Mesa Verde is a U.S. National Park known for its Cliff Dwellings and ancient architecture that goes back years ago. So history and cultures buff will surely appreciate the park, and the best way to do that is to join a tour or two with the park ranger. 

You cannot simply show up and buy tour tickets; self-guided tours of the sites mentioned in this article are impossible. The only cliff dwelling that you can visit without a tour is the Step House. Otherwise, to join the tour, you must reserve your ticket in advance online for a small fee. 

Your Guide to the Mesa Verde National Park Tours
Mesa Verde National Park - Cliff Palace
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    Mesa Verde Self-Guided Tours: Can You Tour Mesa Verde On Your Own?

    The one cliff dwelling that you can visit without a tour is the Step House. However, in my opinion, the best way to appreciate the cliff dwellings at the Mesa Verde National Park is to join a tour with the park ranger so that you can learn more about the history, culture, and architecture behind each site. 

    Mesa Verde Tours

    Each Mesa Verde tour is accompanied by the park ranger, which is a time-entry tour experience in that you can get up close to the cliff dwelling and listen to the narratives provided by the park ranger. 

    The most well-known three (3) Mesa Verde National Park Tours:
    • Cliff Palace
    • Balcony House
    • Long House

    How Long Does Each Tour Take?

    • The Cliff Palace tour takes approximately 30 minutes. 
    • The Balcony House tour takes approximately 60 minutes. 
    • The Long House tour takes approximately 60 minutes.

    If you expect to do two tours in a day, make sure to give yourself enough time in between because:
    • Driving time. Mesa Verde National Park is huge; believe me, most of your time will be spent driving.  
    • You are required to show up 15 mins earlier before each tour to go over the safety information. 
    • There may be delays or any unforeseen circumstances during your tour or after. 
    • Sometimes, the tour can go longer than anticipated

    Per the National Park, this is what they recommend if you want to do multiple tours in one day, for example:
    • 2 hours between the time you book this Cliff Palace tour and a Balcony House tour (i.e., 9:00 AM CP and 11:00 PM BH).
    • 3 hours between the time you book this Cliff Palace tour and a Long House tour (i.e., 10:00 AM CP and 1:00 PM or later LH).
    • 4 hours between the time you book this Long House tour and a Cliff Palace tour (i.e., 10:00 AM LH and a 2:00 PM or later CP). This will allow you a little extra time to enjoy the sites at Wetherill Mesa and drive to Cliff Palace.

    Mesa Verde Tour Cost

    Each Mesa Verde tour cost is really small, and they all cost the same: 
    • General Admission: $8
    • Infant (age 2 and under): $1
    • Cancellation Fee: $1 per ticket

    Please note that you must also pay the park entrance fee if you do not have America the Beautiful Pass. Go to Mesa Verde National Park website for the latest entrance fee information. 

    How Difficult Is Each Tour?

    This is the most important when deciding which Mesa Verde tour you want to do.

    It's not so much about hiking to do each cliff-dwelling tour at Mesa Verde National Park. However, each tour requires climbing up and down to go through a cliff dwelling, and the effort can be anywhere from easy and moderate to difficult, depending on your physical conditions. Therefore, the tour is not for you if you have mobility issues or concerning physical health. So plan accordingly before purchasing any tour tickets. 

    Keep reading below to find out which Mesa Verde tour is better suitable for you. 

    Best Cliff Dwelling Tours at Mesa Verde

    The most asked questions about which tour to do at Mesa Verde National Park are between the Balcony House and the Cliff Palace tours. 

    Ultimately, it depends on your time at the park and physical health. If you have two full days, I will try to do all. But if not: 
    • The Cliff Palace tour is the easiest and fastest tour, and it's also the most popular cliff dwelling picture you see when you google Mesa Verde National Park. You go through the tour listening to the ranger's narrative and move through the cliff dwelling without touching anything. 
    • The Balcony House tour requires a better fitness level and takes an hour to complete. It's also the hardest tour to get tickets because they only offer 3 tours per day with a limited amount of tickets sold. It is one of the most adventurous tours in the park as you move through the cliff dwelling by claiming tall ladders, squeezing your way through a narrow tunnel, etc. See the photo below. This tour lets you touch the dwelling (but not all) as you move through the site. 
    • The Long House tour also takes an hour and is a little further away to drive to it. It's the least popular Mesa Verde National Park tour and can also be challenging to move through the cliff dwelling. 

    Your Guide to the Mesa Verde National Park Tours
    What You Have To Go Through To Tour The Balcony House Tour

    I recommend you decide which tour to do depending on your physical health and your time visiting the Mesa Verde National park. They are all well worth visiting, and strategically plan your trip to decide which tour to take. If the Balcony House is the tour you want to do too, remember tickets are limited and can be sold out fast. So plan well in advance based on the steps outlined below. 

    How to Book Mesa Verde Tours?

    Once you've reviewed safety information and whether you are physically able to do a Mesa Verde tour, you can get the tour ticket online. You can not get the tour ticket in person, and the ranger does check tickets before each tour. 

    • First and foremost, ensure the cliff dwelling or road is not closed for the date you will visit the park for your tour. 
    • Go to the Recreative Gov website and create an account if you do not have one. 
    • Sit down and figure out what dates and times you want to do the tour and how many tickets you will need. You can see each Mesa tour hours here:
    • All tour reservations can be booked online 14 days in advance at 8 AM Colorado or Mountain Standard Time (MST). Therefore, 14 days before your desired tour date, set a reminder before 8 AM Colorado time, and get your credit card ready. 
      • I suggest you perform a "mock" reservation on a sample date without paying for the reservation to familiarize yourself with the booking process for the tour tickets and quantities you want.
    • Simply go to the Recreation Gov Mesa Verde Tour website to book. 
      • Remember that the Balcony House tour can be sold out in 2-3 minutes, so be strategic and ready to book in front of your computer if this tour is high on your list. 

    If you are late and the tour is sold out, unfortunately, there's no way around it other than to check the Recreation Gov Mesa Verde Tour website every day to see if anyone cancels the reservation. Cancellation does happen, especially when the tour date is approaching. 

    Best Places to Stay Near Mesa Verde National Park

    Visitors choose between Durango or Cortez when visiting Mesa Verde National Park. 
    • I suggest you stay in Cortez to better use your time because Mesa Verde National Park is huge, and you will spend most of your time driving to the park entrance and each cliff dwelling site from the park entrance. 
    • Durango is a more interesting town with more attractions, especially its scenic train ride between Durango and Silverton, but it can be far from Mesa Verde. Lodging is also more expensive. 
    • If you want to stay in the National Park, there's a Far View Lodge inside the park, and they accept pets for $25 per night. 

    Cortez is the closest town to Mesa Verde National Park compared to Durango, and the accommodation rate is also more affordable. Your options are:


    Are Dogs Allowed In Mesa Verde National Park?

    Your Guide to the Mesa Verde National Park Tours
    Our Dogs Enjoying the Canyon View at Mesa Verde

    Speaking of pets. Visiting Mesa Verde National Park with your pets can be challenging because they are not allowed on any hiking trails or near archaeological sites within the National Park. They are also not allowed to do any Mesa Verde tour. 

    If you must travel with your dogs as we did, here are my suggestions:
    • Never leave your pets in the car unattended. 
    • Take turns watching your pet and checking out the cliff dwelling overlook if there are two of you. The Cliff Palace overlook, for example, is not far from the parking lot, so one of you can watch your pet while the other snap a quick photo of the Cliff Palace. A few overlooks along the Cliff Palace loop are just a few steps away from the parking space. 
    • Take turns doing each Mesa Verde tour by allowing ample time between switching. 
    • Walk the Long House Loop with your pets. The loop is 5-mile long, but you don't have to do it all. The path is well paved, and some archaeological sites, including the Long House overlook, are where you can enjoy the views with your pets.
    • There are also dog kennels near Mesa Verde if you are comfortable. 

    Your Guide to the Mesa Verde National Park Tours
    My Little 14 Years Old Girl & Long House Overlook In The Background

    Paved Long House Loop Road