5 Spectacular Hikes You Need To Take at Mesa Verde National Park

History that’s literally built into the rocks 

Mesa Verde National Park is one of Colorado’s most popular tourist destinations. Named for the Spanish phrase for “green table,” referring to the juniper-covered geological mesa upon which the site sits, Mesa Verde is home to the United States’ biggest archaeological site, most notability the cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans, an ancient native American culture that existed as far back as 7500 B.C.

The park was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt to “preserve the works of man,” and today, Mesa Verde is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park covers 52,000 acres of land and is home to more than 600 cliff dwellings. The Anasazi, as the Ancestral Puebloans are also known, even used astronomy to determine the placement of their homes, and today, you can still see some of those petroglyphs on the walls of Mesa Verde.

If you want to explore some of America’s most incredible history, this is the place to be. The park attracts over 500,000 visitors annually who visit the ancient ruins and enjoy the many hiking trails Mesa Verde offers. If you’re planning a trip to Mesa Verde, the park charges a fee to enter any of the trails and requires reservations for a guided tour to see most of the dwellings, but be sure to add these five to your itinerary.


1. Soda Canyon Overlook Trail

A blue sky with massive, white clouds that seem to go for miles is what you can expect when hiking the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. This is one of the easier trails in Mesa Verde, great for beginners or those not looking for a strenuous hike.

Informative signs along the way provide you with fascinating details about the land around you and the rock formations that make Mesa Verde what it is today. You will also be able to see the remains of the cave dwellings built thousands of years ago across the canyon too, so keep an eye out.

Total Distance: 1.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 59 feet

Difficulty: Easy — Walking, Hiking

Route Type: Out & Back

Other Info:

  • This trail is kid-friendly, as it has a minimal incline.
  • Binoculars are recommended if you want to get a better view of the cliff dwellings.
  • This trail has little to no shade, so be sure to bring sun protection.

2. Knife Edge Trail

The historic Knife Roadway is waiting for you to explore on the Knife Edge Trail.

The main roadway to get through the park that was built in the 1800s was extremely small and very steep for horses with carts and early cars. The road was closed in 1914, reopened in 1924, and remained in use until 1957. Now, the road is only accessible by foot, providing hikers with one of the unique experiences in Mesa Verde with its gorgeous view of the valley below.

Total Distance: 1.98 miles

Elevation Gain: 154 feet

Difficulty: Moderate —  Hiking

Route Type: Out & Back

Other Info:

  • This trail has little to no shade, so be sure to bring sun protection.
  • Biting flies are common on this trail, so bug spray is recommended.
  • Parts of this trail can sometimes be closed due to falling rocks or rock slides.
  • No dogs allowed on this trail.

3. Step House Trail

Time to see a few of these cave dwellings up close, with no reservation required!

The Step House Trail will let you bypass the wait that some of the other trails have to see the historic dwellings in Mesa Verde. While the inclines to reach the dwellings on a hot day might make the journey a little more difficult, it is well worth it when you finally get there.

Total Distance: 0.86 miles

Elevation Gain: 164 feet

Difficulty: Moderate — Walking, Hiking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • While this trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible, the elevation gains can make it difficult.
  • Parts of this trail may be closed due to ongoing construction.
  • This trail has little to no shade, so be sure to bring sun protection.
  • No dogs allowed on this trail.

4. Cliff Palace Loop Trail

While the Parks and Landmarks team tried to keep this trail guide to regular hiking trails, we couldnt resist adding the adventure of going directly into the most protected space in the entire park.


Cliff Palace loop is a ranger-guided tour walk of the largest cliff dwelling in North America that is still available to the public. This tour will give you an up-close look at what life was once like for the Anasazi and how they managed to build and live in these dwellings. With tons of information the rangers provide, this is a must-do if you visit Mesa Verde National Park.

Total Distance: 0.37 miles

Elevation Gain: 114 feet

Difficulty: Easy — Walking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • This trail requires you to book one of the ranger-guided tours and does not allow for unsupervised walking or hiking.
  • No dogs are allowed on this trail.
  • This is a tour of ancient ruins and not much of a typical hike, so don’t expect to get much exercise for your body but more for your brain.
  • You will be climbing on ladders to reach the upper parts of the dwellings.

5. Mesa Verde Point Lookout Trail

Looking for the best view in the entire park? The Mesa Verde Point Lookout Trail has you covered.

The trail immediately puts your legs to the test with quite a steep ascent, but it is short-lived. Most of the trail is a gentle uphill grade that will give you plenty of time to take in your surroundings and enjoy the breathtaking views. Bring a camera and maybe a snack, and stay a while at the top to take it all in.

Total Distance: 2.11 miles

Elevation Gain: 531 feet

Difficulty: Moderate — Hiking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • This trail is recommended for those with a decent physical fitness level.
  • This trail has little to no shade, so be sure to bring sun protection.
  • If you are not used to large changes in altitude, take this trail slowly.

No matter your hiking level, Mesa Verde has a trail for you. With such a diverse landscape and so much history, it’s no wonder this park is one of the most popular ones in Colorado. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your hike today!