Discover Thousands Of Archaeological Sites At This US National Park

The American Southwest is awash with natural and archaeological wonders. It is one of the best places in the U.S. to explore Native American sites and discover more about the fascinating history and culture of the people and the region. Many of the best-preserved American historical sites were once home to the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, who lived across the present-day states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. And there are few places with a greater concentration of sites than Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado.

In the southwest corner of the state, Mesa Verde National Park spans more than 52,000 acres of high plateaus and steep canyons. The name Mesa Verde translates to green table in Spanish, a fitting descriptor for the lush, flat-topped mountains that dominate the horizon. The park was established in 1906 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. One of its primary missions was the preservation of the archaeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who called this region home for more than 700 years.

The archaeological wonders of Mesa Verde

Around half a million visitors flock to Mesa Verde every year to step back in time and get a tangible experience of the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people. But don't worry, you won't be fighting with the crowds to catch a glimpse of the incredible archaeology here. There are more than 5,000 known sites, including 600 famous cliff dwellings, so there's room for everyone.

If there's one place you must see in the park, it's Cliff Palace. It is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. It has 150 rooms and 23 kivas (ceremonial chambers) and was once home to around 100 people. When visiting, you get to walk through the incredible stone structure and marvel at the architecture. Balcony House is another excellent stop in the park, but it is only for the agile: There are ladders to climb, tunnels to crawl through, and an open cliff face to ascend.

For those who would like to explore further, Square Tower House is in the backcountry and has the tallest standing structure in Mesa Verde. The hike to get there is rated as strenuous. To see these incredibly well-preserved cliff dwellings, you'll need to take a tour with a ranger; there are several options available, so please check the National Parks Service website. There are other cliff dwellings in the park you can see without joining a tour.

Other activities in Mesa Verde National Park

While the archaeological wonders are the primary draw for many, Mesa Verde offers a wide range of activities to engage visitors of all interests. For hikers, there are almost 30 miles of trails crisscrossing the park, ranging from easy walks to more challenging hikes. Several trails, like the Point Lookout Trail, offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Others, like the Petroglyph Point Trail, take you into the park's dramatic canyons and picturesque forests.

Wildlife and bird watching are also popular activities in the park. Black bears and mule deer are present, and common birds include Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures.

If you want to fully immerse yourself in the Mesa Verde experience, stay at the Morefield Campground inside the park. From Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends, there are evening programs every night at the campground so you can learn more about the area. Staying overnight here will also allow you to enjoy some of the best stargazing in the U.S. Mesa Verde was declared an International Dark Sky Park in 2021. On clear nights with no moon, the Milky Way can be seen clearly.