Sunday, November 1, 2015

Best trails for seeing Mesa Verde’s wonders

Spruce Tree House. Photo courtesy of Mesa Verde NPS.
Among the best ways to see Mesa Verde National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just four short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – a cliff palace, a panoramic view of four states, six centuries of Anasazi ruins, and a cuesta wilderness.

Cliff Palace
Among the largest cliff dwellings ever constructed hundreds of years ago by the Ancient Puebloans, also known as the Anasazi, is Mesa Verde’s Cliff Palace. It contains 150 rooms and 23 kivas constructed of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams. The 0.25-mile round trip hike only can be done via a ranger-guided tour.

Panoramic view of four states
Perhaps the most impressive vista in the United States is Park Point, Mesa Verde’s highest spot at 8572 feet above sea level with 360 degree views. The 0.5-mile round trip Park Point Overlook Trail takes you to the view of Montezuma and Mancos valleys, and on a clear day, you can see four states – Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Add 0.5-miles round trip to the fire lookout tower for additional impressive views.

Six centuries of ruins
Families can explore six centuries of Anasazi village ruins, including a great kiva and a mysterious tunnel, on the Badger House Community Trail. The 2.5-mile trail sits atop the Weterhill Mesa in the Colorado park, which is the nation’s largest archaeological preserve.

Cuesta wilderness
The park technically sits not on a mesa but a cuesta, or a gently sloping table of land. The 2.4-mile round trip Spruce Canyon Trail heads through different elevations of the cuesta, revealing interesting rock formations and green forests. Adding 0.5 miles to the hike takes you to the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.