Point Lookout P500
Lone Cone P300
Prater Ridge P500
Moccasin Overlook
Park Point P1K
Navajo Hill

Sat, Jul 22, 2017
Prater Ridge
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 3 4 5 6


I finally arrived in Colorado though I wasn't due in Telluride for a few days still. On my drive north from Four Corners to Cortez, I noticed a cool-looking mesa to the east whose top looked verdantly green and the steep cliffs surrounding it quite difficult. I came to find this was Mesa Verde National Park (home of the famous Anasazi cliff dwellings) while I was doing some research in Cortez and decided to pay it a visit the next day. There are a small handful of summits that can be reached from the main road winding through the park. There are not many trails in the park and as I came to find, cross-country travel is forbidden. I had slept just outside the park on the north side of US160 and was driving into the park shortly after 6a, well before the entrance kiosk was manned. Temeratures started in the high 50s and moved up to the high 70s before I exited the park around 1p. I enjoyed the strolls on empty trails but not so much the more crowded venues around the cliff dwellings.

Point Lookout

This is the northernmost summit in the park and the first one encountered on the drive in. From the park road near the entrance it looks to be s urrounded by impossible cliffs, but a trail leads to the summit from the Morefield Campground. The TH is at the large upper parking lot for the amphitheater. The trail is just over a mile, gaining about 400ft. Good views overlooking Montezuma Valley to the west and Mancos Valley to the east.

Lone Cone

This one has no trail. I started on the Knife Ridge TH inside the campground and then went up the west side - steep. At the far north end is a neat sandstone promontory that has great views. There's also many decades worth of graffiti carved into the rock.

Prater Ridge

This is the highpoint of the most extensive trail network in the park. The north and south loops combined are almost 8mi in length. The summit is the highpoint of the north loop. The trails can be accessed from either the Knife Edge Trail (there is a connector trail not shown on the park map) or the Prater Ridge TH which is also inside the campground near the RV water/dump station.

Moccasin Overlook

This used to be a stopping point along the old park road before it was realigned. There is a small turnout on the south side of the road southwest of the summit. One can easily find the old road grade north of the current road and follow it up to the south side of the summit, with a short cross-country climb at the end. One could similarly use this starting point for Moccasin Mesa, another point that used to be along the old road. I didn't do this one. It was at this time that I noticed the park brochure says "Hike on designated trails only."

Park Point

This is the highest point in the park. A road goes within a few hundred feet of the summit. Paved paths then lead to the highpoint which is crowned by a fire lookout. More than 70% of the park has burned in the past decades due to dry lightning strikes. Maybe that's what drove the pueblo dwellers out from time to time.

Navajo Hill

This small hill has been overrun by the Far View Lodge, a collection of 60s-ish low budget lodging buildings. The highpoint is just north of the highest building. The top is quite rounded, so finding an actual highpoint is next to impossible.

Far View Group

Not a summit, but a collection of kivas, homes, reservoirs and such things that have been excavated over the past century and partiall restored. The park ranger at the site told me that it was pretty much excavated as we see it, but the upper rock layers in places have more modern cement used as mortar. It appears to have been painstakingly repaired from the poorer condition it was found in when discovered more than 100yrs ago.

Cliff Palace and Balcony House

Both of these require tickets for close-up tours which I didn't have since the Visitor Center at the entrance didn't open until 8a. The Cliff Palace at least has a viewing spot from which you can look down on the cliff dwellings as well as the tour currently in progress. A second tour group was convening nearby, including the likes of this euro-dude with a selfie stick. That was pretty much my cue to leave the park...


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