Mesa Verde: if you can, do a tour. I didn’t feel like it was a great option with a five and seven-year-old with all of the ladders, so we went to the overlook and called it good. But first, we went to the visitor’s center! This is where you need to go to get instructions to get to the dwellings and tickets if you’ll be doing a tour. There was also a display depicting life back in the day which was great and our seven year old really liked learning about it (homeschool win!)
The drive to the overlook is about 45 minutes—really long, really winding roads. You’ll see a lot of fire damage, but what I found cool is the signs that tell you what year the fire happened. Again, a hiking tour of the dwellings would be amazing! We will probably come back here when the boys are older.
“Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.” (source).
There is plenty of parking, as well as access to water and bathrooms when you get to the overlook! I feel like this is a place you need to visit to really feel see the magnitude of the place, even though we only spent a couple of hours here. I had so many questions; why did they settle here? It’s so high up, how did they grow food? Did this provide protection from other nations? etc. You can learn more and plan here!
Great Sand Dunes National Park
This was another quick, two hour trip. The boys absolutely loved it! (we even had a mini-lesson on erosion). I’m over here like, wtf is the ocean? But really, it was cool! The area leading up to the dunes is kind of desert-vibes, then you see some mountains in the distance and at the base of those mountains are hundreds of acres of SAND. You’ll need to walk a bit to get to the actual dunes…and walking on sand is tiring. Oh, but if you want to “sled” down the dunes, bring your own or you can rent them at the visitors center. We didn’t do either one, lol.
Oh, and be sure to check the temperature the days you plan to go! If it’s hotter, the sand will also be hotter. You can check average season temperatures of the sand here.
Parking—plenty of parking in both places!
Bathrooms—Mesa Verde: both at the visitor center and the overlook. Sand Dunes: at the visitor center.
When we visited: Third week of September
Remember that it costs money to get into the parks (usually $25 for a day pass, $35 ish for a 3-day pass), but you can buy a year-long pass for $80! We just did this at the first national park we went to.
Other national parks:
(this list will get longer as time goes on haha. It’s our goal to visit all of the US national parks.)