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If you are planning your first visit to Mesa Verde National Park, then this Mesa Verde itinerary is perfect for you. With 2 days in Mesa Verde, you have enough time to really explore the park. Attend Ranger-led tours of Cliff Palace, enjoy the amazing views of Balcony House, take a scenic drive on Mesa Top Loop, and explore ancient ruins on a few hikes.

Some advance planning is necessary when visiting Mesa Verde National Park. Make sure to read: 23 Practical Tips for First Visit to Mesa Verde National Park. Find out when is the best time to visit, how to get there and how to get around, where to stay, and how to get tickets for Ranger-led tours (highlight of the visit!).

Before we get started, what you need to know is that Mesa Verde National Park has one entrance and it is located on Hwy 160. Once you pass the main entrance, you will travel to the top of a mesa.

Second, Mesa Verde National Park has three regions to explore (there are many different breakdowns), but to keep it simple and manageable, I will cover the major ones in the itinerary for 2 days in Mesa Verde:

  • Mesa Top Ruins Road
  • Chapin Mesa
  • Wetherill Mesa
Map of Mesa Verde Regions

Map of Mesa Verde Regions: Mesa Top Ruins Road, Chapin Mesa, and Wetherill Mesa. Image Credit: Google Maps

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Day 1 Itinerary - Chapin Mesa

From the park entrance take Mesa Top Ruins Road, and continue to Far View Lodge. The distance is about 15 miles (30 minutes driving). It is a very picturesque drive. Along the way, you will pass a campground, several scenic overlooks, and a few hiking trails (you will explore this area on the second day).

Once you get to Far View Lodge, take Chapin Mesa, and drive to All Way Stop. The distance is about 5 miles. On the way, you will pass by Far View Sites Complex Trail, which you will hike at the end of the day.

Today, you will explore three areas located on Chapin Mesa:

  • Cliff Palace Loop
  • Mesa Top Loop
  • Mesa Verde National Park Headquarters
2 Days in Mesa Verde

Map of Chapin in Mesa Verde National Park. Image credit: NPS

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace Loop

Cliff Palace Loop is the most popular section of Mesa Verde National Park. Two of the best Ranger-led tours start at Cliff Palace Loop: Cliff Palace Tour and Balcony House Tour. Plus one of my favorite hikes in Mesa Verde National Park is located in this section as well: Soda Canyon Overlook Trail.

1. Cliff Palace Tour

Cliff Palace Dwellings can be entered only on a ticketed tour with a ranger. The tour season Usually runs from May 1 through October 22.

You can purchase the tickets on recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Tickets are available 14 days in advance, 8 am MST, on a rolling daily window. Demand for tour tickets is high and you need to reserve them as soon as they are released.

Cliff Palace is a world-famous masterpiece of engineering, architecture, and artistic achievements of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

It is the largest cliff dwelling in North America built between 1190 and 1280 AD, and once was inhabited by over 100 people.

Cliff Palace Dwelling in Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace is a world-famous masterpiece of engineering, architecture, and artistic achievements of the Ancestral Pueblo people.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace dwelling is the largest cliff dwelling in North America built between 1190 and 1280 AD, and once was inhabited by over 100 people.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace Tour lasts about 30 minutes. You will need to descend uneven stone steps and climb four ladders, with an elevation change of 100 feet. The total walking distance is 0.25 miles.

Tours are offered every 30 minutes between 9 am to 11:30 am and 1 pm to 3:30 pm.

2. Balcony House Tour

Balcony House can be explored by Ranger-guided tour only. The tour season Usually runs from May 1 through October 22. You can purchase the tickets on recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Tickets are available 14 days in advance, 8 am MST, on a rolling daily window. Demand for tour tickets is high and you need to reserve them as soon as they are released.

Balcony House is a cliff dwelling of 40 rooms. By touring this archaeological site, you will gain knowledge of how room and passageway construction evolved through time.

Balcony House Cliff Dwelling in Mesa Verde

Balcony House is a cliff dwelling of 40 rooms. By touring this archaeological site, you will gain knowledge of how room and passageway construction evolved through time.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Balcony House is the most adventurous cliff-dwelling tour in the park. In the Balcony House tour, you will need to descend a 100-foot staircase into the canyon, climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl through a 12-foot, 18 inches wide tunnel, and clamber up an additional 60 feet on ladders and stone steps.

Only four tours are offered each day: 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm.

3. Soda Canyon Overlook Trail

Soda Canyon Overlook Trail is a great place to visit during your trip to Mesa Verde National Park. It is an easy, family-friendly walk leading to great views of Balcony House.

From the overlook, you will be able to see Balcony House (if you don’t get the tickets for the tour that is a great photo opportunity) and the ladder that visitors have to climb.

  • Difficulty – Easy
  • Distance – 1.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation change – 70 feet
  • Trailhead – on the Cliff Palace Loop; 0.5 miles past Balcony House
Soda Overlook Trail in Mesa Verde

From the overlook, you will be able to see Balcony House (if you don’t get the tickets for the tour that is a great photo opportunity) and the ladder that visitors have to climb.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Mesa Top Loop

Mesa Top Loop is no doubt the second most popular section of Mesa Verde National Park. Square Tower House Tour, a Ranger-led tour, starts at Mesa Top Loop. In addition, Mesa Top Loop is one of the most picturesque scenic drives with several stunning viewpoints in Mesa Verde National Park.

1. Square Tower House Tour

Square Tower House Tour is another awesome Ranger-led tour in Mesa Verde National Park (tickets required). On this tour, you will see an impressive three-storied structure located beneath a slightly overhanging cliff. Built in the mid-1200s, it is the tallest structure in Mesa Verde. Also, you will see the original kiva roof, and a structure called the Crow’s Nest improbably perched high in a cliff crevice.

Square Tower House in Mesa Verde

On the Square Tower House Tour, you will see an impressive three-storied structure located beneath a slightly overhanging cliff. Built in the mid-1200s, it is the tallest structure in Mesa Verde.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Square Tower House Tour is a strenuous 90-minute, 1-mile round-trip hike along an unpaved, uneven trail that descends 100 feet, and includes steep drop-offs, switchbacks, and two ladders.

This tour is offered twice a day from May 1 to May 27 at 8:30 am and 11 am, and only once a day from May 28 to June 15 at 8:30 am. The cost is $25 per person. The number of spots per tour is only 10 per time slot.

2. Mesa Top Scenic Loop

Mesa Top Loop is 6 miles long and has several great viewpoints worth stopping by and exploring.

What you need to know is that Mesa Top Loop is one-way and you drive it counterclockwise. The loop opens to visitors at 8 am and closes at sunset. It will take you at least 1 hour to drive it and make a few stops along the way.

Also, make sure to bring a camera with a decent lens or binoculars!

Following are my favorite viewpoints on Mesa Top Loop:

  • Navajo Canyon View – it is worth making a quick stop at Navajo Canyon View to enjoy some great views of the Navajo Canyon.
  • Square Tower House – this is definitely a stop that you do not want to miss! A short trail will take you to an awesome viewpoint of Square Tower House.
Square Tower House in Mesa Verde

Square Tower House is an impressive three-storied structure located beneath a slightly overhanging cliff.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Mesa Top Loop is 6 miles long and has several great viewpoints worth stopping by and exploring.

What you need to know is that Mesa Top Loop is one-way and you drive it counterclockwise. The loop opens to visitors at 8 am and closes at sunset. It will take you at least 1 hour to drive it and make a few stops along the way.

Also, make sure to bring a camera with a decent lens or binoculars!

Following are my favorite viewpoints on Mesa Top Loop:

  • Navajo Canyon View – it is worth making a quick stop at Navajo Canyon View to enjoy some great views of the Navajo Canyon.
  • Square Tower House – this is definitely a stop that you do not want to miss! A short trail will take you to an awesome viewpoint of Square Tower House.
  • Mesa Top Sites – another great stop that needs to be on your list when you are visiting Mesa Verde. At Mesa Top Sites, you will be able to see kivas, as well as, foundations of towers that either served as defensive structures or as a place of refuge or both.
  • Sun Point View – from Sun View Point you will get to see Fewkes and Cliff Cayons and if you look further along the way, you will see the Sun Temple, Mummy House, Oak Tree House, Fire Temple, and Cliff Palace. The best time of the day to visit is in the afternoon when the sun will be behind you and illuminate the dwellings.
  • Oak Tree House and Fire Temple Viewpoints – from these two viewpoints, you will be able to get a better look at Oak Tree House and Fire Temple.
  • Sun Temple – from Sun Temple you will get to enjoy great views of Cliff Palace. What you need to know is that Sun Temple was used as a place of worship.

Mesa Verde National Park Headquarters

The area around Mesa Verde National Park Headquarters has a couple of great hikes: Petroglyph Point Trail and Spruce Canyon Trail, as well as Spruce Tree House, and Chapin Mesa Museum.

1. Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved cliff dwelling in the park. It is normally open to the public, however in August 2015, a rockfall at Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling prompted park officials to close the site for visitor safety. It has been closed ever since and it is awaiting further examinations.

The good news is, that you can see it from overlooks near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House is the third largest and best-preserved cliff dwelling in the park. You can get a good look at the dwelling from any of the overlooks near the Chapin Archaeological Museum.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

2. Petroglyph Point Trail

Petroglyph Point Trail is an awesome hike offering excellent views of Navajo and Spruce Canyons and the opportunity to view a large petroglyph panel.

  • Difficulty – Strenuous
  • Distance – 2.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation change – 227 feet
  • Trailhead – Spruce Tree House Overlook (right by Chapin Mesa Museum)
2 Days in Mesa Verde

Petroglyph Point Trail is an awesome hike offering excellent views of Navajo and Spruce Canyons and the opportunity to view a large petroglyph panel.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

3. Far View Sites Complex Trail

After you are done exploring all the sites around Mesa Verde National Park Headquarters, retrace your steps and drive north back to the entrance of the park.

On the way back stop and explore the Far View Sites.

Far View Sites is a complex of dwellings and farms that were used between 900 and 1300 AD. The Ancestral Pueblo people lived here before the cliff dwellings were built and at one point it was the most densely populated area of the mesa.

There are a few different areas to explore here, including a reservoir, multiple villages, the pipe shrine house, and the far view tower, all of which are connected by pathways.

All in all, the hike is about 0.75 miles long and it should take you an hour to complete it.

Far View Sites in Mesa Verde

There are a few different areas to explore on the Far View Sites Complex Trail, including a reservoir, multiple villages, the pipe shrine house, and the far view tower, all of which are connected by pathways.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Day 2 Itinerary - Wetherill Mesa and Mesa Top Ruins Road

Here we go! This is the second day at Mesa Verde National Park. And, today, from the entrance to the park, drive all the way to Wetherill Mesa.

Here, you will join the Long House and Mug House Tours, explore the sites along Step House Trail, hike Badger House Community Trail, and Nordenskiold No #16 Overlook Trail.

And, on the way out of the park, you will stop at Park Point Fire Lookout.

And, if time allows, then hike Point Lookout Trail with awesome views at sunset.

Map of Wetherill Mesa

Map of Wetherill Mesa in Mesa Verde National Park. Image credit: NPS

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Wetherill Mesa

1. Long House Tour

Long House Dwelling can only be explored on a Ranger-led tour. You can purchase the tickets on recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. Tickets are available 14 days in advance, 8 am MST, on a rolling daily window. Make sure to purchase the tickets the minute they are released!

Long House is the second-largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. Built by Ancestral Puebloans in the 1200s.

This 150-room dwelling was rediscovered by the Wetherill brothers and Charles Mason in early 1890. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, it was excavated and eventually opened to visitors.

Long House in Mesa Verde

Long House is the second-largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park. Built by Ancestral Puebloans in the 1200s.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Long House Tour is about 60 minutes long and involves hiking 2.25 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of about 130 feet and climbing two 15-foot ladders within the site.

Tours are scheduled every 30 minutes between 9 am to 11:30 am and 1:30 pm to 3 pm. The cost is $8 per person with 25 spots per time slot.

2. Mug House Tour

You can explore Mug House on a Ranger-led tour. Tickets for this tour are very limited. Make sure to get them as soon as they are available.

Mug House was a village of 80 to 100 residents from 1100 to 1200s AD.

Along the trail to Mug House, you will be able to experience Adobe Cave, Ancestral Pueblo rock art, and great views of Rock Canyon.

This tour is 2.25 miles long and lasts 90 minutes. It is only offered twice a day (May 1 to May 21 at  9 am and 12 pm and May 22 to October 22 at 9 am and 11 am). The cost is $25 per person. The number of spots per tour is only 10 per time slot.

3. Step House Trail

Step House is a self-guided cliff dwelling, so you can take your time and do it at your own pace instead of joining a guided tour.

Step House cliff dwelling is interesting because there is clear evidence of two separate occupations on the same site. There is a basket maker site that dates back to 626 AD and the rest of the alcove contains a masonry pueblo dating to 1226 AD. Also, on this trail, you will see a pithouse and a few petroglyphs.

  • Difficulty – moderate
  • Distance – 1 mile (roundtrip)
  • Elevation change – 165 feet
  • Trailhead – Wetherill Mesa Kiosk
Step House Trail in Mesa Verde

Step House is a self-guided cliff dwelling, so you can take your time and do it at your own pace instead of joining a guided tour.

Step House in Mesa Verde

Step House cliff dwelling is interesting because there is clear evidence of two separate occupations on the same site.

4. Badger House Community Trail

The Badger House Community Trail is a great trail. Along, you will see four sites Modified Basketmaker Pithouse, Developmental Pueblo village, Badger House, and Two Raven House.

  • Difficulty – moderate
  • Distance – 2.25 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation change – 111 feet
  • Trailhead – Wetherill Mesa Kiosk

5. Nordenskiold Site #16 Overlook Trail

The Nordenskiold Site #16 Trail will take you to an overlook of a cliff dwelling in Rock Canyon.

This village of about 50 rooms is named after the Swedish scholar Gustaf Nordenskiold, who excavated the site in 1891.

  • Difficulty – moderate
  • Distance – 1-mile roundtrip
  • Elevation change – 165 feet
  • Trailhead – Wetherill Mesa Kiosk
2 Days in Mesa Verde

This village of about 50 rooms is named after the Swedish scholar Gustaf Nordenskiold, who excavated the site in 1891.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Mesa Top Ruins Road

Map of Mesa Top Ruins Road

Map of Mesa Verde Ruins Road. Image credit: NPS

2 Days in Mesa Verde

1. Park Point Fire Lookout

Park Point Fire Lookout sits at the highest elevation of 8,572 feet in Mesa Verde National Park.

From this point portions of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah are visible.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Park Point Fire Lookout sits at an elevation of 8,572 feet. From this point portions of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah are visible.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

2. Point Lookout Trail

The Point Lookout Trail will take you to the iconic Point Lookout, the geological formation that towers above the park entrance.

The trail offers views of the San Juan and La Plata Mountains, as well as the Mancos and Montezuma Valleys.

  • Difficulty – moderate
  • Distance – 2.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation change – 400 feet
  • Trailhead – Morefield Campground
Point Lookout Trail

The Point Lookout Trail will take you to the iconic Point Lookout for great views of the San Juan and La Plata Mountains, as well as the Mancos and Montezuma Valleys.

2 Days in Mesa Verde

Intrepid Scouts' Tips for 2 Days in Mesa Verde National Park

  • Mesa Verde National Park is a photographer’s dream! If you are like me, you will be taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. The scenery is just breathtaking and constantly changing. However, a camera with a good zoom is a must for Mesa Verde National Park. I have a Nikon COOLPIX P1000 Super Telephoto Camera that I bought a couple of years ago and I really like it.
  • If your camera does not have a good zoom, then binoculars are a must.
  • There is not much shade in Mesa Verde National Park, and if you are visiting during the summer months, then protect yourself from the sun.Sunscreen is essential, however, a lightweight long sleeve shirt is a must! My favorite are sun shirts by Columbia. Also, it is a good idea to wear lightweight long pants to protect yourself from the sun and bugs!Wear sunglasses with UV protection. Sunglasses are an important part of your sun-protective wardrobe. When purchasing sunglasses, always look for lenses that offer UV protection.A wide-brimmed hat is a simple and effective way to cover up your face and neck. When selecting a hat, choose one that has a wide brim, which will protect your ears, as well as your head and neck. Avoid baseball hats or straw hats with holes, as these are not as effective in protecting you outdoors.
  • Finally, and most importantly, Cliff Dwelling Tours is the highlight of visiting Mesa Verde National Park. However, getting the tickets can be very challenging and frustrating. My recommendation is to button up the dates of your visit and then be right at your computer when the tickets get released. If you do not get the tickets for your visit, then do not despair and continue checking for any cancellations up to the day before your visit.

Check out my post: 23 Practical Tips for First Visit to Mesa Verde National Park, it will help you with the planning process.

Now, It Is Your Turn, I Would Like to Hear Back from You!

Are you planning your trip to Mesa Verde National Park?

Please let me know! Drop me a quick comment right below!

Click on any of the images below to get inspired and to help you with the planning process for your trip to Mesa Verde National Park!

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