Renting an RV from Cruise America allowed us to comfortably tour the National Parks of Colorado. You can read our full review of Cruise America rental RVs here. You can also view our entire 3,200 mile Summer road trip itinerary to Colorado and Utah by clicking here.
Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace and Balcony House
It was afternoon when we arrived at Mesa Verde National Park and we headed straight to the Visitor Center to purchase tour tickets and pick up Junior Ranger booklets. The entry fee for the park is $15 but we already had our America the Beautiful Park Pass so we did not have to pay to enter. To see most of the cliff dwellings you must be part of a Ranger led tour and the $3 tickets can only be purchased in person up to two days in advance. Arriving right before closing time, we secured tickets to two different tours- Balcony House and Cliff Palace for the next day and then drove about a half hour back to Morefield Campground located inside the park boundary near the entrance. Everything is spread out in the park as you can see on the map here. Setting up camp was easy as the sites are quite flat and spaced apart. Once again, the stars were unbelievable at night and we stayed up late to stargaze.
Balcony House Tour
After cleaning up at the free campground showers in the morning, we headed back to the Balcony House parking area located about 20 minutes away from the visitor center. Balcony House tours last about one hour so we made sure the kids had a snack and went to the bathroom before we started. Our tour started at 11 and it was already sunny and hot by the time we began so I made sure to slather sunscreen on everyone. I am glad we took water but it did make some of the ladder climbing a little tricky!
Speaking of ladders, the large one on the Balcony House Tour is no joke! At 32 feet tall, they loved it but I was nervous watching the kids climb up! The tour also involves crawling through a 12 foot long tunnel which added to the adventure. Before starting, I had impressed upon the kids the importance of listening quietly and being respectful during the tour but I needn’t have worried as it was interesting and exciting enough to keep their attention. It is fascinating to explore the remarkably well preserved 800 year old ruins of the Ancestral Puebloans and as always the Park Ranger leading the tour was a wealth of information explaining the mystery of why the cave dwellers may have left and what their lives where like while there.
Cliff Palace Tour
Once finished the Balcony House Tour, we took a long lunch break before heading to the Cliff Palace Overlook (about 10 minutes away) to begin the Cliff Palace Tour. Once again we made sure to have the kids potty before setting off since the tour is about 45 minutes long. There are several ladders on this tour but all were shorter than the Balcony House ladder so I wasn’t quite so nervous. Balcony House has about 40 rooms while in comparison Cliff Palace is huge with 150 rooms and it is estimated that approximately 100 people lived here at one time. It is awe inspiring to be there walking around the well preserved ruins. The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were found by cattle ranchers in 1888. Can you imagine what that must have been like to unexpectedly come upon such an amazing place? Once again the tour was led by an interactive and informative park ranger which kept the kids attention and even at their young ages, they all enjoyed both tours.
Following the Cliff Palace Tour, we headed back to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum to browse the exhibits and turn in the kids’ completed Junior Ranger booklets and get the badges they had earned. We also took a walk down to nearby Spruce Tree House to explore the only dwelling visitors are allowed to be in while not on a guided tour. It too was fascinating.
Mesa Verde National Park is a special place to visit. We love our tours of Cliff Palace and Balcony House. It remains one of our favorite National Parks because of its unique make up of archeological treasures and natural beauty. Don’t be afraid to visit with kids! They will be amazed and love exploring such a wonderful park.
Have you visited Mesa Verde National Park? What was your favorite tour?