Spruce Tree House

Round Trip Distance: 0.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 6795 - 6947 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 30 - 60 mins.
Trailhead: Chapin Mesa Museum
Fee: $20/vehicle (May 1 to October 31) $15/vehicle otherwise
Attractions: Cliff dwellings, museum, gift shop, restaurant

The Spruce Tree House cliff dwellings are located on the Chapin Mesa within Mesa Verde National Park. Spruce Tree House is normally a self-guided tour with no additional fees. There are times when guided tours are available such as in the winter. For more information about Spruce Tree House and to help you plan your visit to Mesa Verde National Park you can visit their website. Other hikes in the museum area on Chapin Mesa include the Petroglyph Point and Spruce Canyon trails.

There are a lot of buildings at Chapin Mesa and several parking areas. The trailheads might not be apparent at first but if you find your way over to the museum you will see the first sign for Spruce Tree House.

This is a pretty short hike so you may not feel you need to bring any water. You might feel otherwise on a very hot summer day but the important thing to take from this sign is not to bring any food or drinks other than water because they will attract rodents that might undermine the walls of the ruins and destabilize them.

This is a generic sign around Mesa Verde. The Spruce Tree House ruins are among the easiest of all the cliff dwellings that you can tour in the park. The ruins are within an alcove that is about 100 feet lower than the parking area so your visit won't be entirely without effort and the altitude of 7000 feet will compound the energy needed if you are not accustomed to it. After the ruins the trail descends another 50 feet before climbing again which makes the total change in elevation about 150 feet. For people that are used to hiking around Colorado 150 feet is no more than a bump but if you aren't used to it then it probably will feel much more significant.

The trail leading to the site is a wide and smooth paved path that descends at a moderate angle. If a wheelchair can handle the slope then I suppose the trail leading in is accessible. The wheelchair would have to return along the same route as there are several steps involved where the trail exits the ruins. You might consult a ranger for more information.

If you are unsure if you can manage the effort to hike all the way down to the ruins you might still be able to go as far as the first overlook. This photo was taken from that point. There is also a bench here where you can rest before returning the short distance back up the trail.

As the trail reaches the same approximate level as the ruins and begins leveling off there is a fork where the loop begins. The sign directs those heading to Spruce Tree House to stay to the left and hike the loop in the clockwise direction. If you were heading to hike the Petroglyph Point or Spruce Canyon trails you would take the right fork at this point.

The cliff dwellings at Spruce Tree House are the third largest dwellings at Mesa Verde. As you can see they are very well preserved with some of the original wood still present. The park service has of course taken many steps to shore up the ruins in an effort to make them last as long as possible. Even though this is a self guided tour there is always at least one ranger present at the site to assist visitors and share information about the ruins.

There are several kivas here just as there are at all the sites but here visitors are allowed to climb down a ladder and enter one of the kivas. From inside you can see just how the kivas were enclosed by placing the logs along the edges to support the ceiling.

The trail exits at the other end of the ruins when you are ready to head back up the cliff. From here the trail descends another 50 feet or so before it begins climbing again. If you feel you may have over extended yourself you might consider returning the way you came.

There is a nice wooden bridge at the lowest point of the trail where it crosses the seasonal stream in the canyon. From this point it is all up hill back to the museum but the distance is short and the slope is moderate and most people find it very relaxing and enjoyable. There seems to always be a peaceful atmosphere around all of the cliff dwellings and it is no different here.

Back at the museum you are presented with many opportunities to continue with before leaving. There is the museum to visit as well as a cafe and gift shop. It is very interesting to walk around the area and check out the various buildings. Chapin Mesa is like its own little town in a lot of ways.

Special events are held at the amphitheater at times. This video is a short 1 1/2 minute clip of a dance by some Jemez (pronounced Hey-mez) Indians done on a Memorial Day weekend. There was a strong wind blowing at the time but the singing or chanting still sounds very nice.

Spruce Tree House is one of the places at Mesa Verde National Park that almost every visitor manages to make it to. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.