Mesa Verde National Park is, like several Southwest National Parks, home to ancient dwellings of the ancestral Puebloan peoples. Where it differs from parks like the Grand Canyon and Hovenweep is the number and scale of these dwellings. The most impressive of these is the Cliff Palace located on the Cliff Palace Loop.
Mesa Verde is actually very large and contains thousands of dwelling remains. The ones open to the public are centered on three mesas in the south part of the park accessible as driving loops.
Meagan has already written about Mesa Top Loop and how to get to Mesa Verde. We did not visit the more remote Weatherhill Mesa with the Longhouse Loop, so I will be telling you about Cliff Palace Loop and the Far View Sites.
Cliff Palace Loop
The Cliff Palace Loop at Mesa Verde is about 6 miles long, once you get there. You will need to drive about 45 minutes south from the visitor center to get to the turn off for the Cliff Palace Loop.
The loop will take you to several stopping points. The two most popular of these are Cliff Palace and Balcony House. You cannot view these dwellings from the parking areas, but if you got tickets for a tour (at the visitor center) this is where you will meet for it. We decided not to go on either of these tours because Meagan pregnant and they are fairly strenuous. Hopefully we will be back another time for them.
Besides the two tour locations there are several stopping areas along the Cliff Palace Loop where you can pull out to get a good view of the landscape. From one of these you can see a cliff dwelling known as the Hemenway House. This ruin is far away on the other side of a canyon so you will need to look extra careful to spot it.
The most important of these pullout areas is Soda Canyon overlook because it is the only place you can view the Balcony House. Unlike the other lookouts Soda Canyon does have about a one mile round trip hike. The hike is pleasant and very easy and worth it to see the Balcony House from far away.
Note: Cliff Palace Loop is not open during the winter months.
Far View Sites
The Far View sites are the easiest dwellings to get to at Mesa Verde. They take a distinct from both the cliff dwellings and the pit dwellings. The Far View sites are considered surface dwellings. You will find them on your way down to Cliff Palace Loop, not far after the road splits to go to Weatherhill Mesa.
The Far View sites are some of my favorite because there was almost no one there and you can just walk around them. There are several different areas of dwellings and they are each pretty extensive. The most intact of the areas which still has high walls you can’t walk inside but you can walk around the perimeter.
The Cliff Palace area of Mesa Verde is definitely the most popular area. Most people come to see either the Cliff Palace or the Balcony House on a tour, but if you can’t do that for accessibility reasons there is still plenty to do.