Mesa Verde National Park cannot be explored in 1-day unless you have someone not capable of much walking/hiking. Many people underestimate Mesa Verde National Park. I cannot tell you how often I heard people only planned an afternoon in the park. WHAT!?!? I would exclaim. I worked at a gift shop in the park, and often geeked out over how spectacular the park is. The coolness is a whole different post. Today, we discuss our 5 tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park.

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The view looking out from Long House.

1. Plan in Advance

I cannot stress this enough. And I am not a planner. There are 3 ticketed, guided cliff dwelling tours. Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House. All tickets are sold online only and up to 14 days in advance. They sell out quickly, so it is a good idea to be online at 8:00 AM MT 14-days before your date. All three cliff dwellings are worth the tour.

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A view of Cliff Palace from within the cliff dwelling.

2. Plan Enough Time

From the main highway/visitor center/park entrance, it is about a 30-minute drive to the top. And all you get there is another gift shop with a cafe and coffee bar. Plus the lodge and dinner restaurant. The closest cliff dwelling you can see, not go in, is another 5-10 minutes down the road. Add another 5-10-ish minutes for Cliff Palace and Balcony House. Down a different road 45-ish minutes is Weatherill Mesa. Weatherill Mesa houses a few cliff dwellings and the only bike-friendly trail. It is all mountain driving while it may only be 15 miles, those miles will be slow.

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Wild foal.

3. Water. Water. Water

Make sure you are drinking enough water. At 8,000+/- feet, your body acts differently than it does at sea level. It is common to get light-headed, a headache, and sometimes sick. Making sure you drink plenty of water at all times can help you stay hydrated and hopefully keep altitude sickness at bay. When we hike we fill a cooler with ice and a couple gallon-sized water jugs. We fill our reusable water bottles before we leave home and then use the jugs on the go. The cafe at the top has a water bottle filler in the wall that counts the plastic bottles it has saved. We use that to conserve our jugs of water, also.

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A design in the remains of a structure at the Far View Sites stop.

4. Sunscreen

Have you heard the Baz Luhrman song, Everyone’s Free to Wear Sunscreen? Sunscreen is paramount every day. It is especially crucial at 8,000 +/- feet hiking and exploring the outdoors. When you’re that high it doesn’t take long for the sun to do its damage. A hat and sleeves are a good idea, too.

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View from the top of Point Lookout Trail.

5. Down Shift. Do Not Ride Your Brakes. Use Pullouts.

IYKYK. Your brakes can really start on fire. And they can really fail you. Do not ride your brakes all the way down the mountain. If you are scared and going slow. That is okay. Use the pullouts and a lower gear. Only use brakes when you must. And when you do brake, slow down to a slower speed as it doesn’t take long to gain. There are many pullouts for slower traffic. Use them. It is okay to go slow and be cautious. It is not okay to go slow and hold everyone else up while passing pullouts.

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A view of Balcony House’s exit from the Balcony House overlook.

Mesa Verde is a bewildering park rich with history, amazement, and wonder. Be sure to research all it has to offer before planning your trip. You may want to plan more time than you think.

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