Our second park on this trip was Mesa Verde National Park. When most people think of Mesa Verde, they most likely picture Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings. As we discovered, this is only a small aspect of what soon became one of our favorite national parks. The two days we spent in the park allowed for a good balance of hiking and culture.
-Stay: Far View Lodge – only hotel in the park. Since the majority of the park’s cultural sites are at least an hour’s drive from the park entrance, spending your night here will save you a lot of time spent in the car. Also, the views are amazing and the Metate Room has great food.
-Tour: No matter how long your visit, allow time to take a ranger-led cliff dwelling tour. We were able to do the Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House tours, each unique in their own way. We particularly enjoyed the Cliff Palace Twilight tour: it is limited to 20 people (other tours allow up to 50 people) so it doesn’t feel crowded, and the evening sunlight is great for photos. Note: All tours can be booked at the visitor center, except for the Twilight tour which must be booked online.
-Hike: The Point Lookout trail (2.2 mi. rt, moderately strenuous due to the steep beginning) rewards you with a stunning panorama of the Montezuma and Mancos valleys below. The Petroglyph Point trail (2.4 mi. loop) begins near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum (a great introduction to the Ancestral Pueblo People), follows the cliffs along Spruce Canyon to a 12 ft. wide petroglyph panel, and returns via the mesa top.
-Drive: A 6-mile loop, the Mesa Top Loop allows you to see a variety of archeological pit houses and kivas as well as an excellent view of Cliff Palace and Navajo Canyon.