Mesa Verde National Park Photography

Picture Taking Tips

Some cliff dwellings are open only from late spring through early fall. During the off-season, photos may be taken from the overlooks above the cliff dwellings, weather permitting.

Most of the cliff dwellings are best photographed in mid-to-late afternoon.

It is easier to get good color pictures than black and white as color will separate the similar tonal qualities of the cliff and the dwelling walls.

If you have an adjustable lens we suggest you close your lens down at least 1/2 stop from what the photo meter indicates (spot meters excepted). For example, in black and white photography the front walls of Cliff Palace will give your meter a false light reading. We suggest you bracket your settings on Cliff Palace exposures.

If you are looking for some pointers to help you make your snapshots look more like professional photographs during the summer, maybe we can help on this page .

Best Times to Photograph by Season

June to September

3:45 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

October and November

2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

December to March

2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

April and May

2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

During mid and late fall and early and mid spring the sun is lower in the southern sky and more light strikes the cliff dwellings. Winter light is generally less bright. On overcast days the soft light allows for photos to be taken that will show good details and subtle colors. During the winter months there is less vegetation obstructing views from the overlooks after the scrub oak has lost its leaves for the season.

Park Archeological Sites

To verify times and dates for when sites are open visit the Park Schedule or contact the park at (970) 529-4465.

Chapin Mesa

Spruce Tree House : Located near the Chapin mesa Archeological Museum. There is a panoramic view from the trail to the site. The site faces west and is best photographed in the afternoon. The site is open year-round and is self-guided most of the year. Ranger-guided tours with a ranger are available during the winter.

Cliff Palace : Located on Cliff Palace Loop Road. There is an excellent view from observation platform. Good views can also be found within the site and from Sun Temple area. Cliff Palace faces west and is best photographed in the late afternoon. Cameras should have shoulder strap as you must climb five eight foot ladders in the site and will need both hands free. Tickets for guided tours are available only at the Far View Visitor Center. This site can only be visited while on a guided tour with a ranger. Purchase tickets before going to Cliff Palace.

Balcony House : Located on Cliff Palace Loop Road and is not visible from the parking area. To view Balcony House from a distance follow the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. The trail is 3/4 mile one way; a 1.5 mile round trip. Using a telephoto lens is recommended for best results. The parking for the overlook trail is less than 1/4 mile beyond the Balcony House parking area. Balcony House faces east and the site is in full sun throughout the morning. Balcony House is fully shaded during the afternoons. Close-up shots can be taken on tour. Cameras should have shoulder strap as you must climb a 32-foot high ladder and will need both hands free. This site can only be visited while on a ranger-guided tour. Tickets for guided tours are available only at the Far View Visitor Center. Purchase tickets before going to Balcony House.

Square Tower House Overlook: Located on the Mesa Top Road. In sunlight all afternoon though most graphic about 5:30 p.m. The road is open from 8:00 a.m. until sunset.

Fewkes Canyon Overlook : Located on the Mesa Top Loop Road. A number of different cliff dwellings can be photographed all afternoon from these overlooks. The road is open from 8:00 a.m. until sunset.

Sun Temple : Located on the Mesa Top Loop Road. Sun Temple is a mesa top site and is hard to photograph. A wide angle lens is helpful. The site is in direct light all day and is self-guided from 8:00 a.m. until sunset. There is also a good view of Cliff Palace from the Sun Temple parking area.

Far View Sites Complex : Located four miles north of the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum on the main road. Located on Mesa top, these sites are in direct sunlight all day. A wide angle lens is helpful and site is self-guided from 8:00 a.m. until sunset.

Wetherill Mesa

The sites on Wetherill Mesa are accessible only during the summer months, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Long House : Faces to the south-southwest. Good shots possible throughout the day. This site is visited on a guided tour only. Photographers must stay with the group and take pictures accordingly. Tickets for guided tours are available only at the Far View Visitor Center. Purchase tickets before going to Wetherill Mesa.

Step House : Faces east. The site is in full sun throughout the morning and is fully in the shades in the afternoon. This site is self-guided and lends itself to a leisurely visit with plenty of time to find a good shot.

Badger House Community : This area is comprised of pithouses and mesa top pueblo sites. Protective ramadas keep all sites in the shade during the day. After leaving the Badger House Community trail, the tram ride takes visitors to overlooks for Long House and Kodak House. Best photographs from the overlooks are taken in the afternoon.

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