The Ancient Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde
The Ancient Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde

The Ancient Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

Mesa Verde is a fantastic place to learn about the Anasazi and their culture. The lookouts to the ancient cliff dwellings are accessible throughout the year. Due to the location on a high elevation, most people visit the archaeological site between late spring to late fall. Read on for my detailed information about the weather, how to avoid crowds, and the best time for your visit.

The left ruins of one of the cliff dwellings
You are able to walk through these cliff dwellings.

The best time to visit Mesa Verde regarding the weather and crowds are April until June and September until mid-October. The cliff dwellings are closed in winter and early spring due to snowy conditions.

This cliff dwelling has an immense rock shelter.

After an extended closure for building construction work, Cliff Palace and Balcony House tours are finally available. Also, the Cliff Canyon Overlook and the Soda Canyon Trail are reopened. 

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

One of the houses inside such a cliff dwelling.
The Cliff Dwellings are more than 700 years old.
  • Cliff Palace: This is the largest cliff dwelling. Guided tours of the popular Cliff Palace are offered from the end of May until the end of September. Tours are taking place every half an hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. duration of one hour. You have to climb four wooden ladders. It’s almost one hour driving to the lookout and starting point. You get the best light for an awesome picture of the Cliff Palace from the early afternoon on. A popular tour with limited space is offered, the "Twilight Photography Tour" at sunset
  • Balcony House: This one-hour guided tour is offered from the end of May until the end of October and is 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's drive to the starting point of this trail. ​"The Balcony House Sunrise Tour" is a marvellous 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: The longest guided tour is 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's 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 from mid-May to mid-October.
  • Spruce Tree House: This part has been closed since October 2015 due to the instability of the sandstone arch and the cliff face above. The park has three alternatives for the future of this cliff dwelling; the third-largest and best-preserved one. However, seeing the Spruce Tree House from the overlooks close to the Chapin Mesa Museum is still amazing.
    1 It remains closed, and they do not stabilize the sandstone.
    2 They stabilise the arch and reopen this fantastic house for the public again.
    3 They stabastabilisealcove arch but do reopen the cliff dwelling.

    Decisions will be made this April 2023.

Main Parking Area (Google Maps) for the Mesa Verde Park Headquarters, the Spruce Cafe, the Chapin Mesa Museum, and the Spruce Tree House viewpoint.

Avoiding Crowds

A tour in one of the cliff dwellings
It is an exceptional place to experience the history of the Anasazi.

Roughly 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 during this time of the year. Spring and Autumn; September after the Labour Day Weekend, are better months to enjoy and soak in ancient history. 

Weather and Crowds by Seasons

One of the cliff dwellings set on the rocks
The Cliff Palace - the largest of all

There is not much precipitation at Mesa Verde National Park. It’s a dry area better known as “Four Corners”. Due to the high elevation between 7,000-8,572 ft / 2.134-2.613 m, it doesn’t get too hot, but there is a high amount of snowfall on average of 74 inch/1.880 mm in winter, the reason for the closure. 

Spring (April-May)

The mountain peaks are still covered in snow.
Snow still occurs at higher elevations in spring.

The real spring starts late in April. It starts to warm up, and the Mesa Verde National Park gets opened. It is windy in spring, therefore bring an appropriate jacket. Decreasing rainfall in April and May. May is a pleasant month, with temperatures almost reaching 20°C/68°F. Nights are chilly and nearly freezing, keep that in mind if you like to camp nearby. It is still not too busy except for the Memorial Day Weekend. 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.

Summer (June-September)

Information board about the community life in the cliff dwellings
Information panels are provided for details.

The driest month is June, the "wettest"  is August. June is a lovely month with 26°C/79°F. July and August are a little hot around midday but, on average, still below 30°C/86°F. Due to the heat, thunderstorms frequently occur in the afternoon. Night temperatures drop significantly, ranging between 8-13°C/46-55°F. Due to the summer school holidays, it is the busiest time of the year from July until the Labour Day Weekend in September. 

Autumn (October)

A zoom photo of a cliff dwelling from the opposite side

The first weeks in October are still pleasant with temperatures on average around 16°C/61°F. Nights are already freezing. Depending on the temperatures and the first snowfall, the National Park closes between mid to late October. Guided tours to the cliff dwellings are no longer available. Why do I mention just one month for fall? I live in the mountains, and I know autumn is a short time only, and it quickly starts to freeze and snow. I like to give you an idea that November is more a winter than a fall month.

Winter (November-March)

Due to the high elevation, it starts to snow at the end of October latest beginning of November already. There aren’t any guided tours offered. The pro the park is silent and quiet. You can still drive into the park and soak in the spectacular scenery from the different outlooks. Usually, the Mesa Verde National Park experiences more than 70 inches/ 1.80 m of snow. Winter trails are open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. This is an entirely different experience and lots of fun. The maximum day temperatures range roughly from 50-40°F/9-3°C, but usually, they drop below 32°F/0°C from 26-15°F/-3 to -9°C. In March, the Cliff Dwellings are still not accessible due to snow and ice. Expect minus degrees – below 30°F in the night and day temps below 10°C/50°F. Check out the winter trails here before you visit Mesa Verde. Park closures occur during and after heavy snowfall. Snow tires are essential!!

Opening Hours

Visitors and a ranger in one of the cliff dwellings

  • Mesa Verde lookouts are open year-round, even in winter.
  • The gate is open from 8 am until sunset throughout the year. 
  • The Spruce Tree Cafe is open from 11 am to 2 pm in winter and the rest of the year from the morning until the late afternoon. Restrooms are always available.
  • The visitor Center and Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum are also open throughout the year. Most shops, restaurants, and gas station are open from late spring to late fall.

However, If you plan to visit the Mesa Verde National Park, check out what has been opened and closed. Opening, Closure Dates, and Conditions

The Complete Guide to the Grand Circle National Parks is everything you need! This book has something for everyone, whether travelling in style or camping like we do, hiking in the rugged backcountry or sightseeing. The seven most impressive national parks within the Southwest United States are covered, from what to do, where to stay, and dining options inside and nearby. All surrounding national monuments and state parks are described in detail, with maps of Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Arches, Mesa Verde, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and many more national monuments, state parks and recreation areas.

Best Months to Visit


Location and Tips

Colorado, Durango
United States
United States

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 to 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 are guided, and one is self-guided. 

The sunset light on the Spruce Tree House
The light at the golden hour is mesmerizing.

    3 Top Tips 

    1. Tickets are required and can be purchased 14 days in advance at the earliest. They are sold out quickly for the Cliff Palace, the Balcony House, and the Long House. Link Tour Tickets Mesa Verde
    2. 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 trendy, and tickets are sold out quickly. Link to all guided tours
    3. Schedule a whole day or even more if possible, the park shouldn’t be rushed. It’s almost one hour drive from the information centre to the Cliff Palace lookout. Add additional time for stops at the different panoramic lookouts.


    Pictures provided by my photographer friend Chris. Do you want to obtain the usage right for these images? Contact me, but we will take action against picture theft.

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