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The Best Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

The Best Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is a popular tourist destination for people worldwide. If you’re planning a trip around this iconic park, you’ll want as much information as possible to book at the right time.

Whether you’re visiting to enjoy the quiet of the wilderness and want to miss the crowds or hike out in the warm Colorado sun, we have everything you need to choose the best season to visit. Let us be your guide!

Why You Should Visit Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is one of four national parks in Colorado, and though it is not the most visited park in the state, it’s still hugely popular — Mesa Verde sees more than half a million visitors each year.

Mesa Verde National Park is built around the ancestral home of the Pueblo people. The Pueblo carved their homes into the cliffside mesas, overlooking fantastic scenery.

These homes were carved from stone, and because of the dry weather and resilience of the building material, the homes have been preserved as unique time capsules from hundreds of years ago.

You can hike through their homes and along the paths that the Pueblos once walked. You can also see many Pueblo homes from the road if you prefer to drive through the park instead of hiking.

Mesa Verde is a fantastic place to camp as well. There are more than 250 campsites available, and they’re remarkably popular.

The park is located in a desert, so campers rarely need to worry about rain or poor weather interrupting their stay, which is only part of the reason camping in the park is so popular.

And the other significant reason campers love to stay in the park?

Mesa Verde is an International Dark Sky Park, which means it is one of the best places on Earth to view the night sky. Many campers in the park sleep without tents just to get a good look at the Milkyway above them as they sleep.

No matter if you’re visiting Mesa Verde National Park to drive through and look at the ancestral home of the Pueblos, hike the incredible paths through the ancient city, or camp under the desert sky, Mesa Verde is one of the best wilderness parks in the world.

Overall Best Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

Rocky formation protruding up into the late afternoon sky while golden-yellow grass in the fields below blows in the wind

John De Bord/Shutterstock

Unlike more remote national parks, Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round. It is busiest and hottest in the summer when the weather reaches upwards of 90 during the day, and crowds can be intense.

In the winter, the crowds thin out, but the weather can be too cold to enjoy the park to its fullest extent.

Considering the drawbacks of winter and summer, spring and fall are the best seasons to visit the park because there are fewer visitors (though not as few as there are in winter), and the weather is ideal.

May and June are the best months in spring to visit Mesa Verde. Temperatures usually peak in the 70s and 80s, which makes for relatively comfortable hiking, and nights are in the 40s, which means it’s not too cold to camp.

Crowds are usually moderate, and hotel prices are about average. September and October are the best fall months to visit Mesa Verde. The highs are in the 60s and 70s, and evenings are warm enough to camp.

The crowds are reasonable, though slightly more people visit in September than in October. Hotel prices are high in September, even as crowds thin out, so October is a better option if you plan to visit on a budget in the fall.

Cheapest Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

The National Parks Service charges the same rates for park entrance and other amenities year-round, so you won’t save money in the park by traveling in the off-season.

You can, however, save money on hotels or stays in the area if you don’t plan to camp. Most people who come to Colorado for Mesa Verde National Park stay in the nearby town of Cortez, just ten minutes from the park.

Hotels in Cortez, Colorado, are cheapest in December and February. Durango is a popular alternative choice if you want to stay in a bigger city than Cortez. Durango is only 40 minutes from the park and is twice the size of Cortez.

Hotels in Durango, Colorado, are cheapest in February and April. Between the two, April is likely to have better weather. Overall, if you plan to stay in a hotel and you want the cheapest possible trip to Mesa Verde, February is your best bet.

April and December are also good times to visit if you want to save money. If you’re planning on flying into the area, airline flights follow a similar trend to hotel prices.

The least expensive flights are into Durango rather than Cortez, and they’re much less expensive in winter — except for December. As December is generally a busier travel season, flights are more expensive than in other months.

If you’re flying into the area and staying in a hotel, February is the cheapest travel option, though poor weather will make for a less-than-ideal vacation. April is a decent alternative that balances temperature and price.

Least Busy Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

Tourist in a pink shirt stands at the edge of an overlook point looking down at the cliff dwellings below during the least busy time to visit Mesa Verde National Park

Dno Mammoser/Shutterstock

Mesa Verde National Park is in southwest Colorado, close to the Arizona border. Because of its location, Mesa Verde doesn’t get traditional snowy weather, but it also doesn’t stay warm year-round.

Worse yet, the snowy mountains make the area difficult to reach in the winter. Additionally, many travelers prefer skiing in the Rockies or more traditional winter activities in the nearby mountains.

Because of this, winter is the slowest season for Mesa Verde National Park. On the slowest days, the park can see less than 50 people in total per day.

Considering the number of trails, you could experience the park without seeing any other visitors at all on these days. Weekdays are also much slower than weekends, as most people have work or children in school.

Overall, a weekday in January or February is your best bet if you want to see the park as empty as possible. Still, you’ll have to be prepared to deal with near-freezing temperatures and potentially dangerous roads.

Worst Time to Visit Mesa Verde National Park

There are two times that you want to avoid Mesa Verde if you can: peak summer and peak winter.

These seasons are tough times to visit, even for the most seasoned travelers, because of terrible temperatures and, in the case of summer, crowds. Mesa Verde can be scorching in the summer months, with temperatures reaching upwards of ninety degrees.

These are also the busiest months, which means you’ll be in a crowded, hot park while paying above average for lodging — not the ideal vacation by any means.

The worst months to visit Mesa Verda National Park are July and August, which have the largest visitor numbers and average temperatures in the high 80s, though June can also be hotter than average and slightly crowded.

If you decide to visit the park during this time anyway, try to avoid late morning to mid-afternoon hiking. Late risers and families tend to get to Mesa Verde around these hours, and it’s also usually hotter.

In general, the earlier you can get to the park to beat traffic and the heat, the better.

Even though it is considerably less expensive and the crowds are minimal, winter is also a challenging time to visit Mesa Verde National Park, especially if you plan to camp.

The lows from November through March are often below freezing, which makes camping difficult for most casual outdoors people. Even during the day, temperatures peak in the 40s, which can feel even colder if you’re hiking along the Mesa in the wind.

Things to Consider

Prater Ridge Trail seen in an up-close image with expansive mountains behind it and blue skies overhead

Kelly vanDellen/Shutterstock

Mesa Verde National Park is an incredible experience you won’t miss. However, no matter when you decide to stay, visit are some planning tips that you’ll want to consider before you book, including the following:

  • If you plan to fly in, you’ll want to fly into the Cortez, Colorado airport, the Durango, Colorado airport, or the Farmington, New Mexico airport. These are the closest airports to the park.
  • Farmington will likely have the least expensive flights, followed by Durango and Cortez.
  • If you plan to drive to the park, use caution in the winter months. Colorado roads can be icy and snowy, especially if you’re coming through the mountains.
  • While there are a few short hikes through the park, most of the trails are upwards of two miles. The length of these hikes, combined with the sun and often hot weather, can make for challenging terrain.
  • Always prepare before you set out, especially if you bring little ones along. Remember to wear sunscreen — even in the winter, the Colorado sun can be stronger because of the high altitude.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the most frequently asked questions from people planning trips to visit Mesa Verde National Park:

How many days do you need to visit Mesa Verde National Park?

Most visitors like to have two days to visit Mesa Verde if they plan to hike through the park. Otherwise, plan for at least a full day to experience the different areas of the park.

What months is Mesa Verde National Park open?

Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round. The park is only closed on New Year’s, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.

Is October a good time to visit Mesa Verde National Park?

October is a great time to visit Mesa Verde National Park. Temperatures are cool but not freezing, and because Mesa Verde is a desert, you won’t have to deal with any rain or other weather factors.

Is it worth it to go to Mesa Verde National Park?

Yes, Mesa Verde National Park is a World Heritage Site and an experience that anyone in the area should take the time to have.

Can you see the cliff dwellings from the road in Mesa Verde?

Yes, some of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde can be seen from the road, but the best views and most immersive experiences are hikes.

So, When Should You Visit Mesa Verde National Park?

Mesa Verde National Park is a great vacation destination any time of year. If you want to avoid crowds or save money, try coming to the area in February.

If you want to enjoy the best weather and mild crowds, fall and spring are the perfect time to enjoy Mesa Verde National Park. No matter when you decide to visit, Mesa Verde is an iconic vacation destination that you don’t want to pass up.

With tons of activities, including hiking, driving, or camping alongside the homes of the Ancestral Pueblo people, you won’t run out of things to do. Happy travels!