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Best Mesa Verde Attractions for Families
Mesa Verde Attractions:

Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and Balcony House are  the three most popular attractions at Mesa Verde.

But some of the best attractions for families draw the fewest visitors.
 



Did You Know?

Every room in Mesa Verde's Far View Lodge has a private balcony. Views from those balconies stretch more than 100 miles.

In the early morning, forest animals, including wild horses, can be seen and heard in the rugged landscape surrounding the lodge.




Read our Book Review
The Family Guide to Colorado's National Parks and Monuments





Photo: Mesa Verde's Spruce Tree House offers kids a chance
to explore a kiva, while parents can ask rangers questions.


Educational, as well as engaging, Mesa Verde's attractions offer vacationing families a glimpse of ancient Colorado civilization. The rugged canyons and views into four states form a beautiful backdrop for touring these silent stone towns, occupied only by the spirits of the ancient Puebloans who built them.


Far View Visitor Center

With a kiva’s circular shape, the Far View Visitor Center is an architectural attraction, itself. Climb the ramp that sweeps around the outside of the building, and a vast panorama of canyons, mesas, and spires unfolds before you. With interpretive displays and very friendly rangers to help you plan your trip, this is the obvious place to start. Plus, the visitor center is the only place to buy tickets for ranger-guided tours of the most popular archeological sites. A line forms around the 8 o’clock opening time as people compete for limited spaces on the tours they want most. Rangers do a good job of controlling the crowd and answering questions at the same time.


Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum

Newly renovated with a modern air conditioning system, this museum houses a spectacular collection of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts. You can also see a 25-minute movie about Mesa Verde there, which is shown every half-hour. Junior Rangers in the making must study the museum’s dioramas, which do an excellent job of explaining the ancient Puebloans’ lives and cultural evolution in the area. 


Spruce Tree House
 

A trail from the back door of the museum leads into the shady canyon of Spruce Tree House. Rangers are on hand and booklets are available for a self-guided tour of this cliff dwelling. A spring provides moisture for comparatively lush vegetation – a relief after the glare of the desert, above. However, those lush plants include healthy patches of poison ivy, so watch the kidlets accordingly.

Spruce Tree House has the only kiva in the park that is open for visitors. While you are welcome to climb the ladder down into it, the space should be respected as the religious structure that it is.


Mesa Top Loop Drive

A self-guided driving tour, the Mesa Top Loop Drive is a fantastic way to get a sense for Ancestral Puebloan cultural development. Many of the sites are not built into the cliff walls, but rather were discovered on the mesa’s flat surface. And unlike some of the more famous cliff dwellings, these sites are left mostly un-reconstructed. Roofs were built over the excavations to protect them from the elements, and interpretive signs and the booklet do a good job at explaining how archeologists work and think.  This is a good tour for families who are fascinated by what they see in the more popular sites and are hungry to learn more.


Cliff Palace

This most famous of cliff dwellings has become the icon for Mesa Verde. It is a good thing it is so big, because the Park Service starts a group of 60 people through every half-hour. In such a large group, it is hard to get a sense for the spiritual nature of the structure, much less have time for many questions. The discussion of the site offered by the ranger was very basic, which is understandable since for many visitors this is their first exposure to the ancient Puebloan people.


Wetherill Mesa Tram to the Long House Tour

Perhaps it is the 12-mile long, narrow road that twists its way to Wetherill Mesa. Or maybe it is that so many sites are concentrated on Chapin Mesa that people figure it is more efficient to see some of those and call it good. Whatever the reason, 85% of Mesa Verde’s visitors never make it out to Long House. The sheer relief from the bustle and congestion of Chapin Mesa makes this tour worth it.

The steep, ¾-mile round trip tour of Long House involves climbing three ladders. However, the buildings ark around the canyon’s top with a pleasing rhythm, and the view from the central plaza captures visitors’ thoughts. A seep near the alcove wall ads a bit of humidity to the desert air. Our ranger was obviously in love with the place, and very knowledgeable about his subject. “To me it is one of the most special places in the park,” he said.


Balcony House

With tall ladders to climb and an eighteen-inch wide, twelve-foot tunnel to crawl through, the Balcony House tour is great fun for kids. Parents enjoy it, too, but the exposure to heights means they have to be vigilant. It isn’t recommended for acrophobics, but the view from the ladders is outstanding. The talk that rangers deliver while touring Balcony House is fairly basic, making this a good first tour and introduction to the culture of the people who built the cliff dwellings.


Morefield Village

As far as I can tell, Morefield Village hasn’t changed since I first visited Mesa Verde as a small child. Tucked into a pretty valley between mesas, the complex has a parking lot the size of Wal-Mart’s. This is surrounded on three sides by a gas station, a shower/laundromat building, and a gift shop/convenience store/snack bar building.

Directly behind the complex, but mostly hidden by low hills, stretches the park’s campground. Stop in at the gas station to fuel up and to reserve a campsite or a bus tour run by ARAMARK. When we were there, the snack bar was closed except in the morning, when you could purchase a pancake breakfast to eat on their patio.

The convenience store is well stocked, and the gift shop is full of the polished rocks, beaded purses, and feathered plastic “Indian” drums that kids love. The souvenirs at Morefield Village may not be as highbrow as the ones at the Far View Lodge, but neither are their prices. The laundromat is clean, spacious, and full of big tables for folding laundry. The showers are institutional, but clean and free of charge.


Next Page >>> Ranger Programs for Kids in Mesa Verde



Mesa Verde National Park Travel Guide For Families:

BEST FAMILY ATTRACTIONS IN MESA VERDE

RANGER PROGRAMS FOR KIDS IN MESA VERDE

PICNIC AREAS AND RESTAURANTS IN MESA VERDE

CAMPGROUNDS AND LODGING IN MESA VERDE

TOWNS NEAR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

MESA VERDE QUICK GEOLOGY GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK WILDLIFE GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK HISTORY GUIDE

TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

CONSIDERATIONS FOR FAMILIES IN MESA VERDE