Colorado Scenic Byway: Trail of the Ancients & Mesa Verde National Park

Colorado's Trail of the Ancients scenic byway travels between two remote national monuments and Mesa Verde National Park. This National Scenic Byway near Cortez and Dolores takes you through the heart of the landscape and unique history of the American Southwest. 

By: Staff Writer
Updated: April 25, 2024

Because there are so many destinations of archaeological significance on the Trail of the Ancients byway, it's best to take your time along the tour.

• Hovenweep National Monument: Remote and often uncrowded, this national monument includes a bevy of structures, namely a series of stone towers built by the Ancestral Puebloan people.

• Canyons of the Ancients National Monument: This remote and rugged patchwork of land surrounds Hovenweep and contains the highest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States. From grand cliff dwellings to modest check dams, these structures enable you to visualize how the landscape must have looked when the Ancestral Puebloans lived here.

Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum: Located on McPhee Reservoir near Dolores, the museum interprets the various cultures of the region through exhibits, interactive demonstrations and film.

• Mesa Verde National Park: This World Heritage Cultural Site houses some of the most dramatic archaeological sites on earth. Some of the grandest sites include the dwellings at Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House and Balcony House, where you can climb into kivas and immerse yourself in the wonder of this ancient civilization’s handiwork. *Note: Spruce Tree House is closed for an indefinite period due to rock-fall concerns, but visitors can still view the dwelling from an overlook. Visit the National Park Service website for more information and updates.

• Four Corners: This may not be a site of great historical significance, but it is the only place in the United States where the borders of four states (Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico) meet.

Distance: 116 miles
Suggested time: Allow 5 to 8 hours

Colorado is home to 26 scenic and historic byways, 13 of which are also federally designated America's Byways. Read about all 26 in our Quick Guide to Colorado's Scenic & Historic Byways; check out our Colorado byways microsite with videos, trip tips and more; or view our virtual Colorado Byways Guide.