A visit to Mesa Verde National Park and its famous cliff dwellings has long provided a look at some of the best archeological treasures in the country. Three new guided hikes will offer a much different experience for a limited number of visitors: a chance to get away from the crowds and see some rarely visited sites. Space is limited and sign-up begins April 26.
The trips are being offered by a key partner for the park, the nonprofit Mesa Verde Institute. According to a park spokesperson,
These three new hikes include a day-long hike to Spring House, day-long hike across Wetherill Mesa, and a two-hour hike to Mug House. The ranger-guided hikes begin on Memorial Day weekend, May 30th through Labor Day, September 6th. The Spring House hike will continue through September 30th. All tours are limited to 14 people.
Tickets for Spring House and the Wetherill Mesa Experience may be purchased online beginning April 26 at the Institute website. These tickets may be purchased prior to your arrival in the park. Mug House tickets may only be purchased at the Far View Visitor Center up to 48 hours in advance.
“We are very excited to present this pilot program of new visitor experiences in the park. So little of the park is accessible to visitors or employees, and we hope this opportunity is well received by our neighbors and park visitors,” stated Bill Nelligan, Acting Superintendent. “We want visitors to know that there’s more to Mesa Verde than Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Spruce Tree House. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Mesa Verde National Park.”
Here's a peek at what participants can expect on these trips, along with a link to the Institute site for each trip. The cost of the trips range from $15 to $35. Read the descriptions carefully before you sign up; these are not hikes for couch potatoes:
Spring House is an 8-hour, 6-mile, very strenuous hike along an unpaved, uneven trail with an elevation change of 1,000 ft, and includes steep drop-offs and switchbacks. You will see more than just Spring House cliff dwelling. Hikers will have stunning views of Buzzard House, Teakettle House, Daniel’s House as well as other archeological sites perched in the sandstone recesses of Navajo and Wickiup Canyons. Lunch is included.
Wetherill Mesa Experience is a 5-mile, 5-hour easy to moderate hike and introduces the broad community landscape story of the Ancestral Pueblo people from earliest occupation in pithouses to the cliff dwellings. You will also learn about the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project, jointly sponsored by the National Park Service and The National Geographic Society, 1958-1965, one of the largest archeological projects ever conducted in the United States. Binoculars are highly recommended for cross-canyon views of multiple cliff dwellings such as Kodak House and Double House. Lunch is included.
Mug House is a strenuous 2-hour, 3-mile round-trip hike along an unpaved, uneven trail that descends 100 ft and includes one ladder, knotted rope, steep drop-offs, switchbacks, and scrambling over boulders. Mug House is named for the three mugs found tied together hanging on a peg inside one of its rooms. Mug House was also excavated during the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project.
The Mesa Verde Institute was established on the park’s centennial anniversary in 2006 "to offer visitors expanded and in-depth experience in Mesa Verde National Park. Through weeklong seminars, 1-day workshops, educational hikes, lectures, and special programs, visitors of all ages may engage in enhanced educational and interpretive opportunities and gain a new, behind-the-scenes understanding of Mesa Verde and the Four Corners region."
If the new hikes are a bit strenuous for your taste, the Institute will also continue to host the Cliff Palace Twilight Tours. Led by historic characters from Mesa Verde’s past, these 90-minute tours beginning at 7 p.m. and limited to 20 people. The programs are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day, and tickets may be purchased only at the Far View Visitor Center in the park.
Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwest Colorado and protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are considered some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. The park website includes driving directions and other details to help plan your visit.