Mesa Verde National Park hiking trails

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Mesa Verde National Park Hiking Trails - Spruce Tree House

Hiking is part of this national park. On these Mesa Verde National Park hiking trails you can see the Cliff Dwellings as well as the scenery on the table mountain in Colorado. Many of the trails follow paths used by ancient cliff-dwellers. There is a large selection of hiking trails. In all, there are about 30 miles of trails in Mesa Verde. When hiking in Mesa Verde, you should consider that you are moving at high altitudes.

In addition, the region is hot and dry. You should prepare yourself for this. Always take enough water with you for the hike. Salty snacks or a light meal are helpful. You wander Mesa Verde on lands sacred to 26 tribes in the Southwest. That's why you can't leave the paths. Since you are traveling in a very dry region, smoking is also prohibited on the hiking trails. There have already been devastating fires in the Mesa Verde National Park.

The hiking trails that we present here can all be done without a guide. The most well-known cliff-top settlements, such as Cliff Palace, Balcony House on Chapin Mesa, and Long Palace on Wetherill Mesa, are only accessible with a guide. A separate fee applies for this. Also, participation is only after Sign in possible. The number of participants on the guided tours is limited. Spruce Tree House is currently inaccessible due to falling rocks (February 2024).

 

 

Hiking trails in Mesa Verde National Park

Some hiking trails are located in the vicinity of Morefield Campground. This map shows the trailheads where hiking trails begin at Morefield Campground. These trails are a good introduction to hiking in the National Park. Here you can spend the night with the mobile home and start three hikes from the campsite.

 

Mesa Verde National Park Hiking Trails at Morefield Campground
Mesa Verde National Park Hiking Trails at Morefield Campground Map: US National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Hiking trails in Mesa Verde National Park from Morefield Campground

The Knife Edge Trail

The Knife Edge Trail begins at Morefield Campground. (Left bottom corner on the map above). The trail owes its name to the steep overhangs. It follows the course of the first road built into the National Park in 1914. There are no cliff settlements here. Instead, you have a beautiful view of the sunset in the evening.

The Knife Edge Trail is not a loop trail. If you hike it, you have to take the same path back. It leads to views of the Montezuma Valley and Sleeping Ute Mountain. If you do the hike during the day, you will hardly find any shade here. Therefore, a hat and sunscreen are helpful.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 2 miles (3,2 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 60 feet (18 m)
  • Map

The Prater Ridge Trail

The parking lot, which is the starting point for this Mesa Verde National Park hiking trail, is located near the Morefield Campground Disposal Station. The Prater Ridge Trail consists of two circular routes that are connected to each other. Here you have the choice. You can hike both or choose one of the trails. To reach it, you must first walk 1,1 miles (1,8 km) uphill to the top of Prater Ridge. There you can choose the longer northern route (3,6 miles / 5,7 km) on the right. This follows the edge of the mesa with views of the Montezuma Valley. The 2,4-mile / 3,9-km southern loop offers views of the Prater and Morefield Canyon.

  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Distance: 7,8 miles (12,6 km) round trip
  • Northern Loop: 5,7 miles (9,2 km) loop
  • Southern Loop: 4,6 miles (7,5 km) loop
  • Height difference: 675 feet (205 m)
  • Map

The Point Lookout Trail

The third Mesa Verde National Park hiking trail that starts at Morefield Campground is the Point Lookout Trail. It starts at the amphitheater parking lot. From there it starts off relatively flat. However, the switchbacks that lead up to the Mesa are steep. At the top, the path flattens out again and only leads a little uphill to Point Lookout. Hikers can enjoy views of the San Juan and La Plata Mountains, as well as the Mancos and Montezuma Valleys.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Distance: 2,2 miles (3,5 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 400 feet (122 m)
  • Map

 

Hiking Trails Mesa Verde National Park Chapin Mesa
Hiking Trails Mesa Verde National Park Chapin Mesa Map: US National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hiking trails in Mesa Verde National Park on Chapin Mesa

The most famous cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park are located on Chapin Mesa. There are also some hiking trails that are worthwhile.

The Petroglyph Point Trail

This trail is one in Mesa Verde National Park that offers self-guided hikes to rock art and ruins. It is the second longest trail in the national park, after the Prater Ridge Trail in the northern part of the park. The trail starts next to the Chapin Mesa Museum. From there it first follows the paved path to the Spruce Tree House. Just before the ruins, the Petroglyph Point Trail branches off to the south. From there it runs near the plateau rim along the east side of Spruce Canyon. On the way you pass steep and narrow stone stairs and have to squeeze through a narrow rock passage. Along the way, you'll pass several small ruins and finally arrive at the largest example of rock art in the park.

One of the ruins is easily accessible from the trail. The others are further up out of range. The rock paintings cover quite a large area but are above the path. Therefore, it can be difficult to photograph them. Shown are handprints, animals, people, spirals and other geometric shapes.

The ascent to the Mesa Plateau involves climbing a 100-foot (30 m) cliff and negotiating rocks and uneven sandstone stairs. The return of the circular route then leads over flat terrain at the height of Table Mountain.

  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Distance: 2,4 miles (3,9 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 227 feet (69 m)
  • Map

The Spruce Canyon Trail

The Spruce Canyon Trail begins at the Spruce Tree House lookout at the Chapin Mesa Museum. The path leads through beautiful landscapes and spruce stands over switchbacks through Spruce Canyon. However, unlike the Petroglyph Point Trail, there are no ruins and rock art to see along the way. Only a few can be glimpsed in the distance. Instead, you learn more about the ecosystems in Mesa Verde National Park.

Therefore, this trail is not as crowded as other trails in the national park. Hikers must register. You can do this either in the museum. Alternatively, you can sign a logbook near the trailhead. Don't be fooled by the short distance. There are some steep sections along the way that take time. In winter the path is closed.

  • Difficulty: strenuous
  • Distance: 2,4 miles (3,9 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 558 feet (170 m)
  • Map

The Soda Creek Overlook Trail

This short trail is the only way to see the Balcony House without a guide. It leads to three viewpoints. Two of these offer views of the Balcony House. However, the second of these is so far from this cliff settlement that binoculars have been set up to get a better view of it. The trail begins at an exit along the road. From there it leads through juniper and pine forest to the canyon rim. The path offers little shade, so it can get very hot here in summer.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 1,2 miles (1,9 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 70 feet (21 m)
  • Map

Farming Terrace Trail

At the end of Cedar Tree Tower Road, this short trail winds through terraced fields. In it, the early Pueblo residents planted corn, beans, and squashes. With the terraces they tried to slow down the water runoff. They also wanted to prevent the erosion of the fertile soil. The trail is on the south side of the road. As you approach the point of the water outlet, the path leads downhill. This is where you can see the best terraces. Although the Puebloans no longer grow vegetables here, grasses and plants thrive.

At the bottom of the water drain, the trail follows another drain back to the road. On the way you can see further evidence that dams once held the water here. This part of the trail is a bit more difficult to walk. You will get back on the road between the ruins of Cedar Tree Tower and the trailhead. It is best to look at the ruins before returning to the car.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 0,5 miles (0,8 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 150 feet (45 m)

Far View Sites hiking trail in Mesa Verde National Park

The trailhead is on the park's main road about four miles north of the museum. Unlike the Cliff Dwellings, the Far View Sites are all on the top of the mesa. These include Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, Coyote Village, Megalithic House, Far View Tower and Far View Reservoir. Here you can imagine the settlements of the Anasazi between 900 and 1300 AD.. Between the buildings were fields where they grew corn, beans, and squashes. Only from 1200 did some of its inhabitants move to the cliff settlements. The building complexes on the mesa were much larger than the Cliff Dwellings and housed more people. This trail is particularly interesting because it allows you to enter the structures themselves.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Distance: 0,75 miles (1,2 km) round trip
  • Height difference: none
Wetherill Mesa
Mesa Verde National Park Hiking Trails Wetherill Mesa, Map: US National Park Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Hiking trails in Mesa Verde National Park on Wetherill Mesa

Wetherill Mesa is the quieter part of Mesa Verde National Park. This region is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Longer mobile homes are not permitted on the access road. The road is passable to the Wetherill Mesa Information Kiosk. The Long House Loop Trail is a 5-mile / 10-km tar road accessible only by foot or bike. (A tram operated on this road until 2015. This service has since been discontinued.) The distance between Far View Lodge and the Wetherill Mesa Information Kiosk is 13 miles / 21 km. Hikers should know that there is little shade on Wetherill Mesa's trails as all trails are on land destroyed by the Pony Fire of 2000. So bringing sun protection and enough water with you for the hike is definitely a good idea.

The Long House Loop Trail

Walking the Mesa Verde National Park Long House Loop hiking trail takes you to top attractions on Wetherill Mesa. Without detours, there are 5 miles / 8 km to hike. En route you reach Badger House Community (2,5 miles / 4 km loop), Long House Overlook (3 miles / 4,8 km loop) and Kodak House Overlook (4,5 miles / 7,2 km loop).

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Distance: 5 miles (8 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 177 feet (54 m)

The Step House Trail

Although the Step House Trail is one of the shorter trails in Mesa Verde National Park, it's worth a hike. It is especially suited for families with children. Start point is at the Wetherill Mesa Information Kiosk. The trail is only open when a ranger is on site. The path is partly gravel and partly paved. There are also stairs to overcome on the way.

This trail takes you to a multi-level clifftop settlement. If you walk the path counterclockwise, you will arrive at the lower level. From there you can get to the upper level either via a ladder or via a path. There is also a reconstructed pit house in the Step House.

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Distance: 1 mile (1,6 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 165 feet (50 m)

The Nordenskiold Site No. 16 hiking trail

The Nordenskiold Site #16 trail is perhaps one of the most serene trails in Mesa Verde National Park. It begins at the Wetherill Mesa Information Kiosk and leads across flat terrain to a lookout point at a bluff settlement on the other side of Rock Canyon. This is named after Gustav Nordenskiold, who excavated the settlement in 1891. The path leads through terrain whose vegetation burned down in the Pony Fire 2000. In the summer you can see plants starting to grow again along the way. There is no shade on this path. Therefore, you should take enough water and sunscreen with you.

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Distance: 2 miles (3,2 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 95 feet (29 m)
  • Map

The Badger House Community Walking Trail

This Mesa Verde National Park trail begins at the Wetherill Mesa Information Kiosk. You go past the turnoff to the Nordenskiold Site No. 16 hiking trail and cross the Long House Loop Trail. From there, the trail then leads to archaeological sites showing four surface settlements on the Wetherill Mesa. To protect against the elements, some of the buildings are covered. The trail offers no shade because the region also burned during the 2000 fire. There is only shade at the covered excavation sites. Water and sun protection are therefore essential.

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Distance: 2,25 miles (3,6 km) round trip
  • Height difference: 111 feet (34 m)

Summary

Mesa Verde National Park is of particular interest to those interested in the history, culture and lifestyle of the early Pueblo peoples. The best way to get to know them is on the hiking trails and by visiting the cliff settlements. If you want to see all the settlements and hikes in Mesa Verde National Park, you should spend the night in the park and plan several days for it. There is a lot to see. If you only have one day, you can limit yourself to the sights on Chapin Mesa instead. However, one day is not enough to see all of Chapin Mesa's trails and cliff houses.

 

That has to be in your suitcase, if you want to hike in Mesa Verde National Park

You should definitely be well equipped for hiking in Mesa Verde National Park. You need:

  • Shoes, which you can also use to walk over uneven terrain. The hiking trails in the national park are rocky and rough.
  • A  backpack, for example by taking your equipment with you for a day. It can get very hot during the day in summer. Therefore you need enough water.
  • Also, take one snack with you. There are no restaurants or shops in the more remote parts of the national park.
  • You'll also need one in the summer hat that protects against the sun. The paths are often in the blazing sun.
  • Did you pack everything for a hike? With our hiking checklist you can definitely check that.

 

Love touring the trails at Mesa Verde National Park in an RV?

 

Mesa Verde National Park Questions and Answers

What are the best hikes in Mesa Verde National Park?

That depends entirely on your interests. If you primarily want to see the cliff settlements, then the guided hikes to the Cliff Palace, the Balcony House or the Long House are definitely the best known. However, these can only be viewed in groups. However, I like hiking on my own more. It's best to combine several hiking trails where you can easily understand the development of the settlements. For example, the hiking trail to the Far View Sites, the Petroglyph Point Trail, the Farming Terrace Trail and the Badger House Community Trail are suitable for this. However, the mesa and its surroundings are best viewed from the hiking trails that begin at Morefield Campground.

 


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Mesa Verde National Park Hikes
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Source: own research, hikes and local travel. Our opinions definitely remain our own.

Text: Monika Fuchs and TravelWorldOnline
Photos: NPS and Wikimedia Commons public domain
Video: Monika Fuchs and TravelWorldOnline

Mesa Verde National Park hiking trails

Monika Fuchs

Monika Fuchs and Petar Fuchs are the authors and publishers of the Slow Travel and Enjoyment travel blog TravelWorldOnline Traveller. You have been publishing this blog since 2005. TravelWorldOnline has been online since 2001. Your topics are Trips to Savor and wine tourism worldwide and Slow Travel. During her studies, Monika Fuchs spent some time in North America, where she traveled to the USA and Canada - sometimes together with Petar Fuchs - and spent a research year in British Columbia. This strengthened her thirst for knowledge, which she pursued for 6 years Adventure Guide for Rotel Tours and then for 11 years as Study tour guide for Studiosus Reisen tried to breastfeed all over the world. She constantly expanded her travel regions, but curiosity still gnawed at her: “What is beyond the horizon? What else is there to discover in this city? Which people are interesting here? What do you eat in this region?” These are the questions she is now trying to answer as a freelance travel journalist (her articles have appeared in DIE ZEIT, 360° Canada, 360° USA, etc.), among others. travel writer and travel blogger answers in many countries around the world. Petar Fuchs produces the videos on this blog as well as on YouTube. Monika Fuchs from TravelWorldOnline is below Germany's top 50 bloggers in 2021 Other Information about Monika and Petar Fuchs. Recommendations on LinkedIn from tourism experts Further recommendations from cooperation partners and tourism experts Professional experience Monika on LinkedIn