Is Mesa Verde National Park Worth Visiting? Here’s Everything You Need to Know about Touring the Famous Cliff Dwellings

I’ll be honest, Mesa Verde National Park has never been on my radar. I didn’t really even know anything about it until I was plotting out a huge road trip through the southwest (mostly Utah and Arizona) and saw that it was only a short detour from where I was going to be one day traveling from Monument Valley to Moab. 

Now full disclosure, I will go out of my way to visit a National Park, National Monument, or National Historic Site (I’m all about collecting those passport stamps) so adding a couple of hours in driving time to my trip was a no brainer for me if it meant checking off another National Park from my list. 

Is Mesa Verde National Park Worth Visiting?

Mesa Verde National Park is located in the southeastern corner of Colorado and it’s the only National Park that preserves a cultural history. Established as a National Park in 1906, Mesa Verde is home to the best preserved cliff dwellings in the United States. 

So while this park is beautiful (mountains! views!), it’s really all about touring the cliff dwellings. And honestly, I think it’s one of the most unique National Parks in the country. 

Mesa Verde is home to some ADVENTURES. Seriously, I found myself climbing a 30 FOOT LADDER up to one of the cliff dwellings and having to squeeze through an 18 inch tunnel to get out. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this happening in a National Park. 

Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

There are plenty of cliff dwellings that you can see from overlooks around the park. Check out Spruce Tree House, the Far Away Sites, Cliff Palace, and the sites along the Mesa Top Loop Road. 

But there are also THREE cliff dwellings that you can tour with a park ranger during certain times of the year: Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Square Tower House. 

Square Tower House is in the backcountry of the park and only accessible on a ranger led hike from June through October at 8:30 AM on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays. 

But ranger led tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House are available DAILY from mid May to mid October. 

They have made a change to how tours are handled this season though and now you have to reserve tickets in advance through recreation.org. Tour availability opens up 14 days in advance and tours cost $8/person. During the peak summer season, they usually sell out in advance. 

For dates in mid September, I was able to get exactly the days and times I wanted when the window opened up.

The ranger led tours for Cliff Palace and Balcony House are both one hour long and there are many times offered each day so it’s pretty easy to do both in one day. Also, they’re located near the same location in the park so we were able to do both with just a 30 minute window in between. 

We did the Cliff Palace at 11:30 AM and Balcony House at 1 PM with no problem. But it was tight and we went straight from one to the other. 

Cliff Palace is the most popular tour to do. It’s not super strenuous but there are a few ladders and tight staircases you have to climb.

Balcony House is much more intense. You have to climb a 30 foot ladder to get up to it plus at one point there’s an 18 inch wide tunnel you have to climb through (it’s short though). As someone with a pretty moderate fear of heights, I really had to power through the ladder and it wasn’t easy but I did it! Definitely watch a video on YouTube before you go so you know exactly what you’re dealing with. 

I’ll post photos of each tour below…

Cliff Palace

Balcony House

Overall I’m really glad I did both tours because they are pretty different, but there is a lot of overlap as far as what the rangers tell you on both tours. 

Is Mesa Verde National Park Worth Visiting? 

I would definitely say yes! But you’ll for sure want to have reservations to tour at least Cliff Palace or Balcony House. I don’t think I would go out of my way to come here if I couldn’t do a tour. 

Mesa Verde is only about 40 minutes from Durango, CO. And about 2 hours from Moab, UT so it’s a pretty easy day trip from either place. 

Also, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Yucca House National Monument are both in the same area and offer more pueblo ruins and cliff dwellings. 

If you’re looking for a good spot for lunch or dinner in Cortez, I really liked the Farm Bistro.