Winter can hold new opportunities for visits to Mesa Verde National Park, if the snowfall cooperates. The park plans to groom several trail systems in the park for snowshoeing and skiing, and parts of the Wetherill Road will also be available for ungroomed skiing.
The trails included in the program, if there is sufficient snow cover, are the Cliff Palace Loop, Wetherill Road Trail, Prater Canyon and Morefield Campground Trails. The total distance covered by these trails will be 28.4 miles, and 20.4 of those miles will be groomed.
The ungroomed skiing is located on Wetherill Road, which is closed to vehicular traffic. In early December, maps and detailed information on skiing and snowshoeing winter recreational opportunities will be made available on the park website, at the park entrance gate and at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.
Updated information will also be available by phone by calling park dispatch at (970) 529-4622 or the Museum at (970) 529-4631.
If you aren't familiar with the area, you'll find several helpful maps at this link.
The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., November 13, 2011 through December 31, 2011. From January 1 through March 10, 2012 the museum hours will change to 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Here's another bonus for a winter visit: entrance to the park will be free in January and February.
There will also be opportunities to sample the park's famous ruins even if you don't want to try out skis or snowshoes. Spruce Tree House, the park's third largest cliff dwelling and the only dwelling open during the winter, can be visited on a ranger-guided walking tour offered daily at 10:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. These one-hour tours are free and do not require a ticket. Interested visitors should meet the ranger in the lobby of the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum just before tour time.
The six-mile long Mesa Top Loop Road will remain open throughout the winter from 8:00 a.m. to sunset, weather permitting. Heavy snowfall or icy road conditions may close the road temporarily. The main park road will remain open throughout the winter, subject to road closures when hazardous road conditions exist.
The Cliff Palace Loop Road will be closed to vehicular traffic effective December 1, 2011 through April 1, 2012, and a park spokesperson notes the road may close earlier if weather conditions dictate.
Food service is available at Spruce Tree Terrace, open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. but don't plan to spend the night in the park. The Far View Lodge and Terrace, the Far View Visitor Center and the Morefield Campground are closed for the season.
Finally, park officials remind motorists to check the gas tank before heading into the park. There is no gasoline or other fuel available in Mesa Verde National Park.
You can download a Winter 2011-2012 Visitor Guide on the park website to help plan your visit.