Things to do in Cortez Colorado

Between the high desert and the San Juans Mountains, Cortez Colorado is your Gateway to the four corner region. Cortez is a great base camp for anyone interested in archaeology and the study of the Anasazi. This is the ancestral homeland of the ancient Anasazi. They survived in this area for 500 years.

Why “Anasazi” has become a dirty word? Some believe it is a racial slur. It is now politically incorrect to refer to them as “Anasazi”. The political correct tongue twister is “The Ancestral Puebloans”. Try saying that real fast.

The Legend of The sleeping Ute

To the west of Cortez Colorado, The Sleeping Ute Mountain clearly outlines the feature of a sleeping Ute Indian with his arms folding across his chest. According to legend, This Ute warrior fought a long and fierce successful battle with evil powers. Afterward, lying down to rest, the blood began flowing from his veins. It miraculously turns to water for all to use.

Shopping in Cortez

Cortez has a very unique shopping opportunity. It is a center for Genuine Indian arts and Crafts. This has always been Indian country, Native Americans. There are 20 different tribes in the region. For years these Indian craftsmen have been trading their lovely creations with travelers. You will find a wide selection of beads, baskets to belts and turquoise Jewelry, as well as, Navajo rugs.

You have a rare opportunity to bring home genuine Indian souvenirs of the southwest. You can even watch your turquoise rings or necklaces being created in many of the shops and galleries on Main Street. This is the real stuff, not that cheap imported junk found elsewhere.


Cortez Colorado is the home of Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, and The Anasazi Heritage Center.

I am sure you will agree, this is a full plate of archaeological wonders.

Mesa Verde National Park

A cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is the main attraction for the study of the Anasazi. You will be amazed at the number of cliff dwellings and artifacts at Mesa Verde. There are over 5000 cliff dwellings and earlier mesa top sites for you to explore. Mesa Verde National Park Page

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument contains six separate well preserved prehistoric ruins. It is known for its square, oval, d-shaped and circular towers. You will also see ruins of castles, towers, check dams, cliff dwellings, pueblos and houses.

Canyon of the Ancient National monument

The Lowry Pueblo

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is huge, 166,000 acres containing the highest known concentration archaeological sites in the United States. There is an estimated to be 20,000 to 30,000 sites. More than 6,000 have been recorded.

The three main attractions are Lowry Pueblo, Painted Hand Pueblo, and Sand Canyon.

The Monument is located about 10 miles west of Cortez Colorado and 12 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park. The roads are primitive, unpaved and four-wheel-drive is recommended

There are no campgrounds in the Canyons of the Ancients, but primitive camping is allowed. Public campsites are nearby at Hovenweep National Monument, and at McPhee Reservoir west of Dolores.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
27501 Hwy 184
Dolores, CO 81323

The Anasazi Heritage Center

Your first stop before heading to the dusty diggings should be The Anasazi Heritage Center on top of the hill overlooking Mcphee Reservior. It is the Visitor’s center for the monuments.

Ute Mountain Park

If you like wilderness hiking, you will love The Ute Mountain Tribal Park. Just south of Mesa Verde, it is just the opposite. It is remote, undeveloped, and primitive. It is a near-wilderness setting stretching along the banks of the Dolores River. It features hundred of mesa tops and cliff dwellings, as well as, ancient rock art. You must have an Indian guide there are no self-guided tours. You should bring plenty of water and a full tank of gas and a picnic lunch. The full-day tour is recommended.

Ute Mountain Park
Towaoc, Colorado 81334

Where to stay in Cortez

Cortez has a large selection of hotels and motels to hang your hat after a long day dusty day at the diggings.

One of my favorite motels is The Best Western Turquoise Inn. I have been staying here off and on for 20 years. When you travel for a living, nothing is perfect, but I am rarely disappointed here. It has a great friendly staff and they know how to treat you right.