Mesa Verde is many things. It’s tan rock desert. It’s creosote and sage dotting the land like a miniature forest with a perfect sandy path cutting through. Prickly pear cacti play ranger as they urge you to stay on the trail and ancient tiers of rocks stack one atop the other to the abrupt edge of a plateau.
It’s an often overlooked park–somewhere halfway between Southern Utah’s red rock canyon otherworld and the classic Rocky Mountain high of Colorado–but there lies much of its beauty. The lone official campground in Mesa Verde, Morefield, not only offers full hookups but is rarely full. How many national parks can you drive into, without a reservation, and snag a spot?
This lack of attendance is not necessarily warranted given the impressive cultural attributes of the park, including an entire cliffside village half inside of a cave and half living as one with it. No one is rushing you down the winding roads, no desperate dashes through too small parking lots, no leap frogging with other hikers on the trail…just plenty of time to kick back and enjoy the overlooks.
Camping in Mesa Verde National Park
Morefield Campground, with its seasonally open gift shop and not always immaculate restrooms, provides an absolutely adequate place to call home when exploring the park proper. The jury hasn’t gotten back from their Jeep tour yet, but those who tend to enjoy this particular campground are those who value proximity to the visitor centers, trails and Ancestral Puebloan structures.
It’s also rather luxurious for a national park campground, with fancy options like a laundromat and all of the beef jerky, gasoline and Southwestern knickknacks one could fit on the dash of their truck.
Just don’t expect cell reception, or rely on Morefield’s WiFi for your nightly streaming addiction.
The Best Camping Near Mesa Verde National Park
Not everything in life is about being directly in the national park, or so my mom used to tell me. If you’d like to explore your options and prefer an excellent campsite with a short commute into the park, the gamut runs amuck.
Find a site beneath the pines in nearby Mancos State Park for under $20, or nestle into the sunshine between the oaks for free down the road at Madden Peak in San Juan National Forest. Outside of Morefield, La Mesa RV Park in nearby Cortez, Colorado offers the same amenities of the national park campground, at around the same price. Instead of being ten minutes into the park, though, you’ll be ten minutes out, with all of the conveniences of a small town.
The Best Free Camping Outside of Mesa Verde National Park
If you love the low, low cost of free camping on national forest and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land, your biggest regret in this corner of Colorado may be the gas you burn trying to check them all out. From the cell-phone-service laden Madden Peak to hidden treasures like Bay City Gulch, it sometimes feels like paying nothing for everything is more possible than ever in Western Colorado.
More to Explore
While everyone is missing out on Mesa Verde on their way to somewhere else, you’ll have plenty of time to plan and plot your next move across the nation. Given that it’s pristinely poised in the Four Corners region, you’re within a days drive of four diverse and different states. If you’re just entering Colorado via Mesa Verde, the Centennial State is one of the best for secluded, widely available free national forest camping, not to mention all the liberal-meets-lumberjack small towns peppered between. Just south, New Mexico largely shares a similar ecology with Mesa Verde and has some of the cheapest state park camping in the West. Head west and you’ll run into Utah’s Mighty Five, easily the most condensed slew of beauty the national park system has managed to string together, or point your GPS into Arizona’s abundant camping.
Indeed, Mesa Verde is one of those rare places in this human journey on wheels when we not only get to be somewhere magnificent, but know that no matter which direction we’ll choose next, the magnificence will continue.