of the mesa – but they are no less extraordinary than they were 800 years ago.  

However, while visiting Mesa Verde, Colorado is an extraordinary experience, it can be confusing.  Which is why I have created this detailed guide with all you need to know to visit Mesa Verde, Colorado. 

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How to Plan a Trip to Mesa Verde
How to Visit Mesa Verde

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How to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

Where is Mesa Verde National Park? 

Before we get into too many details, it is helpful to know where is Mesa Verde located.   It’s in the southwest corner of Colorado (near the Four Corners intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.  

The nearest towns are Cortez and Mancos, though Durango, which is just 45 minutes away, is nicer and has more to do. 

What is unique about Mesa Verde National Park? 

If you are wondering “Is Mesa Verde worth seeing?” given that it is not super close to any of the other national parks, the answer is a resounding “yes”.  The main reason to visit is to see the incredible cliff dwellings and they are fascinating. 

For the full low-down on how to see Mesa Verde ‘s cliff dwellings, read my guide How to Visit Mesa Verde’s Cliff Dwellings. 

How long to visit Mesa Verde National Park? 

How long does it take to see Mesa Verde? While it is possible to see the highlights in just one day, I recommend spending at least a couple of days and nights there.  That will give you a chance to explore inside a couple of the cliff dwellings, go on a hike, explore all the mesa-top sites and viewpoints, and include Wetherill Mesa. 

For hiking suggestions, read my guide to The Best Hikes in Mesa Verde

For ideas on what else do, read my guide to The Best Things to Do In and Around Mesa Verde (it includes some activities in and near Durango as well as inside the national park) .

Balcony House seen from Soda Canyon Overlook Trail Mesa Verde
Balcony House seen from Soda Canyon Overlook Trail

How to Get to Mesa Verde National Park 

The best way to get there is to drive, including it as part of a longer southwest road trip.  I also visited Page, Monument Valley, Arches National Park, and Canyon de Chelly on the same trip.  For directions to Mesa Verde National Park, enter your departure point in Google Maps here

However, if you want to fly right in, the closest airport to Mesa Verde, CO is Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although it is the nearest airport to Mesa Verde National Park, it is still four hours away.  The other main airport near Mesa Verde National Park is Salt Lake City.  It’s six hours away but the road between the two does pass Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, so you can visit them easily too.  

What is the best way to see Mesa Verde? 

Can you tour Mesa Verde on your own? Yes, you can easily see all that the park has to offer by yourself.  The Chapin Museum and the Mesa Verde Visitor Center are great sources of information, there are signs at the mesa-top sites and you need to be accompanied by a ranger (or they will be stationed nearby) when visiting the dwellings. 

However, for a deeper insight into the area’s history and culture, you can take a half-day tour with a guide.  The four-hour tours leave in the morning and afternoon from Far View Lodge and include the major mesa top sites, plus a visit to one of the dwellings. 

Book a half-day Mesa Verde cultural tour here 

How to visit the cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde 

The cliff dwellings are open from mid-spring to mid-fall.  Read my detailed Guide to Visiting the Cliff Dwellings for information on what dwellings you can visit, how to visit them, how to get tickets for Mesa Verde tours of the cliff dwellings, what to expect on each visit and more. 

Step House Mesa Verde National Park

What are the Mesa Verde National Park hours of opening?  

The Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Center is open:

8:30AM – 4:00PM daily (March 21 to October 22, 2022)
9:00AM – 3:00PM daily (October 23 to December 31, 2022)

The parking lot, restrooms and outdoor information are open daily 8:30AM – 4:30 PM except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

The Chapin Museum is also currently closed for renovations. 

The Mesa Verde hours for the roads are:  

The main road up to Far View Lodge is open all hours all year.

The Wetherill Mesa Road is closed each year October 31 (or earlier) to May 2 (or later) and open: 

  • May 2 (or as soon as weather/road conditions permit) to May 28: 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.  
  • May 29 to October 23: 8:00 am to 7:00 pm.   
  • October 18 to October 31 (earlier if weather conditions close the road): 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. 

For times of the cliff dwelling tours, check out my Guide to Visiting the Cliff Dwellings 

How to get around Mesa Verde National Park 

There is no shuttle in Mesa Verde National Park, so you will need to drive.  The national park has three main areas.   

1) The bottom of the mesa   

First up is the park entrance gate (there is only one entrance to the park).  From there, it is a short drive to the Visitor Center and Research Center.  Stop off there to check in for back country tours, pick up a map and learn more about the park.  Note that the Visitor Center is currently closed due to COVID, but the parking lot, virtual ranger station and restrooms are open 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. 

Next up is the Morefield Campground, which is the only camping area inside the park.  There is an amphitheater there also, where there are nightly ranger presentations in season. 

The last major place at the bottom of the mesa is a large parking area for trailers, just past the campground.  Because the road up to the top of the mesa is narrow and winding, you can’t take trailers or towed vehicles, and will need to park them there.  

2) Chapin Mesa   

There is only one road from the bottom up to the first of the two mesa, Chapin Mesa.  The road is narrow and winding.  The road to Chapin Mesa is open all year round (weather permitting).  There is a tunnel between miles 4 and 5, with a height restriction of 20.5 feet / 6.25 m.   

At the top of Chapin Mesa is Far View Lodge, the only lodge/ hotel inside the park.  There are also some historic sites nearby, and a café and restaurant.  

Chapin Archeological Museum Mesa Verde National Park

3) Wetherill Mesa 

Between Far View Lodge and the Far View Terrace Café (near Mile 15) is the road, off to the right, to the other mesa in the park, Wetherill Mesa. The 12-mile road to Wetherill Mesa is also steep, narrow and winding.  The road is open early May to late October. Your vehicle must weigh less than 8,000 pounds and be less than 25 feet in length to go on this road. 

Drive times 

From To Drive Time 
Park Entrance (bottom of mesa) Cliff Palace (Chapin Mesa) 1 hour 
Park Entrance (bottom of mesa) Balcony House (Chapin Mesa) 1 hour 
Park Entrance (bottom of mesa) Long House (Wetherill Mesa) 1.5 hours 
Cliff Palace (Chapin Mesa) Long House (Wetherill Mesa) 1.25 hours 
Balcony House (Chapin Mesa) Long House (Wetherill Mesa) 1.25 hours 

When is the best time to visit Mesa Verde National Park? 

The park is open all year round, but the road to Wetherill Mesa is not.  Nor are the cliff dwellings. 

Visiting Mesa Verde in winter 

It is possible to visit Mesa Verde in winter, but there are some things you should know. 

The road to Wetherill Mesa is closed October 31 (or earlier) to May 2 (or later). 

None of the cliff dwellings are open for tours. The dates vary between each dwelling, but there are typically no dwellings open at all from early October to late April – mid-May.  However, there are many dwellings that you can see from overlooks (see my Guide to Visiting Mesa Verde’s Cliff Dwellings for more information). There will also be very few people around, and it is very beautiful when the surrounding area is covered in snow.  

The lodge and campground inside the park are closed in winter, so you will need to stay nearby. 

Where to stay at Mesa Verde National Park 

There are a few different options: 

Places to stay in Mesa Verde National Park 

Far View Lodge Mesa Verde 

This is the only lodge inside the national park.  It is on Chapin Mesa, 15 miles from the park entrance.  It closes in winter and is open May 1 – September 30. There is traditional western décor in the lobby and the famous Metate Dining Room, which has wrap around floor-to-ceiling windows.  There are two rooms types – standard (Kiva), which have private balconies, and Kiva Deluxe View rooms, with, naturally, sensational views.  

Book a room at Far View Lodge here 

Morefield Campground Mesa Verde 

This is the only Mesa Verde National Park camping option inside the park.  It is located at the bottom of the mesa, four miles from the park entrance.  There is a gift shop and grocery store, free showers, coin laundry, gas station and RV dumping station.   

All services are open May 1 – September 30.  There is also is limited off-season camping. Mesa Verde has sites available, but with no services other than comfort stations, April 15-30 and October 1 – 15.  

There is an amphitheater at one end of the campground where there are nightly ranger presentations in season.  

Book a site at Morefield Campground here 

Places to stay near Mesa Verde National Park 

Campgrounds near Mesa Verde 

Mancos State Park is a good option if you are looking for a nearby campground.  Mesa Verde is just 13 miles/ 20 minutes away.  Reservations can be made here up 6 months in advance. 

Hotels near Mesa Verde National Park 

 Cortez and Mancos are the two main towns near Mesa Verde National Park.  Durango is also not too far away (it’s a 45-minute drive) and is more interesting (in my opinion). 

>> Find hotels and motels in Mancos, CO here 
>> Find hotels and motels in Cortez, CO here 
>> Find hotels and motels in Durango, CO here

Airbnb Mesa Verde 

If you’d prefer a vacation rental like Airbnb or VRBO, I have an entire post with a shortlist of the best vacation rentals in and near Durango, just 45 minutes away.  Read my Guide to The Best Vacation Rentals Near Mesa Verde for reviews, recommendations and photos.  

If you prefer to see at a glance where everything, use this map to find Manco and Cortez, CO lodging. It includes hotels, motels and vacation rentals (including options for Airbnb Cortez, CO and Airbnb Mancos, CO). 

Where to Eat in Mesa Verde National Park 

There are several dining options. 

Spruce Tree Terrace Café 

  • Location: Near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and Spruce Tree House 
  • Options/ style: Casual lunch or dinner.  Inside, outdoor patio and to go 
  • Open: Open daily, all year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day 

Metate Room Restaurant 

  • Location: Far View Lodge 
  • Options/ style:  Formal dinner only
  • Open: Open daily, May – September.  Reservations are strongly recommended 

Far View Lounge 

  • Location: Far View Lodge 
  • Options/ style:  Lounge with pub fare 
  • Open: Closed 2021 

Far View Terrace Café 

  • Location: Far View Lodge 
  • Options/ style:  Cafe serving breakfast and lunch 
  • Open: Daily, May – September 

Mesa Mocha Espresso Bar 

  • Location: Far View Lodge 
  • Options/ style:  Coffee shop with snacks and ice cream 
  • Open: Early morning to mid-afternoon daily, May – September 

 Knife Edge Café 

  • Location: Morefield Campground 
  • Options/ style: Cafe open for breakfast.  Lunch and dinner grab-and-go is available in the adjacent store 
  • Open: Daily 7:00am – 10:00am May-September 

Mesa Verde Map 

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How to Plan a Trip to Mesa Verde
How to Visit Mesa Verde

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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.

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