Mesa Verde National Park (www.nps.gov/meve) was once home to the Ancestral Pueblo people, who mysteriously disappeared some 700 years ago. Today this Southwestern Colorado site features the remains of the cliff dwellings, pueblos and pithouses of the former inhabitants. And although not every site within the park is wheelchair-accessible, it’s still possible for wheelers and slow walkers to enjoy it. Here’s the scoop on the most accessible sites in the park.
Mesa Top Loop
Make the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center your first stop when you enter the park. There’s plenty of accessible parking with ramp access up to entrance, and plenty of room to navigate a wheelchair around the interpretive exhibits, the ranger information desk, and the book store inside. There are also several observation windows in the research center, where visitors can catch a glance at the archaeologists at work. Other access features include a loaner wheelchair, accessible restrooms and a picnic table with level access outside.
After you pick up a park map head down to the south end of the park, where you can explore some sites on the Mesa Top Loop. This scenic six-mile drive features a variety of archaeological sites grouped in chronological order, and offers a good representation of the variety of housing styles used by the Ancestral Pueblo people.
Recommended stops include the first pithouse, the pithouses and pueblos site, and the first, second and third mesa top villages. All of the sites feature accessible parking and have a paved trail to the ruins. Most of the sites are located near the road, and many of the ruins are covered. There is also a small picnic area, complete with accessible restrooms, located next to the mesa top sites. It’s an excellent place for a midday break.
Cliff Dwelling Extraordinaire
The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde are kind of a mixed bag as far as access is concerned. The good news is that you can get a good windshield view of the Oak Tree House cliff dwelling from up on Mesa Top Loop. The not so good news is that the best preserved cliff dwelling in the park — Spruce Tree House — presents some substantial access obstacles.
Located just north of the Mesa Top Loop, near the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, Spruce Tree House is technically rated as accessible with assistance; but realistically it’s only doable for power wheelchair-users. Although the half-mile loop is paved, and there are no steps or ladders along the way, it’s a steep climb back up to the trailhead. So take a good look at the trail before you head down hill, and remember it’s all uphill on the way back.
Alternatively, you can get a good view of Spruce Tree House in the level area behind the Chief Ranger’s Office, next to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. Save some time to browse through the museum too. Although not all areas of the museum are readily accessible, a portable ramp is available at the front desk, so wheelers can access all of the exhibits.
One Last Stop
Last but not least, save some time for a stop at the Far View Sites, located about three miles north of Spruce Tree House on Chapin Mesa Road. At one time this area was the most densely populated spot on the mesa, with as many as 50 villages. Today the pueblo style ruins are scattered throughout the area.
Unfortunately, uneven terrain prevents accessible travel to all of the ruins, but the Far View House is doable for most folks. It’s located close to the level dirt parking area; and although the dirt trail around the site has some access obstacles, most folks will be able to navigate the first part. Some slow walkers may also be able to access the entire 3/4-mile dirt trail to all the ruins, so give it a try if it looks doable. Even if you’ve had your fill of walking, you can still get a good view of the ruins from your car, so don’t miss this stop. It’s a nice way to end the day.