I’m Farid Baig from the Instagram: @faridishikingsomewhere. Thanks for stopping by my article on Mesa Verde National Park. I am from India but spent most of my childhood in Bahrain from the ages of six to eighteen. I returned to India to complete my education and after graduating from engineering school, I worked for IBM in Bangalore until 2015.
In 2015, I moved to the US for grad school. This was when my love for travel and particularly hiking finally found its natural expression. Growing up, I didn’t have too many chances to travel. In my late teens and early twenties, I went on a few trips with friends or as part of a group but I didn’t really enjoy them as I often found people in groups had contradicting interests.
This is when I decided to give solo travel a shot. I immediately fell in love with it. I loved the independence that came with traveling solo, that I could follow and set my own itinerary, and that I could stay as long as I wanted at any place without having to worry about someone else’s preferences.
I also found I connected more with the places around me when I was on my own. In 2015, I took a summer trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and fell in love with the mountains and with hiking. Ever since then I have continued to express myself by going on solo adventures.
Visiting Colorado for 10 Days in July
My original plan for this summer was to visit Iceland and the Faroe Islands. I had my entire trip booked – from flights to car rentals to hotels. Then (of course) the pandemic happened and international travel was just no longer a possibility. So that is when I decided to go to Colorado instead – taking all the safety precautions I possibly could.
In fact, it’s now my goal to visit all of the national parks in the US (there are 63). Mesa Verde was always on my bucket list for that reason. As this was still the middle of a pandemic, my hope was to travel to less crowded national parks in the US where social distancing wouldn’t be difficult as some of the more popular parks can get crowded during the summer.
A friend of mine had previously been to Mesa Verde National Park and so it was on his recommendation that I went. He had mentioned how the national park was sparsely crowded even on the 4th of July weekend which is a massive holiday in the United States. The other national parks I visited on this trip were also similarly sparsely populated but absolutely beautiful.
My Experience at Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a fairly small park with a limited number of trails and a short but stunning drive that goes over mountain roads connecting both ends of the park. Also, Mesa Verde is different from other parks as it was established to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who called this place home.
So while there is no doubt that Mesa Verde is a stunning park, it’s most important aspect lies in its history and its attempts at preserving that history. I spent a fair bit of time driving through the park and covering the viewpoints as well as doing some short hikes that led to further regions.
Favorite Part of Mesa Verde – Cliff Palace
Cliff Palace was definitely my favorite place. This cliff is one of several cliff dwellings within the park and it’s the most prominent one. Cliff dwellings are essentially villages built within the cliffs of Mesa Verde by the Ancestral Pueblo people sometime during the 12th century. They lived in these cliff dwellings for nearly a 100 years as they built and remodeled new rooms.
This is the most fascinating place because it seemed to be constructed for nearly 100 people, essentially turning it into a village. While Cliff Palace is visible from a viewpoint on the Cliff Palace Loop road, I would recommend booking a tour there which is led by rangers as they tell you about the fascinating story behind its construction and of its builders.
5 Best Things To Do in Mesa Verde National Park
- Take a Tour of Cliff Palace: Walking through this cliff dwelling is like traveling through time as you imagine the lives of its inhabitants – the Ancestral Pueblo people – in the 12th and 13th centuries.
- Soda Canyon Overlook Trail: A short and easy hike that gives you access to different viewpoints of the surrounding canyon that forms Mesa Verde National Park. Your jaw may drop at some points!
- Tour the Balcony House: Another of the cliff dwellings which you can either add to your tour of the Cliff Palace or choose it as an alternative.
- Visit the Badger House Community: To walk further back into history you can do this two mile walk that takes you through pit houses and villages formed by the Pueblos that they inhabited in the seventh and eighth centuries before they started building the cliff dwellings.
- Hike the Prater Ridge Trail: This is a fairly long (eight mile) hike but it’s great if you are looking to get a better view of the mountains and the canyons surrounding Mesa Verde National Park while doing exercise.
Where to Stay in Mesa Verde National Park
There are also a couple of cafes within the park that provide good dining options. Far View Terrace Cafe (next to the Far View lodge) is a terrace cafe and is a great way to enjoy a meal and drink at the end of the day while taking in the beauty of Mesa Verde. Spruce Tree Cafe is more basic in its setting but still offers good meals and espresso drinks for nourishment.
If you are looking to stay outside the park but still have easy access to the park, then Cortez, situated about 15 minutes drive away from the park entrance, is a good option. It’s a fair sized town so has plenty of inns and hotels as well as grocery stores, restaurants and bars for entertainment.
Best Memory from Mesa Verde
I think my favorite memory came at the end of my first day. I had driven around the park and viewed some of the sights and was driving back to the campground as the sun began to set. As I was leaving the Cliff Palace Loop road, I came across this viewpoint that had a small roof made of thatch.
I stopped and looked across from the viewpoint and saw the entire canyon of Mesa Verde in front of me. It was bathed in the soft light of the setting sun, colored in a hue of orange and red, and slowly settling into pink. It was incredible to watch this canyon in different shades of red, changing colors slowly as the sun set. I stayed there until dark, transfixed by the view!
Tips for your Visit to Mesa Verde National Park
- Ensure to book a tour of the cliff dwellings in advance of your visit.
- Summer and fall are definitely the best time to visit Mesa Verde but temperatures can get fairly high in the summer so be prepared for that.
- I would highly recommend coupling this national park with Black Canyon of the Gunnison which is a three hour drive away and also a stunning and fascinating national park.
- The closest airport to Mesa Verde is in Cortez but most people fly into Denver and then drive here. If that is your chosen route, remember Denver is an eight hour drive so account for that in your itinerary.