Go to Mesa Verde in a Rented Campervan
The western United States is mostly on the radar for its breathtaking scenery, and for good reason. But the west has cultural wonders, too, in addition to its many natural wonders. Travel blogger Sarah recently traveled out to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she rented a campervan for a road trip to Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park, stopping at the Four Corners National Monument. This trip is perfect way to travel solo and rent a campervan, all while absorbing a unique facet of American history and culture. In her own words….
First, I flew out to Albuquerque, where I rented a Class B motorhome through Go RV Rentals. It was super simple to find a Mercedes Sprinter campervan rental for me and have it delivered to the airport, ready to go. Traveling by campervan has a lot of benefits. For one, the cost to rent an RV or camper is surprisingly affordable; it’s actually cheaper than the standard hotel and car rental combo, plus you’ll have to comfort of having your own kitchen and storing your things while you travel. Once I had my camper, I headed off towards Mesa Verde, about a four-hour drive from Albuquerque.
I spent my first day getting settled in the park. I opted to stay at the Morefield Campground, the only RV park and campground located within the park grounds. If you can’t snatch a reservation here, there are also several campgrounds located just outside the park, like the Ancient Cedars and Mesa Verde RV Parks in Mancos, and the KOA campground in nearby Cortez. The Morefield Campground offers over a dozen full hookup sites for RVs, as well as a gas station, RV dumping station, laundry, showers, a grocery store, and a café. You’ll find all the amenities you need as a short-term visitor.
Many of the park’s main hiking routes stem out from Morefield, so it’s also a really convenient location for exploring the park. For my first introduction to the park, I opted for the Point Lookout Trail. This trail is one of the park’s most popular, and at only 2.2 miles round trip, it’s accessible for even an inexperienced hiker. Because of its popularity, I’d recommend getting here early (you’ll beat the crowds and the afternoon heat). The trail starts at Morefield, and takes you via switchbacks up to a rewarding viewpoint, with vistas of the neighboring Mancos and Montezuma valleys. I found it as a great preview for what I would be exploring in the park over the next few days.
After orienting myself to the park with a hike, I went on a guided tour of the park’s famous cliff dwellings. The park has five main cliff dwellings, although the Spruce Tree House is closed off because of safety risks (it’s still visible from an overlook). The Step House is the only one accessible by self-guided tour, while the other three require a 1-hour guided tour, available by reservation. I began with the Cliff Palace and Balcony House. The Cliff Palace is the largest dwelling, and in my opinion, the most mesmerizing. From afar, the dwelling looks like an impenetrable maze of walls and rooms, nestled under the shelter of a precarious cave. The ranger-led tour takes you through the history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here, showcasing their clear ingenuity and resourcefulness while living in this challenging environment.
The Balcony House is a bit more of an adventurous visit. Slightly more engulfed in the cliffs, the Balcony House requires climbing ladders and crawling through tunnels to reach its center. However, this effort was well worth it, as the dwellings are excellently preserved, and wandering through its dozens of rooms and passageways was surreal. After returning back to the campground, I used the kitchenette in my camper to make my own dinner. Because the village has its own grocery store, it’s easy to be self-reliant on a road trip to Mesa Verde. Many rental options on Go RV Rentals have stovetops and microwaves, so easy dishes like eggs, burgers and pasta are very doable. I also took advantage of the refrigerator to make my own picnic lunches. On each day I explored the park, I just took my own lunch of salad and a deli-meat sandwich for a quick meal with a lovely view.
After this first day in the park, I decided to take more advantage of the hiking trails. The Chapin Mesa area offers several short trails, so this where I headed. I started off on the Petroglyph Point Trail to see the parks other claim to fame. The 2.4-mile trail is a little treacherous, with numerous drop-offs, narrow canyons and rough terrain. However, seeing the ancient petroglyphs that tell centuries-old Native American stories was a truly humbling experience. I would recommend this hike to any visitor to Mesa Verde. In the same area is the Spruce Canyon Trail, for great views over the Spruce Tree House, and the Far View Sites Complex, for more fascinating ruins.
There’s something incredible in every corner of Mesa Verde, and I simply couldn’t see everything there was to offer in just a few days. However, it was time for me to move on to my next top, the Four Corners Monument. At just under an hour’s drive, it’s easy to stay at the campground in Mesa Verde for this day trip, but there are also slightly closer campgrounds in Towaco, CO, about 30 minutes away. The Four Corners are a famous destination among road-trippers, but it’s about more than just being in four states at once (i.e., Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah). The monument is part of the Navajo Nation, and gives even more opportunities to explore Native American culture. Nearby, there is an informative visitor center and several traditional artisans selling their crafts. I was able to take home some gorgeous traditional jewelry and gifts for my friends and family.
While I headed back to Albuquerque after my visit to Four Corners, I could have spent another week exploring the area. The strong Native American presence in this area gives visitors the chance to combine beautiful scenery with enlightening cultural experiences. Other nearby attractions include Monument Valley and the Hovenweep National Monument, which I’ve already added to my list for when I return. Next time I’m going to rent an RV in Moab which is about two and one-half hours away. All in all, traveling solo with my rental campervan was an unforgettable trip. I’d recommend it to adventurers and explorers everywhere.