Unescorted hiking is not a frequent activity in Mesa Verde National Park, as officials don't want to take a chance that someone might stumble upon, and carry away, an artifact. Still, there are places where you can stretch your legs without the need to follow a ranger.
Far View Sites
Far View House plus four other villages and a dry reservoir are located along this level 0.75-mile (1.2 km) unpaved trail. This trail explores Ancestral Puebloan life on the mesa top from A.D. 900 to A.D. 1300. The area is open 7:30 a.m. to sunset.
Cedar Tree Tower and Farming Terrace Trail
An Ancestral Puebloan mesa top tower and kiva complex can be viewed. There is also a short trail to explore ancient farming terraces. The road is open 7:30 a.m. to sunset.
Chapin Mesa Trailheads
Petroglyph Point Loop Trail
This 2.4-mile (3.9 km) loop trail branches off the Spruce Tree House Trail and continues below the edge of the mesa to a petroglyph panel, climbs to the mesa top, and returns along the canyon rim to the museum. Access to the trailhead is only available when the gate to Spruce Tree House is open. Registration is required at the trailhead or museum.
Soda Canyon Overlook Trail
The 1.2-mile (1.9 km) round-trip unpaved trail begins 0.5 miles (0.8 km) north of the Balcony House parking area on the Cliff Palace Loop Road. Bring your binoculars on this easy walk to the canyon edge for views of Balcony House and other archeological sites in Soda Canyon. Natural History: The trail goes through big sagebrush, Utah juniper, yucca, and gambel oak.This is a fairly low-growing, open area and will be hot in the summer.
Spruce Canyon Trail
The Spruce Canyon Trail offers an opportunity to explore the canyon bottoms of Mesa Verde and discover what plants and wildlife thrive in this habitat. The 2.4-mile (3.9 km) loop trail branches off the Spruce Tree House Trail, follows the bottom of Spruce Tree Canyon, turns up Spruce Canyon, climbs to the mesa top, and returns to the museum through the picnic area. Access to the trailhead is only available when the gate to Spruce Tree House is open. Registration is required at the trailhead or museum.
Farming Terrace Trail .5 mile, round-trip
Beginning and ending on the spur road to Cedar Tree Tower, this half-mile mile loop leads to a series of prehistoric check dams built by the Ancestral Puebloans to create farming terraces. Natural History: This trail is a good place to look for lizards, hummingbirds, and a wide variety of plants.
Mesa Top Loop Road
A 6-mile (10 km) driving tour has short, paved trails to 12 easily-accessible surface sites and views of cliff dwellings. Highlights include Square Tower House and cross-canyon views of Cliff Palace. The road is open 7:30 a.m. to sunset. Allow 45 minutes to one hour.
Wetherill Mesa Trails
Nordenskiold #16 Trail
This easy 2-mile (3.2 km) round-trip gravel trail begins at the Wetherill Mesa kiosk and meanders through a burned area to an overlook of the Nordenskiold Site #16 cliff dwelling. Allow 30 minutes to one hour. Trail open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cultural History: In 1891, 23-year old Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiold visited Mesa Verde. Using painstaking field methods for his time, he excavated many sites, including this one. His book, "The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde," was the first extensive examination and photographic record of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings.
Badger House Community Trail
Allow 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to walk this 2.4-mile (3.9 km) round-trip trail. This combination gravel and paved trail begins at the Wetherill Mesa kiosk and wanders through four mesa top sites, covering nearly seven acres. Your walk through this area is a journey through 600 years of prehistory. Take the tram to the Badger House Community tram stop for a shorter, more accessible option. Ask a ranger at the kiosk for details. Trail open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Morefield Campground Trails
This 2-mile (3.2 km) round-trip trail follows the old road alignment from the northwest corner of Morefield Campground toward Montezuma Valley Overlook. This trail provides views of the Montezuma Valley and is an excellent place to watch sunsets and see wildlife. Allow 45 minutes to one hour.
Allow about 4 hours for this 7.8-mile (12.6 km) trail that begins on the west end of Morefield Campground. The trail ascends the east side of Prater Ridge for 1.1 miles (1.8 km), and follows a loop around the top of the ridge, returning via the same route. For a shorter hike, follow only the north loop (3.6 miles/5.8 km) or south loop (2.4 miles/3.9 km). Changes in the landscape and views of the surrounding area are highlights of this trail. Natural History: Changes in elevation and vegetation along with views of the surrounding area are highlights of this trail.
Point Lookout Trail
Allow about 2 hours for this 2.2-mile (3.5 km) round-trip trail. The trail begins on the north side of the Morefield Campground amphitheater parking lot. The trail switchbacks up the south side of Point Lookout and follows the top of the mesa, offering excellent views of both Montezuma and Mancos Valleys, as well as the surrounding countryside