When Is the Best Time
Mesa Verde is always open. We recommend a visit after Labor Day in September. However, the best time to visit depends on what you are looking for. Read on for detailed information about the weather, how to avoid the crowds and the best time for tours:
The best time to avoid the crowds and still enjoy pleasant weather is September after Labor Day, as long as guided tours are offered. School holidays are between the end of May and Labor Day. Around 600,000 visitors come to Mesa Verde annually, most of them in the summer. There are fewer people in the early morning and the late afternoon.
There isn’t much rain. It’s a dry area better known as “Four Corners”. The driest month is June, the "wettest" in August. Thunderstorms occur in summer. In Autumn the temps are still pleasant. Due to the high-elevation snow is common in the winter. Spring starts late, and temps are bearable in the summer with around 30°C / 86°, winter average is 4°C / 39°F. Check road and weather conditions first, as it’s located in high elevation between 7,000 to 8,572 foot / 2.134 to 2.613 meter. During heavy snowfall, roads may be closed. The road to Wetherill Mesa with the Step House and Long House opens to the public depending on the weather conditions (snow and ice) between late April to Mid-May and closure between mid to late October. The road is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in spring and fall and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Mesa Verde lookouts are open year-round, even in winter from 8 A.M. until sunset. Visitor Center and Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum are also open throughout the year. Check the Opening hours. Most shops, restaurants, gas station are open from late spring to late fall.
Where and Tips
Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to preserve 600 cliff dwellings of the ancestral Pueblo people or Anasazi. This important archaeological site was used for about a century only. The Anasazi left around 1300. It is estimated that it was home for 5000-6000 people. Mesa Verde housed one of the largest cliff dwelling complexes in the world with natural overhangs for shelter and plenty of sunshine. Four of them are open to the public, three guided and one self-guided.
Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
- Cliff Palace: This is the largest cliff dwelling. Guided tours of the popular Cliff Palace are offered from the end of May until end of September. Tours are offered every half an hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and take one hour. You have to climb four wooden ladders. It’s almost one hour driving to the lookout and starting point. Best light for a good photo of the Cliff Palace: From the early afternoon on. There is even a popular tour offered, the "Twilight Photography Tour" at sunset which has a limit of people.
- Balcony House: This one hour guided tour is offered at the end of May until end of October and very exciting. You need to climb a 32-foot-high ladder, crawl through a tunnel and again two ladders to the exit. It’s more than an hour drive to the starting point of this trail. "The Balcony House Sunrise Tour" is a marvelous experience but only offered very few times in June and in September. The advantage of this offered tours: You’ll have the place almost to yourself.
- Long House: This is the longest guided tour and takes two hours. It is offered from the end of May to mid-October. This tour includes hiking and climbing to ladders. It’s more than an hour drive to the Wetherill Mesa information kiosk. Vehicles over 25 feet / 8 meters are not permitted on this road.
- Step House: It can be visited self-guided only from mid-May to mid-October.
Spruce Tree House: It is closed due to safety reasons because of rock falls in August 2015. It is the third largest and best-preserved one. However, it can be seen from overlooks close to the Chapin Mesa Museum.
3 Top Tips
- Check the schedule for guided tours first. Tickets are required and can be purchased two days in advance at the earliest. They are sold out quickly for the Cliff Palace, the Balcony House, and the Long House. You need to buy them in person.
- Guided backcountry hikes to remote cliff dwellings range from half- to nine-miles, tickets have to be purchased in advance. Make a reservation online to get a ticket for the backcountry hikes, the Balcony House Sunrise tour, and the Twilight Photography tour. These tours are very popular, and tickets are sold out quickly.
- Schedule a whole day or even more if possible, the park shouldn’t be rushed. It’s almost one hour driving from the information center to the Cliff Palace lookout. Add additional time for stops at the different panoramic lookouts.
Pictures provided by Chris