Winter in Mesa Verde National Park

Things definitely slow down in Mesa Verde National Park during the winter months, but they don't stop. Spruce Tree House remains open for tours, and there are trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing when conditions allow.

The park works to groom several trails for snowshoeing and skiing, and parts of the Wetherill Road also are available for ungroomed skiing when there's enough snow.

The trails included in the program are the Cliff Palace Loop, Wetherill Road Trail, Prater Canyon and Morefield Campground Trails. The total distance covered by these trails is about 28 miles, and 20.4 of those miles aren't groomed. The ungroomed skiing is located on Wetherill Road, which is closed to vehicular traffic.

To find out if winter trails are open, call the Chief Ranger's Office (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at 970-529-4622, or the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum (7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at 970-529-4631

There also are 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 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 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 usually remains open throughout the winter from 8 a.m. to sunset. Heavy snowfall or icy road conditions might close the road temporarily. The main park road remains open throughout the winter, subject to road closures when hazardous conditions exist.

From time to time there also are special winter hikes. Mesa Verde National Park, San Juan Mountains Association, and the San Juan/Four Corners Native Plant Society teamed up to offer a series of winter hikes during the 2012-2013 winter season. Some of these involved plant identification classes, others were designed to unveil the wonders of nature during these months.

As always, check the park's website to ensure these programs are still being offered.