Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is an archaeological preserve. Due to the very fragile nature of the cultural resources, all hiking is restricted to designated trails only. No backcountry hiking or camping is permitted. However, a limited number of short hiking trails (one to seven miles in length) is located near the Museum and the Morefield campground.
Much of Mesa Verde is above 7,000 feet, and trails can be steep and strenuous. The climate is hot and dry in the summer, so be sure to carry plenty of water. Vegetation and archaeological remains are very fragile, so be careful to stay on the trails. Before hiking on Spruce Canyon and petroglyph trails, register at the Chief Ranger's office next door to Chapin Museum.
Knife Edge Trail: Beginning at a pullout near the Morefield Amphitheater, this 1.5-mile flat trail follows the old Knife Edge road bed to a picnic site at the Montezuma Valley Overlook. A self-guided booklet, available in the museum bookstore, describes the plants and animals along the route.
Prater Ridge Trail: After rising for 500 feet above the Morefield Campground, this 7.8-mile loop flattens out for the remainder of the hike, with views of Montezuma Valley and the La Plata Mountains.
Point Lookout Trail: Follow this 2.3-mile trail from the Morefield Amphitheater parking lot, up a 500-foot rise, and along a ridge to Point Lookout for a stunning view of Mancos Canyon, the La Plata Mountains, and the entire Four Corners region. Walk carefully along this trail; it follows closely along the edge of the escarpment. The fire lookout station here is staffed during the fire season. A brochure describes the natural features of the area.
Spruce Canyon Trail: Starting at the Chapin Mesa Museum, at 7,000 feet, this two-mile loop descends 500 feet into Spruce Tree Canyon. Allow at least one hour to enjoy the climate and vegetation change from the top of the mesa to the canyon floor.
Petroglyph Point Hike: This relatively flat, three-mile loop also starts at the Chapin Mesa Museum. The trail leads to a rock panel of Anasazi Petroglyphs, or ancient art carved into stone. The return leg offers a spectacular view of Navajo and Spruce Canyons. The hike generally takes about two hours, which allows for time at the petroglyphs and to read the animal and plant descriptions along the trail.
Soda Canyon Overlook Trail: 1.5 miles, begins at a parking area on the Cliff Palace Loop Road, past the Balcony House parking area. This trail is an easy walk to the canyon edge, and offers views of Balcony House and other archaeological sites along Soda Canyon.
Check with a park ranger for further hiking information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication