Although none of the trails to the Mesa Verde sites are strenuous, the 7,000-foot elevation can be tiring for visitors who aren't used to the altitude.
Shorter Trails on Chapin Mesa
Far View Sites Trail -- This gravel trail takes hikers to Far View House and four other small mesa-top villages, plus a dry reservoir, in what was one of the most densely populated areas of the mesa between A.D. 900 and 1300. The trail is open from 7:30am to sunset daily during summer. .75 mile one-way. Easy. Access: 4 miles north of Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.
Spruce Tree House Trail -- Open from 8:30am to 6:30pm daily during summer, this paved trail descends from behind the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to Spruce Tree House, a dwelling with 130 rooms and eight kivas. Because Spruce Tree House sits in an 89-foot-deep alcove, this is the best-preserved dwelling at Mesa Verde. Rangers are here to answer questions during high season. Off season, there are guided tours offered here. The trail is accessible to the mobility impaired, although they may require assistance on some of its grades. .25 mile one-way. Easy. Access: Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum.
Longer Trails on Chapin Mesa
Three backcountry trails on Chapin Mesa are open to day hikers. Before hiking the Petroglyph Point and Spruce Canyon trails, register at the trail head or museum where you can borrow or buy a booklet for the self-guided tour on the Petroglyph Point Trail. No registration is required for the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail.
Petroglyph Point Loop Trail -- This trail travels just below the rim of a side canyon of Spruce Canyon. It eventually reaches Petroglyph Point, one of the park's most impressive panels of rock art. Just past the petroglyphs, the trail climbs to the rim. It stays on the relatively flat rimrock for its return to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. 2.4 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Short paved trail to Spruce Tree House site, just below Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and Chief Ranger Station.
Soda Canyon Overlook Trail -- This trail crosses the rim from a kiosk on the Cliff Palace Loop Road to overlooks of Soda Canyon and Balcony House (binoculars are a good idea). To view Balcony House, go right when the trail forks. 1.2 miles RT. Easy. Access: Pullout on Cliff Palace Loop Rd.
Spruce Canyon Trail -- This loop descends 500 feet into a tributary of Spruce Canyon. Turning to the north, it travels up the bed of Spruce Canyon before climbing in steep switchbacks to the rim. It reaches the rim near the park's picnic area, a short walk from the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. The vegetation along the bottom of the canyon includes Douglas firs and ponderosa pines, which flourish in the moist canyon bottom soil. Damaged by fire in 2002, the exit area of the trail has little shade in the afternoon. 2.4 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Short paved trail to Spruce Tree House site, just below Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum and Chief Ranger Station.
Trails on Wetherill Mesa
Badger House Community Trail -- This trail visits mesa-top sites on Wetherill Mesa. Usually uncrowded, the gravel and paved trail is accessible from one of three tram stops or by making a longer walk from the parking area. The 12-stop self-guided tour details 600 years of history. The trail is open daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm in summer. 2.4 mile RT. Easy. Access: Wetherill Mesa Kiosk.
Nordenskiold Site No. 16 Trail -- Begin this quiet hike by taking the tram to its trail head or walking from the parking area. Mostly flat, the dirt trail descends over rocks for the last few yards before it reaches an overlook of Site No. 16, a 50-room cliff dwelling that was occupied for most of the 13th century. It's open daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm in summer. 2 miles RT. Easy. Access: Wetherill Mesa Kiosk.
Step House Trail -- This loop descends roughly 75 feet of stairs and switchbacks to Step House, a cliff dwelling that dates from A.D. 1226. Three modified pit houses dating from 626 sit to the left of Step House (as you look toward it). A set of prehistoric stone stairs climbs from these dwellings toward a break in the cliffs. The trail is open daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm in summer. .8 mile RT. Moderate. Access: Wetherill Mesa Kiosk.
Trails near Morefield Campground
Knife Edge Trail -- This trail follows the old Knife Edge Road, the only automobile route into the park until a tunnel was blasted between Prater and Morefield canyons in 1957. Now, during wet years, wildflowers brighten the old roadbed, which hugs the side of Prater Ridge on one side and drops off all the way to the Montezuma Valley on the other. A self-guided tour identifies many of the plant species along the trail. From the end of this trail, you can watch the sun set behind Sleeping Ute Mountain. 2 miles RT. Easy. Access: Near Morefield Village.
Point Lookout Trail -- This trail rises in tight switchbacks from the northeast corner of the campground to the top of Point Lookout, a monument conspicuous from near the park's entrance. It then traverses the top of this butte to a stunning overlook of the Montezuma Valley. Sheer drops in several places make the trail unsuitable for small children. 2.2 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Near Morefield Village.
Prater Ridge Trail -- This loop rises 700 feet from the campground's west side to the top of Prater Ridge. Once atop the ridge, the trail forks, looping around the top of the mesa and opening onto views of the Montezuma and Mancos valleys and the La Plata Mountains. A cutoff trail halves the mesa-top loop, which zigzags around a number of side canyons. Because the trail is faint in places where it crosses the sandstone, some route-finding skills may be necessary. Fire in the summer of 2000 damaged the area, leaving almost no shade along the trail. 7.8 miles RT. Moderate. Access: Near Morefield Village.
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