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Mesa Verde Wilderness

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Low lush shrubs grow at the base of a rock escarpment
Library image #4147: From 2008, Gambel oak resprouts from the wildfire in 2000 with surviving Douglas-fir


The United States Congress designated the Mesa Verde Wilderness (map) in 1976 and it now has a total of 8,500 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Colorado and is managed by the National Park Service.


About 1,400 years ago, the Ancestral Pueblo people began their occupation of Mesa Verde. Sandstone dwellings deep within the shady overhangs of Mesa Verde's cliffs were not constructed and occupied until the final 100 years of the 700 years in which these people flourished here. Then, for reasons not fully understood, they emigrated to points south, leaving many fabulous structures well preserved by the dry air and shadowy recesses of the alcoves. More than 52,000 acres of the mesa are protected by Mesa Verde National Park. Within the park since 1976, three small and separate sections on the steep north and east boundaries are designated as the Mesa Verde Wilderness, serving as buffers to further protect the significant Native American sites and natural setting. The extent of the park's wilderness areas totals 8,500 acres, a significant amount of which is undergoing post-fire early succesional recovery. These small areas contain exemplary stands of piƱon-juniper woodlands and other ecological communities. Unlike most Wildernesses, here visitor access is not allowed but permitted researchers are.

You can explore the ruins open to the public when they are open and travel other designated trails running over about 15 miles of the park. Federal law prohibits harming or removing artifacts. Because hunting is also prohibited, the park has become a haven for deer, elk, black bears, bobcats, mountain lions, golden eagles, and more.

Closed Wilderness Areas

Ten of the National Wilderness Preservation System's 762 wilderness areas are closed to access and use by the general public. By order of the park superintendent, the Mesa Verde Wilderness and the rest of Mesa Verde National Park's backcountry areas, are closed to visitation to protect wildlife and other natural, cultural, and/or other resources consistent with the conservation purpose(s) of the park.