Cliff Palace is the most extensive and famous of the Mesa Verde ruins. There are over 150 rooms and 21 kivas at the site, and it is situated in a very scenic canyon with great views. The only way to visit Cliff Palace is on ranger-led tours, which are scheduled frequently every day. These tours can include up to 50 people, and there might be two tours on the site simultaneously, so these tours do not offer a solitary experience of Cliff Palace. There are also special tours offered less-frequently and with smaller group sizes that are an option to seriously consider.
The Puebloan people, who had lived on the mesa tops of the Mesa Verde area for 600 years, started to move to the alcoves in the canyons around 1190 AD. They built dwellings and ceremonial structures out of shaped sandstone blocks and mortar in nearly 600 locations around the mesa, but most of them had less than five rooms. Cliff Palace is believed to not only have been home to 100 to 120 people but to have been a regional center for government and/or religious ceremonies.
Cliff Palace was first discovered in the winter of 1888 by some local ranchers looking for stray cattle. Luckily these ranchers realized some of the significance of what they had found and continued to explore the Mesa Verde area for more cliff dwellings. They later helped archeologists and other scientists to study and preserve the sites and were vocal advocates for the creation of a national park to preserve the ruins.
So, what is the best way to see the Cliff Palace? There is a twilight tour offered five nights per week that is limited to 20 people for $12 per person and a photography tour offered two nights per week and limited to 10 people for $20 per person. These tours fill up early and should be booked on Recreation.gov. Both offer the opportunity to visit Cliff Palace in a less-crowded setting at a nice time of the day for photographs. But if these tours are not an option, visiting Cliff Palace is still a highlight of the experience at Mesa Verde.