Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde might be the best cliff dwelling you can explore on your own. (Some of my other favorite dwellings, like Cliff Palace, must be explored as part of a ranger-led tour.)
As the 3rd largest dwelling (after Cliff Palace & Long House), Spruce Tree House has a lot to explore – about 130 rooms & 8 kivas (which they are guessing were rooms used for ceremonial/gathering reasons).
Here’s a photo looking down towards the cliff dwelling.
To get there, you’ll need to make the 100-foot descent from the Chapin Mesa Museum along a well-paved path.
Because it’s a self-guided site, you can do it at your own pace.
Because certain areas are restricted, you’ll be able to get some great tourist-free photos like these two below.
I thought one of the best things about Spruce Tree House is that you can actually climb down into a reconstructed kiva. Most of the other kivas you’ll see at Mesa Verde don’t have roofs on them and it can be a little hard to imagine exactly what it looked like when the Puebloans used them. This one is pretty intact and gives you a great idea.
There’s a steady stream of people wanting to climb down and then up, so you may be waiting a while to get down, check it out, take a photo, and then get back up again. It’s very difficult to get an image without anyone in it, but it can be done if you’re patient enough (clearly I was only partly patient since I still have a foot in my photo :).
The stones you see in the image below are similar to the ones used by women to grind up corn into flour. They spent hours performing this task.
To Go or No
Go. Spruce Tree House is really one of the highlights of Mesa Verde. At some point the cliff dwellings may start to run together (especially if you’re just viewing them from afar). But this one you can walk around and see pretty well, so it’s a must-do attraction in my book.
The purple pin below marks the location of the Spruce Tree House.
View Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado in a larger map
Here’s a detailed section of the National Park Service’s map of Mesa Verde (click the image to go to their full-sized map).