The hike through Spruce Canyon might be your best bet in the entire Mesa Verde National Park if you’re looking for a traditional hike that will take you away from the crowds looking to squeeze into one of the park’s numerous (and rightly popular) overlooks of cliff dwellings. Other than doing a quick pass by the Spruce Tree House, there are no ruins along this route — nor, as there are on the nearby Petroglyph Point Trail, petroglyphs or pictographs — but what Spruce Canyon lacks in showy highlights it makes up for in abundance with scenery, solitude, and silence.
Begin this route near one of the most popular parts of the park — the Chapin Mesa Museum and the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe. You’ll begin following in the footsteps of the Petroglyph Point Trail as you make your way down toward the Spruce Tree House.
Follow the paved pathway through the gate down to the base of the cliff dwelling. Linger here for as long as you’d like — or sign up ahead of time for a tour with a park ranger. Once that’s wrapped, continue past the dwelling and you’ll spot a well-signed junction where the trail splits into the Spruce Canyon and Petroglyph Point branches.
Keep on the Spruce Canyon Trail and you’ll quickly leave the paved path for a rugged single track trail in dense piñon-juniper woodlands.
At 0.7 mile, keep right to turn north and head further up Spruce Canyon. It’s a slow and gradual ascent after you bottom out, and the scenery is pretty dang inspiring so you likely won’t even notice it.
As you’re hiking, make sure you take a bit of time to just stop and enjoy the relative peace and quiet, even as you’re extremely close to one of the park’s most popular areas.
Enjoy that gentle climb, though, because around 1.4 miles, it’s going to get much more steep.
From here, you’ll ascend up some wide stairs built into the side of the canyon, do a bit of squeezing through some rock formations, and then finish your way back up to the pavement by trekking through a wide, quiet bit of grassland.
At 1.9 miles, you’ll enter the remnants of old administrative cabins and functional water tanks on a section of road closed to the public. Follow the road back to the trailhead.
This single track trail is well maintained and in excellent shape.
In-park camping is open seasonally, generally April through November. Reservations are required.
The trailhead for this route is next to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. From inside the park, follow signs toward Cliff Palace, then at the all-way stop beyond Cedar Tree Tower, keep right to head toward the Spruce Tree House. There is parking in a small loop here, good for the museum, the cafeteria, and the nearby Petroglyph Point Trail.
With wildifres, smoke conditions, COVID-19, and National Forest and other public land closures rampant, please reach out to the land management agency in charge before you head out for a hike to make sure the trail is open and safe to be on.