With beautiful fall weather still in play, we packed the car for a 3-day weekend adventure to Mesa Verde National Park Colorado!
Living close to the four corners and so many national parks is definitely a perk to living in northern Arizona. Three hours and we were in southwest CO in the small town of Cortez – the perfect base for hiking in Mesa Verde National Park and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
If you’ve seen cliff dwellings before you may think you’ve seen them all. Not so.
Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings really blew our minds – they were more like cities.
Since it was off-season, we could only view the dwellings from above. During peak season you can take a ranger lead tour, climbing down ladders and squeezing through rock ledges to check them out. The visitors center has some great visual displays and booklets that can act as your tour guide to these amazing cliff dwellings.
We spent an entire day at Mesa Verde National Park – hiking a few small 1-2 mile trails. The Petroglyph Point Hike is not too long, but had a few spots that I would say were moderately strenuous – meaning they’ll get your heart pumping!
I had fun exploring all the cool rock outcroppings and crevices.
The next day we went hiking in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument – there were very few people there so it was quiet and peaceful.
We hiked the Sand Canyon Trail which isn’t a loop – so we hiked a few hours in and out. The trail itself is flat and easy, the first part walking along a platform of smooth rock – perfect for young kids. The cliff dwellings scattered along offshoots of this trail are rudimentary, but it’s really cool to think about all the ancient people that used to walk these same paths.
All of the trails through this monument are multi-use and next time when we have our bikes, we will ride the other two loop trails. Note: Be sure to also check out Phil’s World if you’re a mountain biker!
Eating in Cortez was pretty good for a small town – they have a good range of brew pubs, restaurants, coffee houses and bakeries.
Here were our favorite foodie spots:
Spruce Tree Espresso House: serving coffee from Desert Sun, a delicious roaster based in Durango, and the chilaquiles are massive – plenty to fuel your day. Plus grab a hummus and veggie bagel sandwich to take on your hike (and maybe a bag of coffee beans). Winning all around.
Silver Bean Coffee Bus: great coffee, breakfast burritos and cinnamon rolls. All from a cute little silver bus. It’s fun and quick for those who want to get on the trail!
Next Time: The Pie Maker Bakery – wasn’t open on Sundays so we missed it!
Destination Grill Cortez: This place is in the Holiday Inn parking lot, but it had great service and a big menu ranging from salads and tacos to burgers. It’s the kind of place that definitely has something for everyone.
Loungin’ Lizard: This bar/restaurant is a small space, but they had good salads and tacos. The servings weren’t too big and this was just what we were looking for after a long day of exploring.
Next Time: We really wanted to eat at Thai Cortez. It got so many amazing reviews. Unfortunately they were taking Thanksgiving off and so they were closed for the weekend.
Our second choice, The Farm Bistro was also closed. Guess that’s what happens off season and during a holiday weekend. Although it always seems that when we really want to eat at a particular place we arrive and it’s closed. Must be our luck.
On the drive home, we took the long way to make a stop at Goosenecks State Park in southeast Utah and drive through Monument Valley. For a $5 entry fee, drive in for a great top down view of the deep meandering San Juan River. It’s a perfect place to have a picnic lunch. There’s not much else to do, but look down over the cliffs into the canyon. A pretty cool stop nonetheless.
As we carried on our route towards Monument Valley, we saw signs for Valley of the Gods – a 17 mi loop that winds through sandstone formations similar to Monument Valley. We picked up a giant hiking map and vowed to come back because it looked like a great spot to explore!
With more time, we would have stayed in Durango a few days too. Next summer, we are already planning another longer road trip exploring the rest of southwest Colorado. There is so much to see and do!
Make Mesa Verde National Park Colorado part of your next road trip!
I promise you’ll have a blast! Travel on!