The Cliff Palace, the park’s largest and best-known site, is a four-story apartment complex with stepped-back roofs forming porches for the dwellings above. Accessible by guided tour only, it is reached by a quarter-mile downhill path. Its towers, walls, and kivas (large circular rooms used for ceremonies) are all set back beneath the rim of a cliff. Another ranger-led tour takes visitors up a 32-foot ladder to explore the interior of Balcony House. Each of these tours is given only in summer and into fall (call for exact dates).
Two other important sites—Step House and Long House, both on Wetherill Mesa—can be visited in summer only. Rangers lead free tours to Spruce Tree House, another of the major cliff-dwelling complexes, only in winter, when other park facilities are closed. There are also special summer hikes to backcountry archaeological sites for $5 to $40 per person.
Although the trails to the sites are not strenuous, the 7,000-foot elevation can make the treks tiring for visitors who aren’t used to the altitude. For those who want to avoid hiking and climbing, the 12-mile Mesa Top Road makes a number of pit houses and cliff-side overlooks easily accessible by car. Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum houses artifacts and specimens related to the history of the area, including other nearby sites.
Seeing the Highlights in a Day -- If you have only a day to spend at the park, stop first at the Far View Visitor Center to buy tickets for a late-afternoon tour of either Cliff House or Balcony House -- visitors are not allowed to tour both on the same day. Then travel to the Chapin Mesa archeological museum for a look at the history behind the sites you're about to see. From there, walk down the trail behind the museum to Spruce Tree House. Then drive the Mesa Top Loop Road. Cap your day with the guided tour.
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