Seven centuries of history are displayed at Mesa Verde National Park. Established by Congress in 1906, Mesa Verde is the first national park set aside to preserve the works of humankind. Mesa Verde is a World Cultural Heritage Park, a designation granted by UNESCO to preserve and protect the cultural and national heritage of certain international sites.
Mesa Verde offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the lives of the ancestral Puebloans. Spectacular cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages were built between A.D. 600 and 1300, when the ancestral Puebloans migrated from the area. Visitors may walk, drive, or take a bus tour through the park. Hiking and climbing ladders in and out of cliff dwellings is one option, or consider a walk through a less rigorous self-guided route. Suggested visitation time for Mesa Verde is two days.
The Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum is open 365 days a year and houses a full range of artifacts uncovered in and near Mesa Verde. The museum tracks the history of ancestral Pueblo people through artifacts and exhibits that reconstruct their daily life. Take a short walk from the museum to Spruce Tree House in the canyon below. Here explorers may climb down into a reconstructed kiva. Spruce Tree House is open year-round, with self-guided tours in the summer, and ranger-led tours in the winter. An association bookstore is located in the museum.
On Chapin Mesa there are two loop drives. Open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset, Mesa Top Road takes you past mesa-top dwellings and overlooks to cliff dwellings in the canyon below. Cliff Palace Road takes you to the meeting points for tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Ranger-led tours of both of these dwellings require tickets that must be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center or at the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez. Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling, and is reached after a 15-minute hike. The ranger-guided tour takes approximately one hour. Balcony House is located high in a cliff, and requires climbing ladders and squeezing through a small tunnel. Both of these sites are open spring to fall, depending on weather conditions.
The route to Wetherill Mesa offers some of the best sightseeing and camera viewpoints in the park. Visitors to Wetherill Mesa have the opportunity to explore cliff dwellings and mesa top sites. A mini-tram takes visitors on a 4.8-mile loop of the area with frequent stops made for walking to sites or overlooks. Wetherill Mesa's Long House, the second largest cliff dwelling in the park, is entered only on a ranger-guided tour. Tickets must be purchased in advance at the Far View Visitor Center. Step House may be explored on your own while waiting for the mini-tram to take you to Long House, Badger House Community, and several overlooks. Both Long House and Step House hikes are about a half mile in length, and require climbing stairs and/or ladders. Be sure to allow a full day to visit Wetherill Mesa. Wetherill is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day only.