Round Trip Distance: 1 mile
Elevation: 7093 - 7235 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs
Time: 1 hr.
Facilities: Flush toilets, concession stand
Trailhead: Wetherill Mesa
Attractions: Cliff dwelling, pit house, rock art, wild horses, wildflowers
View Mesa Verde Step House in a larger map
The Step House cliff dwellings are located on the Wetherill Mesa within Mesa Verde National Park. The Wetherill Mesa section of Mesa Verde is only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. For hours of operation and other useful information to help you plan your visit to Mesa Verde National Park you can visit their website. Other sites on Wetherill Mesa include the Long House (guided tour only), the Badger House and the Nordenskiold Overlook trail. There is a free tram that operates on Wetherill Mesa, on a first come basis, that runs from the parking area to the Long House trailhead. From there it continues on a loop road that passes the Badger House ruins and several cliff dwelling overlooks.
The Step House trail begins across the tram road from the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk. Most visitors hike down to the Step House while waiting to go on the Long House guided tour. To get the most from visiting the Step House it will require 45-60 minutes of your time. There is usually a park ranger at the site to answer questions and to draw your attention to some interesting aspects of the Step House that you probably wouldn't pick up on otherwise.
There is a fork in the trail a short distance from the trailhead near the rim of the canyon. This post shows taking the first fork to the left and hiking the loop in a clockwise direction. After having completed the hike it appears that it can be best enjoyed by hiking it in the opposite direction than it is here described. The ruins are much more dramatic when first viewed while coming down the hill in the counter-clockwise direction.
The Step House trail starts out as gravel but as you near the rim of the canyon it becomes paved. Coming into the site from this direction it might be considered wheelchair accessible with some assistance. A large wheeled stroller should have no trouble with the trail. The gravel at the beginning of the trail is the only real obstacle.
Coming in the 'backdoor' as it seems, the cliff dwellings are laid out before you. There is a path that you can take to view the upper area of the ruins.
If you came in from the other direction you can climb up the ladder to the upper area and descend the path. Or if you don't want to hassle with the ladder you can just go in and out of the upper area using the path.
The architects of the site made use of some large boulders within the alcove. If you look carefully at the boulders you will notice some petroglyphs.
The Step House site includes a partially reconstructed pit house. While visiting some of the other locations in Mesa Verde it can be seen that some of the stone and mortar in various rooms had a reddish tone from having been exposed to a hot fire. Looking at the construction of the pit house it becomes apparent just how careful the occupants would had to have been with their fire.
An old access way on the south side of the alcove reveals the steps that gave this site its name.
The trail leading back up the cliff is very pleasant and well maintained.
Here are some of the steps that must be climbed in this direction.
The Step House site should be near the top of the list for visitors that make the effort to drive the 12 miles from Far View to Wetherill Mesa. The crowds are a lot smaller than they are at the Spruce Tree site on Chapin Mesa. The Step House trail should be suitable for children of any age. You should be able to judge for yourself from the following YouTube slideshow. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.