Located in Colorado to the south of the La Plata Mountains, Mesa Verde National Park protects the cultural heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people and is a World Heritage Site with roughly 4,700 archaeological sites and about 600 cliff dwellings.
If you want to step back in time and see how the Ancestral Puebloan people lived, RVing Mesa Verde National Park will leave you in awe as you walk around some of the most well-preserved archaeological sites in the United States.
Why Visit Mesa Verde National Park in an RV?
Mesa Verde is ideal for visiting in an RV since it is much less crowded than other national parks and is the perfect place to stop to rest and recharge for a few days while you are RVing around the American southwest.
Spend a few days hooked up at Morefield Campground located inside the park, and drive less than 40 minutes away to explore the mountain town of Durango. Make sure to make a reservation ahead of time since the campground only includes 15 full hookup RV sites.
Driving around the park takes around two hours and is accessible by all motor homes with parking options at most overlooks. If you have a trailer or car hitched on the back of your RV, make sure to unhook just past the main entrance gate due to a few tight turns throughout the park and trailer restrictions.
When to Visit Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with peak season in the summer. Most of the cliff dwellings can only be viewed on ranger-led tours, which are offered from the beginning of May through the end of October. Read more specific updates on hours of operation on the National Park Service website.
Mesa Verde National Park in the Spring
Spring at Mesa Verde is an excellent time to visit when the bitter cold temperatures start rising, and more aspects of the park begin to reopen. Weather can still be intermittent, and the cliff dwellings can be viewed from afar. But the tour season for the cliff dwellings and other events in the park doesn’t begin until May 1.
Mesa Verde National Park in the Summer
Summer is the busy season at Mesa Verde National Park when advanced reservations are required for cliff dwelling tours and are available online up to 14 days in advance. This is a wonderful time of year to explore all the hiking trails Mesa Verde offers and take in the stunning views of the sacred dwellings.
Mesa Verde National Park in the Fall
Mesa Verde starts to get quiet again in the fall, making it a great time of year to continue to enjoy the hikes. The fall is a good time to escape the heat with cooler temperatures, avoid the crowds, and enjoy the high mesa autumn views.
Mesa Verde National Park in the Winter
Winter at Mesa Verde is significantly quieter. Although you cannot take any tours, there are wonderful opportunities for winter recreation. Hiking trails are still open before the snow falls, and there are many options for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing once there is a base of snow on the ground. Be prepared for winter driving conditions and only self-guided activities at this time.
Where to Stay
The only campground in Mesa Verde National Park is Morefield Campground. The campground is in a beautiful canyon with plenty of wildlife and native flowers. There is a camp store for supplies, Wi-Fi, bathrooms, showers, and coin-operated laundry.
Morefield Campground offers 267 campsites with fire pits and picnic tables, but only 15 of them are full hook-up RV sites, so making a reservation is highly recommended.
Tips for your Camping Stay
- For reservations at Morefield Campground, go through Aramark or call 1 (800) 449-2288.
- Tent sites are usually available first come, first serve due to the many dry camping sites at Morefield Campground.
- Up to two cars and four motorcycles are permitted per site. No more than one RV or travel trailer may be hooked up at the full hookup sites.
- Quiet hours are from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- Keep all coolers, cooking equipment, food, and utensils locked in your vehicles when not in use to prevent wildlife from coming into the campground.
Staying Outside the Park
If Morefield Campground is full or you want to stay closer to Durango, there are some other private campground options such as:
- Oasis RV Resort & Cottages: Located in Durango, Colorado, about 50 minutes away from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
- Mancos State Park: Located in Mancos, Colorado, about 20 minutes away from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
- Bayfield Riverside RV Park: Located in Bayfield, Colorado, about 1 hour away from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
- Alpen Rose RV Park: Located in Durango, Colorado, about 50 minutes away from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
- Sky Ute Fairgrounds and RV Park: Located in Ignacio, Colorado, about 1 hour and 10 minutes away from the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
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How to Get Around Mesa Verde National Park
The easiest way to get around Mesa Verde National Park is driving a car or an RV without a trailer or towed car. Trailers and towed vehicles are not permitted in the park beyond Morefield Campground. Towable campers must be dropped off at your campsite or in the parking lot by the main entrance before you venture further into the park.
There are a few sharp turns on this scenic route that ranges from 6,900 to 8,572 feet of elevation and plenty of pull-offs to take in the views. Plan on at least 2 hours of driving in and out of the park.
The Wetherill Mesa Road is open from early May to late October. It’s 12 miles long, beginning at Far View and ending at Wetherill Mesa. The road has a vehicle length restriction of 25 feet and a weight restriction of 8,000 pounds due to tight curves and steep grades.
The only other vehicle restriction in the park is a height restriction of 20.5 feet for the tunnel between mileposts 4 and 5 on the main road after you go through the park entrance. Many of the roads are also open to bicycles for those wanting to explore the park out of their vehicles.
Places to Go
These are the most popular spots to visit on your trip to Mesa Verde:
Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center
Right before the entrance to the park, make the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center your first stop. Check out different rotating exhibits and learn more about the rich culture and history of the Ancestral Puebloan people. This is also a place where you can learn about different tours or offerings that are happening in the area during the time of your visit.
Mesa Top Loop Road
Mesa Top Loop Road was closed starting July 2022 for construction. Consult the park’s website for the latest conditions and safety alerts.
The Mesa Top Loop Road on the park’s south end is open from 8:00 am to sunset daily and offers views of many pit houses and cliff dwellings. Download the park’s app ahead of time so you can listen to the narration of the dwellings along your drive and finish the loop near the entrance to the world-famous Cliff Palace.
Along the Cliff Palace Loop road, find the largest cliff dwelling in North America and a world-famous sacred dwelling that once inhabited around 100 Puebloan people. With over 150 rooms, take a tour of Cliff Palace and walk back in time and see how the Puebloan Ancestors lived 1,400 years ago.
Cliff Palace is only accessible on a ranger-led, thirty-minute tour. These tours are offered from late July to late October. If you are not around during the tour operating season, check out the view of Cliff Palace from the Cliff Palace Loop road or across the canyon.
Also located along the Cliff Palace Loop is more of an adventure tour of the Balcony House. This tour involves scaling a cliff face, climbing up ladders, and squeezing through tunnels on your hands and knees. Prepare to get dirty and a little scared! The one-hour tour of Balcony House runs from late July to late October.
Petroglyph Point Hike
Check out the Petroglyph Point Trail right before Cliff Palace Loop and Mesa Top Loop for some rugged scrambling, epic views, and a large panel of Ancestral Pueblo petroglyphs. This is a moderate 2.4-mile loop that has some technical aspects and stunning views of the vast landscape.
Located on the western side of the park on Wetherill Mesa, the Long House was once home to around 150-175 people. These unique archaeological ruins consist of around 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and the remains of a plaza which was a meeting place for events in the Ancestral Puebloan community.
Take the winding 12-mile road out to Wetherill Mesa, and you will arrive at the Long House near mile marker 15. Book a tour to get the full close-up experience, and be aware that vehicles over 25 feet are not permitted on the Wetherill Mesa road.
Things To Do in Mesa Verde National Park
Here are a few of our favorite activities to enjoy while you’re in the park:
Cliff Dwelling Tours
Mesa Verde National Park has many Cliff Dwelling Tours, such as Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Long House, Mug House, and Square Tower House. Tickets are available 14 days in advance by calling 1 (877) 444-6777 or making a reservation online. Tours are generally available from early May to the end of October.
One of the best ways to explore Mesa Verde National Park is by hiking. Explore some of the many trails in Morefield Canyon, Chapin Mesa, and Wetherill Mesa. The trails range in difficulty from easy to challenging.
One of the most popular, easy, and accessible routes in the park is the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. This mellow walk is 1.2 miles roundtrip and provides views of Balcony House, and weaves through juniper tree forest groves.
Known as an International Dark Sky Park, stargazing at Mesa Verde is literally out of this world. The Ancestral Pueblo people were observers of the sky, and the lack of light pollution in the area lets you view the stars as the Puebloan people did when they were living on the mesa.
The high elevation, clear skies, climate, and lack of people and homes nearby contribute to the stunning view of the stars in this remote area of Colorado.
Cultural Dances and Celebrations
Mesa Verde holds many different cultural dances and celebrations due to the rich culture and connection to the different tribes who inhabit and come from the land of the Four Corners region. View the calendar to plan out your trip and see some different performances while you are visiting Mesa Verde National Park.
Four Corners Lecture Series
The Four Corners Lecture Series invites a diverse collection of speakers throughout the busy season. They hold discussions and presentations on topics such as Native American culture, regional archaeology, history, and natural resources.
If you want to spend a day nearby Mesa Verde, enjoy the surrounding desert by horseback. There are several riding stables in the area to choose from, including Rimrock Outfitters, Mesa Verde Stables, and Four Corners Horseback.
Another fun activity in the park is biking the paved Long House loop trail. Cars are not permitted on this loop, so you will only find pedestrians and bicycles making it the safest biking route in the park. The Wetherill Mesa road that takes you to the Long House loop does not permit bicycles. So you will need a vehicle to drive your bicycles to the trailhead and enjoy the bike ride once you arrive.
What to Bring and How to Prepare
- Prepare for the sun: Mesa Verde is in the desert. During the day, it can get really hot, especially in the summer. Prepare for minimal cloud coverage by bringing sunscreen, layers, and sunglasses. Look into sunshades for your RV, camper van, or tent site to keep cool on hot afternoons.
- Food and drink: One cafe is open year-round, and 3-4 are open in the summer. Still, it’s smart to hit the grocery store ahead of time since they have limited options. Bring a cooler or use your RV’s refrigerator to keep food and drinks cool after leaving the store. Make sure to have extra water because of the high temperatures in the desert.
- Stay on the trail: Hiking off the trail at Mesa Verde National Park is not permitted. Stay on trails so you don’t get lost or tread on fragile desert vegetation. Sometimes the roads get sandy on surrounding dirt roads outside the park, so make sure to have your off-terrain recovery traction boards in your vehicle.
- Stock up on gas: There are a few gas stations located near the entrance, but once you are inside the park, make sure you have over half a tank of gas since it takes a couple hours to drive around to the different destinations. Or carry a portable fuel tank so you can top off as needed.
- Preservation of archaeological sites and the land: A lot of efforts have been made in the preservation and maintenance of the cliff dwellings and other sites in the national park. Make sure to follow all the rules and pay attention to your guides by respecting the land of the Ancestral Puebloans.
- Reservations: Remember to book all tours up to 14 days in advance since reservations are required. There is also only 1 campsite in the National Park, so remember to book ahead if you know your plans!
Brief History of Mesa Verde National Park
Throughout Mesa Verde National Park, the Ancestral Pueblo people thrived for over 700 years, starting around 1,400 years ago. The community flourished here as they built their homes on the mesa and the surrounding cliffs. Eventually spanning a couple generations, they moved from their homes in late 1200 AD.
In 1765 it is believed that Don Juan Maria de Rivera stumbled across the ruins on an expedition of the west. By 1859 the name Mesa Verde was being used, and several different expeditions had come across the cliff dwellings and pueblos. From 1900 to 1905, several bills were sent to congress to protect these archaeological wonders and create Mesa Verde National Park. None of the five bills sent were passed at that time.
Finally, in 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill establishing Mesa Verde as a National Park. This bill was passed to preserve the culture, natural resources, and 4,700 archaeological sites.
Some of the remains in the national park include pueblos, pit houses, masonry towers, farming structures, and kivas. That same year the Antiquities Act of 1906 was passed that made it a federal crime to deface any building on federally-owned land or collect any prehistoric objects.
Today people travel from all over the world to explore the ancient cliff dwellings and many archaeological sites from the Ancient Puebloan people of the American southwest. The park protects 26 Pueblo and Tribes in the Four Corners region, and the many people involved with Mesa Verde help keep the culture alive and preserve these ancient ruins.
Have you visited Mesa Verde National Park? Share your first-hand tips and tricks in the comments below!