Mesa Verde National Park (+Durango)

Cortez Mesa Verde KOA Journey

We stayed at Cortez/ Mesa Verde KOA Journey for 3 nights in order to visit Mesa Verde National Park. We got a pull thru site which had plenty of room, but most of the pull thru sites are buddy sites which means you face the camper next to you. This wasn’t a problem for us as we were traveling with friends, but something to keep in mind if personal space is a big issue for you. The kids enjoyed the pool here in their down time.

Our pull thru site
Beautiful views of the mountains from the campground

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park was a short drive from the campground, and in addition to the historical sites there are beautiful mountain views all around. Tours for the various dwellings go on sale 14 days in advance, and we went on the second they went on sale and they still sold out before we could get one. In addition, cliff palace loop was closed due to construction. Without having a tour or access to this part of the park, we were able to see Mesa Verde in one day. The park was not crowded and we never had to fight for a parking spot.

Entrance

Far View Sites

We started our day at the Far View Sites, where we saw Far View House, Coyote Village, and other sites. We followed the loop around for an easy .8 mile flat walk. This was a great way to start to learn about the Pueblo people.

Far View House
Pipe Shrine House
Coyote Village
Coyote Village
View from Megalithic House

Next, we stopped at the parking lot of Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Although the museum was closed, this area provides a great view of Spruce Tree House.

Spruce Tree House from museum

Mesa Top Loop

After the museum we began the Mesa Top Loop Drive. This was a 6 mile loop with multiple viewpoints and archeological sites. Our first stop on this loop was the viewpoint for Square Tower House. A short walk brought us to a view of the house and the mountains.

Square Tower House
View from Square Tower Lookout

We continued on, stopping at a few lookouts and pithouses/villages similar to far view house. Many were just short stops.

Navajo Canyon View

One of the best stops in my opinion was sun point view. You could see Cliff Palace, Oak Tree House and Sunset House from here. There were also scopes to help you zoom in on the different spots.

Sun Point View
Using the scopes

Next we went to Sun Temple, where the highlight was a great view of Cliff Palace.

Scopes at Sun Temple

Cliff Palace

Weatherill Mesa

After we completed the Mesa Top Loop, we headed to the other side of the park to see what Wetherill Mesa had to offer. One of the best surprises of this drive (which took about 50 minutes) was the scenic overlooks. Lots of great spots to stop! This part of the drive is a little more difficult, with more turns and steep dropoffs if you have trouble with mountain roads.

Viewpoint on Wetherill Road
Another gorgeous viewpoint

Once you reach the end of the road, there is one big parking lot. This is the end of the driveable section. There are many holes that leave from here. It was getting hot so we opted for the nearby Step House hike. This is the only self guided cliff dwelling tour that gets you up close with a dwelling. It’s only a one mile loop, but it is steep (especially coming back up) and has stairs and a ladder to climb.

Step House structure
Step House Cliff Dwelling
Climbing the ladder
The view of Step House from the top of ladder

We finished our day in Mesa Verde by stopping at Park Point lookout on the way out. This overlook is fantastic, and there is actually a person on the lookout in the fire tower for storms or fires. There is a short walk to get to the lookout, and it is a little uphill.

One side of the lookout
Other side of the lookout

Lake Nighthorse

After a full day in Mesa Verde we wanted to find something fun for the kids to do. We found a hidden gem called Lake Nighthorse, located about 50 minutes away near Durango. For just $10 per vehicle we got entrance to the lake, plus access to life vests and the Witbit Aqua Park. Kayak and SUP rentals were also available. The kids loved this and had so much fun!

Aquapark in the background
You do have to swim out and it gets deep (you can’t touch bottom)
C jumping off
The beach area was small but we had a great spot

Durango

We were all hungry when we left, so we headed to the town of Durango for shopping, dinner, icecream and the beer garden. It’s an adorable town with lots of quaint shops and restaurant choices. Very walkable, would highly recommend a visit

Taco Libre- great tacos and margs!
Gas station with food trucks and live music
One of many shops
Icecream at Cream Bean Berry
Animas River- quick walk from shopping area
Animas Beer Garden- connected to Doubletree Hilton

Overall we had a fantastic time in this part of Colorado and lucked out with amazing weather! After we left the Mesa Verde area, our next stop was Page, Arizona.

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