Mesa Verde National Park

24 hours in Mesa Verde National Park — hiking, visiting cliff dwellings, admiring petroglyphs, and learning about Ancestral Puebloans. 

Helpful Resources

  • Cliff Dwelling Guided Tours – 3 main tours to choose from (there are some special backcountry tours listed also that might interest some). Tour tickets can be purchased online at
  • Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling and most popular tour
  • Balcony House – a more adventurous tour requiring a climb of a huge wood ladder up a cliff face and rock steps carved in the cliffside to access the site (we chose this one).
  • Long House – the most in-depth tour which is farther away and requires over 2 miles hiking

Exploring Mesa Verde

Trip Date: June 2018

We drove from Great Sand Dunes National Park to Mesa Verde National Park and stopped in Durango, Colorado along the way to buy our Mesa Verde cliff dwelling tour tickets and to pick up some groceries for the next couple of days of camping. To visit the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, you need to take a guided tour – tickets are now available online at or in person at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, Morefield Ranger Station, Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, or the Durango Welcome Center. More info on the NPS Tour Tickets page and above in the “Activities” tab of our Helpful Resources section. After sand sledding in the Great Sand Dunes through the morning and driving for 4.5 hours, we were glad to get to Mesa Verde’s welcome center to take a shower and relax. We made a reservation in advance to stay at the campground, but that doesn’t reserve a specific site. After you check in at the main office, you can claim an empty campsite.

Mesa Verde_Deer in Morefield Campground
Deer in Morefield Campground

Luckily, we nabbed a site with lots of trees to protect us from the unrelenting sun. Wiped out from a long day, we set up camp, watched some deer weave between campsites, shared a beer with a solo traveler staying at the campsite next to us, made dinner, and played scrabble before getting to sleep early.

The next morning, we woke up early to hike the Petroglyph Point Trail, which was a beautiful way to start the day. Hiking the trail so early gave us some quiet solitude and cooler temps. Although you cannot take a tour of the Spruce House cliff dwelling as there is too great a risk of rock fall, you get a great view of it from the start of this trail. Along the 2.4 mile trail, we meandered through some narrow rocky sections, loose gravel paths, and cliff overhangs to see a petroglyph panel carved by Ancestral Puebloans and sweeping views of the surrounding mesas. 

Mesa Verde_Petroglyph Point Trail
Petroglyph Point Trail
Views of Mesas from Petroglpyh Point Trail
Petroglyphs at Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde Cliff Dwelling
Spruce Tree House
Ladder to Balcony House
Ladder to Balcony House

After our morning hike, we took a 1-hour ranger-guided tour of Balcony House, which is the most adventurous of all of the cliff dwellings. We started by walking a short path to the base of the dwelling with our guide and group and paused at the base of a steep wooden ladder. Balcony House is set in the cliff directly below the parking area, meaning, climbing this ladder up the cliff face is the only way to access this dwelling. Take a look at the helpful resources above and the pictures and information that the National Parks Service provides to determine if this is a desirable and/or feasible option for you. It was great for us, but we wouldn’t recommend it to those with any fear of heights. It was scarier than we thought!  

Balcony House
Balcony House

On the tour we got to explore the ruins and learned about the Ancestral Puebloan lifestyle and architecture. One of the most interesting features was the remains of this dwelling’s Kiva, a subterranean ceremonial building that would be accessible by a central ladder. If you go to Mesa Verde National Park, taking at least one cliff dwelling tour is a must. It’s really special to stand amongst the ancient ruins that housed generations in this arid landscape. 

Stone Stairs at Balcony House
Stone Stairs Leaving Balcony House

To exit Balcony House, we climbed through a small tunnel and then climbed stone steps carved into the cliff face. It felt pretty safe with chain rails for handholds, but those with any fear of heights might want to choose a different tour.

After the tour, we drove to the viewpoint of Cliff Palace, the largest and most popular cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. Unlike Balcony House, you can get a full view of Cliff Palace from a ledge by the parking lot, so we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything by not taking a tour. We made our way out of Mesa Verde National Park, stopping at a viewpoint for lunch, and continued to the Four Corners Monument, which is the only place where 4 states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah) meet. We would not recommend going out of your way at all to visit this, but since it was right off the highway along our route, we stopped to check it out. 

Mesa Verde_Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace
Mesa Verde National Park Viewpoint
Viewpoint Along the Road
Four Corners Monument
Four Corners Monument
National Parks Road Trip Featured Image - Road
Road to Grand Canyon

You can take a picture with the monument that marks the intersection of all four states (but beware, there might be a line) and check out stands with Native American crafts, jewelry, and other wares for sale. It was a perfect stop on another long driving day to pick up some souvenirs and stretch our legs as we headed down the road bound for Grand Canyon National Park.

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