The Manitou Cliff Dwellings: An Archeological and Natural History Preserve

Anasazi Cliff Dwellings in Manitou Springs, Colorado

After walking through Garden Of The Gods, climbing all over the rocks, and driving through the outskirts of the Colorado Springs City Park to see Balanced Rock, we decided to check out the nearby Manitou Cliff Dwellings. The ancient cliff dwellings were so closeby that we just couldn’t resist, and we have never visited anything like that before.

As we approached the turn off for the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, we could actually see the dwellings from the highway and that got the kids super excited to see something new. We paid our entrance fee and drove to the upper parking area and then our jaws collectively dropped.

The entire 40 room cliff dwelling site is right next to the parking lot — there is no hiking needed to reach this amazing ancient community complex.

Our first order of business was lunch and luckily there are several picnic tables near the parking lot. We pack all of our own road trip food with us, so we pulled up next to a picnic table and enjoyed a fantastic picnic lunch overlooking the historic town of Manitou Springs. If you didn’t have to pack a picnic, the Kokopelli Cafe is onsite to serve you in the summer months only.

After lunch, our visit began inside the three-story Pueblo-style building that houses the museum and gift shop. The building represents the architecture of the Taos Pueblo Indians of New Mexico, descendants of the Cliff Dwelling Indians belonging to the Anasazi cultural line. The first six rooms of the Pueblo were built in 1898. Until 1984 it was occupied by a Native American family of dancers who entertained tourists for several generations Over the years, the building has been expanded three times to add museums and a souvenir and gift shop.

The Anasazi Museum features exhibits of tools, pottery, and weapons, dioramas depicting daily life, and informative videos about the mysterious people who left a remarkable architectural legacy in cliff walls like the one at Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Other museum rooms walk you through a timeline of the Manitou Cliff Dwellings history and showcase authentic artifacts and cultural items.

After learning about the Anasazi culture, we wandered through the enormous gift shop and marveled at the rock walls impeding the space — the pueblo was literally built right into the side of the mountain!

The gift shop offers books and video and features Colorado and US made merchandise, including Southwestern gifts, music, and decor, as well as apparel, toys, hiking gear, and snacks. It also sells Native American hand-made jewelry, artifacts, pottery, and crafts. After picking out a Christmas ornament for my collection, we tucked it away in the truck and headed outside to the Cliff Dwellings to explore the ancient Anasazi community and homes.

Exploring The Cliff Dwellings

The Manitou Cliff Dwellings is an Archeological and Natural History Preserve comprised of preserved Anasazi Ruins that are 800 to 1000 years old. These alcoves and rooms in the cliff provided the Anasazi shelter from wind, rain, and snow. They are some of the most accessible cliff dwellings that still exist today.

This site was relocated from McElmo Canyon in southern Colorado in the early 1900s to protect the ancient Anasazi architecture from vandalism and treasure hunters. The authentic cliff dwellings were first opened to the public in 1907 to allow visitors the opportunity to get a glimpse of what life was like for the indigenous peoples of the region.

Exploring the Cliff Dwellings is a self-guided experience and what makes it really unique is that nothing but the spiritual kiva is fenced off. At the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, you’re encouraged to explore and touch to your heart’s content. They actually encourage you (if you can fit) to climb through the small window openings to see just how small the rooms were. We also were able to climb a ladder into a second-story room, them climb out a window into a balcony and down another ladder to experience how the Anasazi entered and exited rooms and buildings.

The cliff dwellings are amazing to see in person and even more incredible to explore. We had so much fun and really appreciated being about to walk through the historic cliff dwellings at our own pace. Along with Garden Of The Gods and Cave Of The Winds, this is definitely a must-visit attraction in Colorado’s Pikes Peak region, especially if you have kids!

Manitou Cliff Dwellings History

This 40 room site of Ancestral Puebloan ruins isn’t native to Manitou Springs, Colorado! It was relocated to this site between 1904 and 1907 from McElmo Canyon in the southwest corner of Colorado near Mesa Verde and Dolores.

The history of the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum and Preserve is a fascinating story of perseverance, preservation, and cultural appreciation.

Prior to the 1906 Antiquities Act, the Federal Government didn’t get involved in the protection of historic sites, but Virginia McClurg, founder of the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association, sought to change this. She spearheaded the preservation and protection of the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings. McClurg hired William Crosby and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Ruins Company to begin the relocation process. They spent many months mapping out the cliff dwellings in McElmo Canyon and eventually acquired the rights to move a portion of the dwellings from McElmo Canyon to Phantom Canyon, later to be renamed Cliff Canyon, in Manitou Springs.

Over several years, the ruins from McElmo Canyon were collected, packaged, and moved by oxen Dolores, Colorado. There they were loaded and shipped by railroad to Colorado Springs and brought to Cliff Canyon by horse and wagon. The cliff dwelling ruins were then reassembled to match those in the four corners region but used concrete mortar instead of the adobe mud/clay mortar the Anasazi originally used. Finally, in 1907, the cliff dwelling ruins opened to the public.

Virginia McClurg and Harold Ashenhurst lead the effort to establish the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum and Preserve to protect the stonework architecture of the Southwestern Indians and the culture of the Anasazi Indians. In 1907, the preserve was acknowledged by Dr. E.L. Hewett, Director of American Archaeology and father of the Antiquities Act, for its detail of workmanship and educational purpose. That same year the preserve was opened to the public.

Know Before You Go

  • The Manitou Cliff Dwellings is an Archeological and Natural History Preserve.
  • The Manitou Cliff Dwellings are located at 10 Cliff Dwellings Road, Manitou Springs, Colorado 80829, five miles west of Colorado Springs, just off US Highway 24.
  • Admission is $10.00/adult (12+) and $7.50/child (4-11). Those in wheelchairs are admitted to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings for free.
  • Hours are 9:00 am to 6:00 pm daily May through August. In March, April, September, and October, hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. In the winter, hours are 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
  • In addition to the Cliff Dwellings, there are two museums and a gift shop, snack bar, and picnic patio for visitors to enjoy. Most people spend 1-2 hours exploring the Cliff Dwellings Complex.
  • While the entrance to the cliff dwellings is wheelchair accessible by ramp, the Manitou Cliff Dwellings are not accessible to wheelchairs.
  • Outside the museums and beyond the dwellings, you’ll find a scenic nature walk complete with well-labeled native flowers, herbs, trees and other plants.
  • You can walk around or through all the rooms except the kiva. Visitors who are slender and short enough can actually slip into some of the smaller rooms and get a feel for Anasazi apartment house living.
  • As long as your pet is leashed, they can go wherever you go including the ruins and the museums, but you must clean up after your pets.

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