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6 Uncrowded Hiking Trails in Colorado

Mesa Verde Country is home to tremendous diversity when it comes to hiking trails in Colorado. From sandstone mazes through piñon pine to deep shady canyons lined with ancient cliff dwellings and beyond, Mesa Verde Country is the perfect destination for every type of trekker. While the trails that follow are by no means an exhaustive list of what our backyard has to offer, these are some of our favorites with a variety of difficulty levels.

1. Long House Trail in Mesa Verde National Park

A visit to Mesa Verde National Park is a must for anyone visiting Southwestern Colorado for the first time (or even the third, or fourth)! Be sure to take the Long House Tour trail, a paved 2.25-mile round-trip trail that leads you from the visitor’s center to Long House, the second largest cliff dwelling in the park. While considered strenuous due to its steep pitch and southward facing nature (i.e. it can be very hot in the summer), the trail is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace allowing you to immerse yourself in this ancient Puebloan dwelling. Featuring 150 rooms, this stunning site was built in the 1200’s and stands as a testament to the ingenuity and tenacity/audacity of the people who once called this area home. Looking for something a little longer? Prater Ridge Trail is another great option within the park. 

Mesa Verde National patch with cave dwellings, from hiking trails in Colorado

2. Bear Creek Trail Outside of Dolores

For those looking for a longer hike with options for overnight backpacking, Bear Creek Trail is a highly rated option in Mesa Verde Country. This 27.6-mile hike climbs over 4,000 feet in elevation alongside its namesake, Bear Creek, and offers stunning views of classic SW Colorado mountainscapes. The singletrack is especially scenic in the fall, when the many aspen groves that line it morph into a mosaic of shimmering yellows, oranges, and reds. Day hikers need not be dismayed by the length of this trail; Bear Creek is an out-and-back and can be enjoyed at any length. Keep an eye out for colorful butterflies, mule deer, and cheerful western tanagers along the way!

woman and dog on hiking trail in colorado in the fall

3. Sand Canyon in Canyons of the Ancients

Mesa Verde National Park isn’t the only area of historical interest in SW Colorado. Visit Canyons of the Ancient National Monument for a day hike that will have you hitting your step goal while learning about Ancient Puebloan history at the same time. This huge area encompasses 183,000 acres and contains the highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States. You can opt to hike 6.5-mile Sand Canyon as an out-and-back or shuttle it from top to bottom. The length of the trail is dotted with points of interest from ruin sites to an impressive set of 30 switchbacks that climb up (or down, depending on your direction) 700 feet! Near the top of the trail you’ll find the largest ruin site in the greater four corners area: Sand Canyon Pueblo. No matter how you choose to hike this astonishing region, pack extra water and always check the forecast for surprise storms that could cause flash flooding.   

Two people hiking in southwest Colorado on a ridge

4. McPhee Overlook Trail at McPhee Reservoir

Also called Trail #155, this trail is 8.9 miles each direction and features a plethora of access points from the Boggy Draw Trail system, House Creek Campground, and downtown Dolores. The uncrowded singletrack meanders along mesa tops that overlook scenic McPhee Reservoir below. A little known fact is that a ghost town is submerged beneath the surface of the reservoir! In 1927, the town processed half of Colorado’s lumber and housed as many as 1,500 employees. Today it is fodder for our imaginations to reflect on what life must have been like back in those frontier days. 

McPhee Reservoir in SW Colorado

5. Geyser Spring Trail in San Juan National Forest

Think you need to visit Wyoming to see geysers erupting like clockwork? Think again! Southwestern Colorado is home to Colorado’s only true geyser. Nestled into the San Juan National Forest near the abandoned mining town of Dunton, this 3-mile out-and-back trail receives light foot traffic and is a great alpine escape on a hot day. After a moderate climb through aspen groves, you’ll find the geyser along a creekside. Its milky blue color is interrupted by a series of gurgles and bubbles every 30-40 minutes, so take your time to make sure you witness this small but reliable eruption!

Aspen leaves on hiking trail in Colorado near Mancos

6. Ledges Loop in Phil’s World Trail System

Phil’s World is known throughout the four corners area as being a premier mountain bike destination, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hike there! Less than 10 minutes from downtown Cortez, Phil’s World boasts 27 miles of trail and there is something for every type of user. We recommend the 4.8-mile Ledges Loop, which winds its way through sagebrush, piñon, and juniper trees with stunning views of Mesa Verde Country. With only 369 feet of elevation gain, this is a moderate trail with technical features that are a hallmark of southwestern hiking. Note that mountain bikes are limited to clockwise travel, so we suggest hiking in a counterclockwise direction and always keeping at least one ear headphone-free for trail safety.

two women and dog on hiking trails in Colorado

5 Reasons to Visit Mesa Verde Country Now

Mesa Verde Country is an off the beaten path area with incredibly unique features and experiences distinctive to this corner of Colorado. With nearby towns of Cortez, Dolores, and Mancos this area has much more to offer than Mesa Verde National Park, although it’s one of our favorites. Here are five reasons why Mesa Verde Country should be on your radar.

Copyright: George H. H. Huey ~ Mug House, Wetherill Mesa. This cliff dwelling dates from the Classic Pueblo Period [A.D. 1100-1300]. Ancestral Pueblo culture, aka Anasazi culture. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

Visit a Corner of Colorado with World-Class History

Mesa Verde National Park is one of our most iconic destinations with the best preserved cliff dwellings in the United States. The park is still open and is still offering self-guided, outdoor experiences, with plenty of opportunities to glimpse the Ancestral Puebloan history and culture. The Virtual Ranger Station is a bonus with extra assets including downloadable guides and maps, self-guided tours, and a mobile app with audio and virtual tours. Buy your park pass in advance online to make your trip seamless.

Bike at All Levels

With the soar in bike sales across the country, now is a great time to load up and hit the trails in Mesa Verde Country. Our guides for beginner, intermediate, and advanced bikers offer an assortment of trails so everyone in your group can enjoy a ride. One of our local favorites is Phil’s World with 60 miles of trails for all levels just outside of Cortez. Riding the high desert landscape and while experiencing this signature trail system, including the infamous “Rib Cage” – it’s the right kind of rollercoaster!

Taste of Local History with Cider

Southwest Colorado has a rich history in agriculture with many surrounding heritage orchards – it was once a mecca for apple growing, winning three gold medals at the 1904 World’s Fair. Get a taste of the history at the new Fenceline Cider located in Mancos where their tasting room serves cider sourced from the historical orchards. Not a cider fan? Not to worry, the Yellow Car Country Wine also offers a fun selection of fruit wines- plus they have an on-site RV spot if you’re looking to stay!

Sky Gaze in the Darkest Region

Turn your head to the skies at Hovenweep National Monument to get the full experience of this “Dark Sky Park”. This designation is only credited to “land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights…” by the International Dark Sky Association. The towers that make up the monument might have been celestial observatories, defensive structures, storage facilities, civic buildings, homes, or any combination of the above. Enjoy the stars at this wonder-filled place – even better, time your trip with upcoming meteor showers.

Walk in Ancient Footsteps Among Cliff Dwellings 

Accessible for the whole family (pup too), Sand Canyon Trail in Canyon of the Ancients is another great opportunity to experience the area and see cliff dwellings. This moderate trail is a scenic 6.5-mile and one of the best ways to discover the striking formations and incredible desert landscapes at your own pace. The ancestors who lived here long ago treasure the earth, so please visit with respect

Inspired to plan your road trip to Mesa Verde Country? Book your stay between July 20, 2020, and October 30, 2020, to be qualified to receive Cortez Cash – learn more about this limited-time offer, here.

Cortez Cash

Would you like cash for crashing at a beautiful place in Mesa Verde Country? Book a two nights stay at any qualifying hotel in Mesa Verde Country and get $50 Cortez Cash. It’s as easy as that!

Direct book or walk-in for a stay at one of our qualifying lodging partners (third-party bookings such as Expedia do not qualify). You can find the full list of Places to Stay, here. You just need to stay a minimum of two nights between July 20, 2020 and October 30, 2020, to be qualified to receive this great offer.

Just show your reservation receipt at the Colorado Welcome Center, Cortez 928 E. Main St., and get your cash. It can be spent at participating hotels, restaurants, and attractions throughout Mesa Verde Country.

Enjoy your stay in Mesa Verde Country!

*Face coverings are required at Cortez, Dolores, and Mancos businesses.

Mesa Verde Country: The West’s Next Great Mountain Biking Destination

Mountain biking enthusiasts are taking notice of Mesa Verde Country in Southwest Colorado as one of the next great mountain biking destinations. From single tracks to challenging climbs in the San Juan Mountains, Mesa Verde Country offers more than 600 miles of trails that traverse slick rock, old-growth forest and even ancient archaeological sites.
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Farm to Fun in Mesa Verde Country

Mesa Verde Country is full of ancient pueblos and southwest charm. While Mesa Verde National Park attracts the majority of visitors to this corner of Colorado (and rightfully so!), there is much to explore beyond the Park. History buffs will relish in the region’s rich past, and outdoor enthusiasts will have a hard time deciding which activity to embrace. Additionally, the food and beverage industry has a strong commitment to–literally–the region’s roots, and flavors are just as much delicious as they are local. Here are my suggestions for passing a few days in Mesa Verde Country.

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COVID-19 Travel Information for Mesa Verde Country

Last updated: August 1st, 2020

Mesa Verde Country is carefully and thoughtfully reopening to visitors. Our communities are looking forward to hosting you for a safe vacation with plenty of room to spread out and explore.

As you begin to plan your visit, first please remember to bring your new preventative behaviors with you. Our residents and community members will benefit from your regular handwashing, physical distancing, and covered coughs. Thanks in advance!

Executive Order D 2020 138 is a mandatory statewide mask order that goes into effect at midnight on July 16, 2020, and will be in effect for 30 days. It may be extended.

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Farm to Fun in Mesa Verde Country

Mesa Verde Country is full of ancient pueblos and southwest charm. While Mesa Verde National Park attracts the majority of visitors to this corner of Colorado (and rightfully so!), there is much to explore beyond the Park. History buffs will relish in the region’s rich past, and outdoor enthusiasts will have a hard time deciding which activity to embrace. Additionally, the food and beverage industry has a strong commitment to–literally–the region’s roots, and flavors are just as much delicious as they are local. Here are my suggestions for passing a few days in Mesa Verde Country. Read More

5 Reasons Why Mesa Verde Should Be on Your Bucket List

  1. Cliff Dwellings

    Get in touch with your inner archaeologist at Mesa Verde National Park, named a World Heritage Site for its well-preserved homes and artifacts of the Ancestral Puebloans. Visit the elaborate rock masonry dwellings they lived in centuries ago.

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The Heart of the House in Mesa Verde Country

Share Your Experience Keeping Tradition Going

When you visit here, your experience is defined by the culture and history of this magical place. But equally important is your home away from home; where you rest your head each night after a day of fun and adventure. Here, meet three of the people who define Mesa Verde Country’s hospitality legacy.

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Coming Soon! Guided Podcast Tour from Mesa Verde Country

Mesa Verde Country was recently awarded a $25,000 grant from the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO). We’re using that money to create downloadable podcasts that will help you learn about the area’s rich archaeological history when you visit!

The “Ancient Voices” audio driving tour will share information about the many archaeological attractions in Mesa Verde Country, as well as local history, Western stories, botany, cosmology, music and life in ancient Puebloan times. Now, you will have even more resources available to enjoy the rich archaeology in our area. As we like to say, “one day just isn’t enough!” to see all of this.

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Foodies, Families & Friends Flock to Blondie’s Trophy Room

Restaurateur Desmond Calhoon is a betting man.

Because of a longstanding wager with his sibling—and a little serendipity—Blondie’s Trophy Room in his hometown of Cortez, Colorado, came to fruition.

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Mesa Verde National Park Hosts Moonlight Snowshoe & Ski on Jan. 6

Mesa Verde Country is an incredible place to visit any time of the year. But winter can be particularly spectacular when the area is carpeted in snow. And special events like this one make it even more magical! 

On Friday, Jan. 6, Mesa Verde National Park is hosting a free, all-ages moonlight snowshoe and ski event. It’s part of the park’s Winter Fest. The Morefield Campground winter trails will be open from 6-10 p.m. for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

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Mesa Verde National Park Offers Free Admission in 2017

It’s true that most things in life aren’t free. But here’s something that is! Admission to Mesa Verde National Park – for 10 days in 2017, at least.

The park has announced that it is offering FREE admission on these 10 days in 2017. It’s just one more reason to plan your trip to Mesa Verde Country in the New Year!

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Winter Fun in Mesa Verde Country

Just because the snow is flying doesn’t mean the fun ends in Mesa Verde Country! In fact, Mesa Verde Country has snow, mountains, sunshine and everything you need for the perfect cold-weather getaway at an affordable price. And, it’s all within driving distance of Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

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Mesa Verde Country Hosts Luminaria Night on Dec. 8

The luminaria show will go on in Mesa Verde Country! The traditional open house event was cancelled at Mesa Verde National Park because of ongoing concerns about the stability of the rock arch in the Spruce Tree House alcove.

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Time-Honored Food; New Cachet in Cortez

Sweet. Hot.

Jalapeño. Serrano. Poblano. Chipotle.

We’re talking peppers.

And Tess Montaño Forth can tell you all about them. This restaurateur is the owner and operator of Pepperhead, the downtown Cortez, Colorado eatery that has won the hearts and appetites of residents and scores of visitors alike, with its fresh southwest-style food. The menu has deep roots in her family’s culinary tradition, with an up-to-date approach that makes use of abundant, organic, locally sourced meats and produce in Mesa Verde Country.

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New air service to Cortez from Denver & Phoenix

Boutique Air, where you can “fly private for the cost of commercial,” recently began service to/from Cortez to Denver and Phoenix. This is great news for travelers, who now have another, convenient option for getting to Mesa Verde Country to enjoy all the amazing activities and attractions for which our area is famous.

From Cortez Municipal Airport, there are three daily flight options to Denver and one to Phoenix. Prices start at just $59 each way. The typical Boutique aircraft seats between 8-20 passengers.

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4 antichi luoghi indiani nel sud-ovest del Colorado – incredibile!

Il sud-ovest del Colorado è semplicemente qualcosa di diverso. Un soffio d’aria calda e secca del deserto, uno splendido paesaggio d’alta montagna a 4.400m d’altitudine, chiamato San Juan Mountains, acqua fresca di sorgente e numerose grotte sulle scogliere, chiamate “Cliff Dwellings”. Non c’è da stupirsi che gli indiani nativi abbiano popolato questa zona per così tanto tempo. Non riuscivo a crederci quando ho visitato questi luoghi antichi nel parco nazionale di Mesa Verde. Ai visitatori internazionali che vogliono conoscere la cultura degli indiani raccomando di visitare i seguenti luoghi:

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4 antike Indianerstätten im Südwesten von Colorado – Unglaublich!

Colorados Südwesten ist einfach anders. Ein Hauch von warmer und trockener Wüstenluft, eine atemberaubende, 4,400m hohe Bergkulisse der sogenannten San Juan Mountains, frisches Quellwasser und zahlreiche Höhlen an steilen Felsen, sogenannte „Cliff Dwellings“. Kein Wunder, dass einheimische Indianer diese Gegend für lange Zeit besiedelten. Ich konnte es einfach nicht glauben, als ich im Mesa Verde National Park diese antiken Stätten besuchte. Für internationale Besucher, die die Kultur der Indianer erleben wollen, empfehle ich die folgenden Orte zu besuchen:

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4 sites Amérindiens antiques dans le Sud-Ouest du Colorado – incroyable!

Le Sud-Ouest du Colorado est simplement différent. Une touche d’air du désert, chaud et sec, un paysage superbe de 4.400m de haute montagne, nommés les « San Juan Mountains », l’eau de source fraîche et de nombreuses grottes sur rochers escarpés du nom de « Cliff Dwellings ». Il n’est pas étonnant que les Amérindiens natifs aient peuplé cette région pendant longtemps. Je ne pouvais pas croire mes yeux quand j’ai visité ces sites anciens dans le parc national de Mesa Verde. Pour les visiteurs internationaux qui veulent découvrir la culture des Amérindiens, je vous recommande de visiter les endroits suivants :

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Meet Bessie White, Founder of the Cortez Farmers Market

Recently, The Perennial Plate, a two-time James Beard Award winning online weekly documentary series dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating, featured a documentary about Cortez’s own Bessie White.

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Fall in Mesa Verde Country

Autumn is arguably one of the best times to visit Mesa Verde Country. It’s an area renowned for its rich culture, history, agritourism, adventure and more. Fall colors bloom, and the crisp air is just right for outdoor recreation – no scorching heat or biting cold!
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The ABCs of Mesa Verde Country’s Farm-to-Table Movement

Mesa Verde Country has a strong agricultural tradition. The Ancestral Puebloans were the first agriculturalists in the area. They farmed the valleys and the mesas of Montezuma County, including Mesa Verde National Park, until around 1300 A.D.

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Food for the Love of the Land

Lee-Ann Hill Laughing Wolf Farm

Laughing Wolf Farm, of Mancos, Colorado, has been cultivating Mesa Verde Country’s indigenous foods for four years now, under the stewardship of conservationist-turned-farmer Ms. Lee-Ann Hill. Lee-Ann explains that her career and study of sustainable landscapes and water conservation was a natural entree into ecological, highly localized agriculture. But to hear her describe what she does now, and why, is more like art than science. In short, it’s a bit of both.

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