Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde is another really under-appreciated national park. While it is one of the first national parks in the U.S., it’s a cultural attraction, not a natural one. In fact, North America is seriously lacking in ancient structures (due do the nomadic nature of the original inhabitants), and Mesa Verde is one of the finest.

If you’re visiting Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, here’s what you need to know about this important site.


Mesa Verde National Park

The Mesa Verde National Park is a US national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located in Montezuma County in Colorado. The park was established in 1906 and covers a total land area of 52,485 acres. However, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 for its cultural significance. It is also listed as one of the properties included in the US National Register of Historic Places.

The Mesa Verde National Park was established to protect the Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites, which is one of the largest and most important in the entire United States. There are 600 cliff dwellings and over 4,000 archaeological sites found within this property – this makes it the largest archaeological preserve in the US Mesa Verde. The Cliff Palace is the most notable attraction within the park. It is the continent’s largest cliff dwelling.

From the World Heritage inscription for Mesa Verde National Park:

A great concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings, built from the 6th to the 12th century, can be found on the Mesa Verde plateau in southwest Colorado at an altitude of more than 2,600 m. Some 4,400 sites have been recorded, including villages built on the Mesa top. There are also imposing cliff dwellings, built of stone and comprising more than 100 rooms.

About Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park was officially designated its current status as a national park in 1906 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Its earliest history can be traced back to the 7,500 BCE wherein the region was inhabited by nomadic Paleo-Indians that called the Foothills Mountain complex their home. A few years later, Archaic people established a settlement within the rock shelters in the area, particularly near the mesa. The Ancient Puebloans, however, were the ones who settled in the region the longest and have created the most impact on the land. It is their dwellings that are currently preserved along with the other archaeological preserves in the area.

In order to survive, the Mesa Verdeans hunted local small game. They also organized hunting parties that traveled long distances to find a catch. This way of life can be glimpsed into by some of the archaeological remains and ruins within the site of the UNESCO property. These hunting tools, their dwellings, and pottery provided a glimpse into the way of life for the Ancestral Puebloans.

In addition to the cliff dwellings, there were also rock art and murals that were discovered in the area. The dispersion of these rock arts was uneven and periodic though. Some areas will have numerous rock art while the other areas have none. In addition, the styles of rock art also varied greatly. This exhibits the possibility of the many different inhabitants that have settled in the region.

Know Before You Go

Mesa Verde National Park

Before you plan a visit to the Mesa Verde National Park, here are a few basic information you need to know:

  • The Mesa Verde National Park is unique because it is the only one of its kind that aims to preserve the villages and objects that were created by ancient civilizations.
  • If you want to explore the park, you can use the following towns as your headquarters: Dolores, Cortez, and Mancos. All of these have lodging options, restaurants and a few basic facilities you can use during your stay.
  • The park is open daily and all year round.
  • The park features mostly temperate weather, which is typical of the Southwest Colorado region.
  • There are up to 10 designated hiking trails within the park for tourists to explore
  • There are 17 days a year wherein you can access the park for free. It is during the National Park Week, National Park Service’s birthday, National Public Lands Day and Veterans Day. Make sure you check the dates for these holidays prior to your visit.
  • The park has its Cortez Cultural Center that is open for tourists who want to view displays and exhibits that provide information about the present-day tribes that once inhabited the region included within the UNESCO property.
  • The Mesa Verde National Park is a birder’s paradise with up to 200 species of birds.
  • Aside from the bird species, there is also a hefty amount of plant species in the area. There are over 600 plant species that inhabit the property covered by the park.
  • There are over 5,00 ancient dwellings and archaeological sites found within the park’s cliffs and cave systems.

View all the National Park Service Sites in Colorado.

View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States.

Gary Arndt
Gary Arndt

Gary began traveling the world in 2007. His travels have taken him to over 200 countries and territories and 400 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

He is a 3x Lowell Thomas Award winner and a 3x North American Travel Photographer of the Year.