The southwestern Colorado town of Cortez, one of America's richest archaeological centers, lies between the entrance to world-famous Mesa Verde National Park and the fascinating Ute Mountain Tribal Park in the heart of the Four Corners area of the Southwest.

Things To Do in Cortez

You'll find the community near the Sleeping Ute Mountain and the “green table” of Mesa Verde, just 10 minutes from the park. Learn about the cultural heritage of the region at the Cortez Cultural Center, and walk through it at the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument or Hovenweep National Monument. After you visit these sites, you'll leave steeped in the history of the Ancestral Puebloan people, from the places they lived to the tools they used in everyday life.

In less ancient history, Cortez was on the Old Spanish Trail, which ran from northern New Mexico to California and southern Colorado in the late 1500s. Today’s trails are a little different, though — more tailored to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders than mules and merchants. Ride past artifacts on the Sand Canyon Trails in the Canyons of the Ancients or whoop it up across the Phil’s World trail network. Cruise the accessible trails in the Carpenter Natural Area and watch for wildlife and archaeological sites in Hawkins Preserve as you hike, bike, rock climb or stargaze.

Given its proximity to the more than 600 acres of parks, trails and open spaces, as well as the depth of history, it’s particularly convenient that Cortez has so much to offer in the way of dining and lodging. The community near the Four Corners (where the borders of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet) has retained its connection to its earliest roots of agriculture, which shines through in the locally sourced dishes at unique local restaurants.

One of the best ways to take in as many of Cortez’s gems as possible is to follow the 114-mile Trail of the Ancients scenic byway. This route tours the natural wonders that surround Cortez and its numerous archaeological sites.

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