Mesa Verde National Park Trails
Mesa Verde National Park's three small wilderness segments are unique because they are closed to the public in order to protect fragile archeological sites. Backcountry exploration is prohibited in the wilderness, and hiking is allowed on designated trails only within the rest of the park. Congress protected approximately one-sixth of Mesa Verde National Park as wilderness in 1976, when it also protected areas within the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Great Sand Dunes. But unlike those areas, the wilderness designation in Mesa Verde was designed as a buffer against incompatible uses on adjacent land and primarily to protect the park’s important American Indian sites—pit houses and remarkably well-preserved cliff dwellings built into vertical rock walls. Constructed by pre-Puebloan people (Anasazi) a thousand years ago in sandstone alcoves, the structures have survived the elements in excellent condition. The pre-Puebloan tribes thrived here for 700 years, settling first on the mesa where they farmed, gathered wood, and hunted. Because the elevated mesa collects greater precipitation than the lower valleys, it was well suited for agriculture in this arid landscape. Later, the pre-Puebloan tribes relocated to the more defensible and better-protected cliff dwellings. Their sudden abandonment of these dwellings in the late 1200s has fueled countless debates among archeologists. The park’s wilderness encompasses the steep slopes below the mesa’s north and east rims. Almost a thousand feet of Mancos Shale supports a several-hundred-foot layer of Mesa Verde Sandstone. The shale was deposited some 80 or 90 million years ago as marine sediments, with the overlying sandstone left behind as the beaches of the retreating sea. The water advanced again at one point, creating a shale- and coal-bearing layer of the Mesa Verde Sandstone called the Menefee Formation. Another retreat deposited more sand, forming the Cliffhouse Sandstone. In recent geological history, this weaker shale has eroded and collapsed more easily than the overlying Cliffhouse Sandstone. As it has done so, it has undermined the sandstone, which has peeled off in arching layers to create the alcoves that became the sheltering cliffs of the Anasazi communities. This trail guide includes descriptions of Point Lookout Nature Trail, Knife Edge Trail, Spruce Canyon Trail, Petroglyph Point Trail, and Prater Ridge.
We cannot find this location: please try again.
Directions to: Mesa Verde National Park Trailsprint directions
Trail Statistics & Information
|Skill Level||Easy to Moderate|
|Season||Best Spring through Fall|
|Trailhead Elevation||6,000 ft|
|Top Elevation||8,600 ft|
REI MEMBERS: SAVE $20 on a Trails.com Subscription
Subscribe to Trails.com for just $29.95 a year and gain full access to over 49,000 professional trail guides, high-res USGS topo maps & much more!