Summer vacation is in full swing, and there’s an awe-inspiring gem tucked into the corner of our own state: Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde is the perfect destination to be the centerpiece for your vacation, whether it’s a quick road trip, a weekend getaway or a full-blown, weeklong southwest Colorado shindig of summery goodness.
Durango is the largest city near Mesa Verde and sits 35 miles east of the park entrance. In addition to the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center and the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, visitors can enjoy stunning hikes, nature trails and bird-watching opportunities.
But the cliff dwellings are the true stars of Mesa Verde. The ruins are incredibly perched inside canyon walls, and visitors can step inside actual dwellings where Pueblo Indians lived over a thousand years ago. Mesa Verde — which is Spanish for “green table” — is home to 5,000 known archeological sites of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived there between 600 A.D. and 1300 A.D. The park preserves and protects about 600 cliff dwellings, several of which are open to the public for tours.
Guided tours of the park’s largest ruins, including Cliff Palace (150 rooms), Balcony House (40 rooms), Spruce Tree House (130 rooms) and Long House (150 rooms) are available, or guests can opt for a self-guided tour of Spruce Tree House and Step House. Although most of the cliff dwellings are open to the public through the fall — and some until spring — both Long House and Step House close after Labor Day Weekend.
Summer is the park’s busy season, and although crowds can be annoying, you risk missing some of the options if you wait until after Labor Day. The park is open year-round, but it reduces the frequency of tours, hikes and programs in early September, so now is the perfect time to go.