On our visit to Mesa Verde National Park, our family had the opportunity to take the 700 Years Tour. It is a four-hour guided bus tour of the fantastic Ancestral Puebloan ruins found throughout this unique national park.
Our tour began bright and early at the Far View Lodge inside the park. This tour is especially convenient for guests of the lodge, which is located at least 30 minutes’ drive from any other hotel in the area.
The weather was chilly on that fall morning. Plan to wear a jacket, or even a coat, if taking this tour in the spring or fall. My husband is usually warm when I am cold, and he was sorry he had forgotten his sweatshirt until the morning chill wore off. Some guests on that mid-October day wore coats, gloves and hats for the first half of the tour.
Our tour included stops and short walks to views of several cliff dwellings and mesa top ruins. Our tour guide gave in-depth explanations of each site, both on and off the bus. We pulled off several times to view distant cliff dwellings through the windows of the bus.
One of the highlights of the tour was our stop at Cliff Palace. At this point, we joined the ranger-led tour. Our tour guide and driver stayed with the guests who chose not to tackle the stairs and ladders required for this part of the 700 Years Tour.
What we liked
For travelers who love history, and would like to know more than is presented on signs and markers placed at sites throughout the park, this tour is an excellent option. The tour guide was an expert on the park and its ancient people. She gave in-depth talks at each stop and was able to answer questions.
This tour is also an opportunity to associate with like-minded travelers. Several in our group had visited other ruins in the region and were already able to intelligently discuss this history of the area.
Another advantage to seeing Mesa Verde National Park on the 700 Years Tour is that it is an efficient way to see the park. I was impressed by what we were able to see in four hours without ever having to troll for a parking place or recover from a wrong turn. With a professional driver at the helm, everyone in our family was able to direct full attention to the roadside ruins and scenic views.
We took this tour on our first morning in Mesa Verde National Park and once completed, we felt that we knew our way around and had a clear picture of what we wanted to do to round out our visit.
This tour might not be right for you if…
Families on a tight budget may balk at the the price of the 700 Years Tour. One of the highlights of the tour is the ranger-led Cliff Palace Tour, which costs only $3 per person when you schedule it on your own at the Visitor Center.
This tour is not well suited for young children. Our tour guide was friendly and knowledgeable, but her presentation was intended for an adult audience. There was a handful of minors on the bus on the morning of our tour, and ours (ages 8 and 5) were the youngest.
That said, there is plenty of space to wander, so if part of your party wants to listen to the tour guide while a responsible member of your group explores with the children, that will not be a problem.
Tips for Families
Sit on the right-hand side of the bus – Most of the best views are on this side.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife – In the early morning, we saw numerous deer and other wildlife from the bus. These were the best wildlife sightings of our trip.
Establish appropriate expectations – This one works both ways. Children should be held accountable for their behavior, but parents should be realistic about what appropriate behavior will look like. Expecting young children to stand still and quietly listen to every word the tour guide utters is probably unrealistic. Expecting children to stay on trails, use indoor voices on the bus and move away from the group to get the wiggles out was reasonable for our family.
Bring supplemental entertainment – My daughter didn’t listen to everything the tour guide said, but she made a movie of her tour experience on the iPad during the bus rides. Consider packing small toys or electronics for the bus ride. This will likely keep your children happy, and your fellow passengers as well.
Prior planning – Tell your children what to expect from the tour before you go. Tell them about the people who left these ruins. Tell them about the unique things they will see. Tell them about the parts they will enjoy. My five-year-old son didn’t get much out of the tour, but my eight-year-old daughter occasionally surprised me with intelligent questions for the tour guide and rangers.
Bottom line, the 700 Years Tour is an excellent educational opportunity for adults, teens, and older children who have an interest in digging deep into the history of Mesa Verde National Park. Families with younger children can still enjoy the tour, but young children may not get much from it.
Dislcosure: Our family enjoyed the 700 Years Tour free of charge, courtesy of Aramark Parks, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.