Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado was created after ancient cliff dwellings were discovered in the sides of the rock face high in the canyon walls in the 1800’s. These ruins were built by Ancestral Pueblo People in and around 700 AD. It’s one of the best preserved pieces of history in the United States.
The Wonders of Mesa Verde National Park
I LOVE history and had been wanting to bring my children here to see the amazing ruins of Mesa Verde National Park. We were traveling to Colorado to visit family and this activity was No. 1 on our list. I am still trying to wrap my head around the location, intricate detail and floor plans of these dwellings.
The park offers two types of viewings. You can take a guided tour which takes you down into a few ruins for a more intimate discovery including climbing tall ladders and staying in a group, or you can explore a limited amount on your own with only one up close viewing and multiple sights from afar. Having 3 kids, one of them being a 5 year old boy who is more or less a Curious George, we opted to explore on our own.
Tips for Seeing Mesa Verde
*Bring motion sickness medicine! The road up to Mesa Verde is gorgeous, but quite winding. We were prepared… for once … all passengers who get car sick were content.
*Start your visit at the Mesa Verde Visitors Center. It sets the tone for everything you are about to explore.
*Bring plenty of water! The descent into the first ruin is steep and when you walk back up, you will feel the burn. Take your time and don’t over exert yourself! There is still entirely too much awesomeness to see.
*Eat before you arrive for the tour. The hiking will no doubt make you hungry, but there is no eating on the trails. We learned this the hard way when I busted out a bag of pretzels. In and around the visitor’s center is the only spot for a snack. I suggest eating before the tour and leaving some snacks in the car. That way you can stuff your face when making your way to the many other drivable viewings.
Spruce Canyon Tree House
This is the only cliff dwelling that can be explored up close without the tour guide. With small children, this was perfect! It is difficult to put into words the detail and craftsmanship of these ruins. Such an amazing sight. Even a root cellar was accessible by ladder and the kids went crazy for it.
I strongly recommend bringing some sort of poison ivy wash, as there are signs all around warning tourists of the poison ivy that protrudes from the trail. I also suggest having little ones wear pants. When “don’t touch that” escaped my lips, my son said, “what? This?” and grabbed a handful of leaves, I was ecstatic when I realized I looked in my backpack and found some anti-itch cream and an outdoor skin cleanser to wash off the oils. Winning! I was able to calm down and enjoy the rest of the sights.
Upon leaving the Spruce Canyon Tree House, there is an option to travel further down the cliffs to see ancient petroglyphs which I would have been all to happy to explore, but the trail was no longer paved and quite rocky, so we chose to pass. When you make your way back up the trail, the rest of the exploring is done by car. We took the “Mesa Top Loop.” A 6 mile driving loop of houses and villages. This is where we stuffed our faces with snacks. We stopped along the route at our leisure to explore the many structures along the way. The bathrooms were plentiful and well maintained, perfect for small bladders.
This is a “STOP THE CAR!” sight. The view from across the canyon is magnificent. The “Sun Point View” area is the perfect spot to take it all in. Even telescopes are provided to get an up close look at the detail. All along the cliffs are buildings, walls, chimneys, and an amphitheater where important ceremonies were held. This was the perfect way to end the day.
This trip took us roughly 3.5 hours on our own. The $10 National Park pass is good for 7 days and worth every penny–and more. If we would have had more time, we would have definitely taken advantage of the pass and gone back for more exploring. These ruins show a past of back breaking hard work, dedication, pride, perseverance and unity. Something we all need to be reminded of and something that I will take any opportunity to expose my children to.
Have you visited Mesa Verde? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.