In this small town, enjoy ample outdoor adventures and discover prehistoric Ancestral Puebloan sites, including ancient settlements and rock art.
Located near a popular national park, a national monument and several important archaeological sites, the small town of Cortez is a popular stop-off for visitors to the region. Find out about the lives and practices of the Ancestral Puebloans, who thrived in this part of the U.S. before migrating elsewhere between the mid-12th and mid-15th centuries.
Begin your explorations at the Colorado Welcome Center. Pick up leaflets covering the many regional attractions, look at local maps and browse the on-site collection of Ancestral Puebloan artifacts. If you have any questions or queries about the region, ask staff who will be happy to help you find out what you need to know.
Venture into the UNESCO-listed Mesa Verde National Park southeast of town. The park has about 4,000 identified Ancient Puebloan sites. Climb ladders to see the centuries-old cliff-carved dwellings, study exhibits in the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center and follow hiking trails. Hiking routes range in difficulty and length; try the 1.2-mile (2-kilometer) Soda Canyon Overlook Trail or the more challenging 7.8-mile (12.5-kilometer) Prater Ridge Trail.
Also within easy reach of town is the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Take a tour with a Native American guide and view pictographs (rock paintings) and petroglyphs (rock carvings) as well as dwellings, tools and geological formations. If you’re feeling lucky, visit the Ute Mountain Casino for a range of gambling opportunities.
For even more prehistoric sites set amid an astounding rugged landscape of canyons and mesas, head to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Here, follow mountain bike and hiking trails to ancient settlements where rooms were carved out of cliff sides.
Within the town, find abundant green parkland, walking trails and the 18-hole Conquistador Golf Course. Common daytrip destinations include McElmo Canyon, which features wine-tasting at lovely vineyards.
Find Cortez in southwest Colorado. To get here, fly from Denver into Cortez Municipal Airport. Because most of the major attractions are outside the town itself, it’s best to rent a car to get around.