Balcony House

Round Trip Distance: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 6684 - 6800 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Balcony House
Fee: $20/vehicle (May 1 to October 31) $15/vehicle otherwise, Plues $5/person guided tour
Attractions: Cliff dwellings, scenic canyons

Balcony House is a unique cliff dwelling that is located in Mesa Verde National Park. The site has a very well designed balcony with about a 3 foot high parapet wall where you can look out over Soda Canyon. Other than on the guided tour the only place where you can get a view of the Balcony House is from the overlook on the Soda Canyon trail. The times and frequency of the guided tours vary throughout the year so it is best to visit the Mesa Verde website and plan your visit ahead of time. Since the size of the tours are limited you might also consider buying tickets in advance for the sites you are interested in. Other popular tours at Mesa Verde include the Cliff Palace and the Long House. The Spruce Tree House and the Step House are other cliff dwellings that you can visit without purchasing a ticket or participating in a guided tour.

Tour tickets are obtained from the Far View Visitor Center at Mesa Verde and also from the Visitor Center in Cortez, Colorado. Tickets can be purchased up to 2 days in advance. Once you have your tour tickets in hand follow your map to the Balcony House parking area. Keep in mind that if you are driving from Cortez that the Far View Visitor Center is about 14 miles inside of the park once you turn off of Highway 160. It is about another 9-10 miles from there to the Balcony House. The speed limits within the park never exceed 45 MPH but if you plan on averaging 25-30 MPH you will come out about right.

The tours assemble under the rustic log canopy and wait for their ranger guide. If you arrive early and have a ticket for a later tour the ranger might let you join their tour if it isn't already full. It appears to be up to the discretion of the ranger that is guiding the tour.

NOTE: The Balcony House has several obstacles that might prove too difficult for some visitors. A 32 foot ladder must be scaled to enter the Balcony House and a tunnel with narrow openings is near the exit. Each of these obstacles and others are shown in the slideshow at the end of this post so you can see before hand what to expect. There is a box on the terrace of the Far View Visitor Center that is about 4 feet long and 18 inches wide. Supposedly if you can fit through the box you can fit through the tunnel. While the box is the same dimension from end to end the tunnel is actually bigger in the middle and a little more roomy.

The trail begins by descending some well built sturdy stairs. Balcony House is just below the parking area but to get to it the trail drops down a little over 100 feet and follows a lower bench in the cliff to the entrance ladder.

The path along the cliff from the stairs to the ruins is very wide and pleasant to hike with some very nice views of the canyon.

The 32 foot ladder that leads up to the ruins is wide enough for 2 people to climb it side by side. The ladder is well secured and sturdy enough that there doesn't seem to be any movement at all as people are climbing it.

There is a small alcove at the top of the ladder with a narrow passageway and another small ladder that finally brings you into the ruins. You might say that the entrances into the Balcony House from either side are very defensible.

The Balcony House ruins are very well preserved. Evidence of the original stucco is still apparent on some of the walls. Imagine what it must have looked like when it was first built with its fresh veneer covering the stones. The balcony itself really sets this site apart from some of the other cliff dwellings. It is interesting that all the sites seem to have their own unique features that reflect the flare and ingenuity of the architects as they adapted their structures to the shape of the alcoves using sound techniques to stabilize boulders and take full advantage of the space.

A short ladder leads up from the balcony to a back stage area that would have been more sheltered from the weather. From there you can walk out onto the next open area where there are a couple of kivas.

The kiva area is much more open and lacks anything like a balcony. The kivas would have had roofs on them at the time they were in use so this part of the ruins would have looked much different.

The residents of Balcony House made the passageway on the south end of the ruins more defensible by bricking it up and reducing it to a tunnel.

As you can see the entry and exit points are tall enough that you can turn yourself a bit and pass right on through. The hardest aspect of the tunnel seemed to be standing back up while exiting. There is a slight drop that made it a touch awkward.

A combination of ladders and steps provide the means to exit the ruins and return to the parking area.

A fence is added to the hewn stairway as a nice safety feature. The chains along the sides can assist with pulling ones self up the steps but it seemed easier to just walk up them in a normal fashion. The steps aren't really very steep but perhaps they become a little slippery when they are wet.

And then there is one final ladder as a last hurrah to top off the adventure of the Balcony House.

Tours of the Balcony House are only conducted from late April to mid October. If you are visiting Mesa Verde at any other time you will have to settle for viewing them from the Soda Canyon overlook. A good telephoto lens and pair of binoculars will be needed to get a really good look at them from there. It would appear that the rangers don't turn anyone away that has a ticket and they let each person decide for themselves whether they want to try the tour. The Balcony House is well worth the effort and quite the fulfilling adventure. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.