Cortez is the seat of Montezuma County in the southwest corner of Colorado. It’s located near the Four Corners, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet and form a perfect right angle on each side.
Although Cortez has fewer than 10,000 residents, it is the most populous municipality in the county and is surrounded by vast open spaces and state and national parks.
The area is popular with backcountry hikers and all-around outdoor enthusiasts, but also has cultural, artistic and historical attractions.
Here are 15 things to do in and around Cortez, Colorado.
1. Cortez Cultural Center
For first-time visitors to Cortez interested in gaining a comprehensive overview of the area’s history and culture, the Cortez Cultural Centre on North Market Street would be a good first stop.
Featuring an impressive collection of art and artifacts from Native Americans and settlers, the center also hosts special events in the summer, such as guest lectures, art and music classes, and traditional Native American dance productions.
Native American objects on display include Navajo, Pueblo and Ute baskets, pottery, clothing and jewelry, and artwork.
Many guests are staying longer than they planned, so consider reserving a few hours.
2. Vida Park
For such a small town, Cortez has many conveniently located municipal parks, ideal for exercising, playing a game or relaxing with a good book.
Parque de Vida is the most well-appointed park in the town, including multiple baseball and softball fields, basketball, volleyball, tennis, amphitheater and playgrounds. Needless to say, being bored in the field shouldn’t be a problem.
The park hosts many of the town’s annual fairs, with the Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display being one of the most popular.
Parque de Vida is just a short walk from other attractions in the city centre.
3. Main Street Brewery
Colorado is a beer powerhouse, and while it used to be dominated by mass-produced beers, it has experienced a craft beer renaissance over the past few decades.
Main Street Brewery in Cortez has been in business for over 20 years and usually has a selection of more than a dozen beers that come in a variety of colors, flavor profiles and alcohol levels to satisfy most taste buds.
Main Street is also known for its delicious food, including pizza, burgers, sandwiches and salads.
For those who would rather enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail, there is also a full bar on site, open daily for lunch and dinner.
4. Hovenweep National Monument
Colorado has an impressive array of national parks and monuments. For those passing through Cortez, Hovenweep National Monument is one of the most convenient places to visit.
The area is home to some Native American village ruins dating back more than 800 years. At their peak, they were inhabited by thousands of people who made their living from the harsh and unforgiving environment through hunting and gathering.
Spread over large areas, they include impressive multi-layered structures made of rock and adobe that have stood the test of time.
Consider starting your exploration at the Visitor Center.
5. Conqueror Golf Course
Located just outside of town on North Dolores Drive, Conquistador Golf Course is an 18-hole, par 72 course with views of adjacent mountains, wooded areas, strategically placed water and sand obstacles and well-maintained greens and fairways.
Considered by many astute golfers to be one of the premier courses in the area, it is suitable for players of all ages and skill levels.
For those who have access to some instructional sessions with the pros, classes are available, and there are also practice areas and a pro shop.
Tee times go by quickly, especially on summer weekends and holidays, so plan accordingly.
6. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
Comprising nearly 200 acres of stunning landscape and significant Native American archaeological sites, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is the region’s premier destination for those interested in learning about the Pueblo people who called the Pueblo people home for many years before Colorado was officially settled people.
Staff at the center offer a wide range of engaging, educational and recreational programs suitable for most ages. Guided tours of the on-site archaeological laboratory and historic sites are also readily available.
The center is primarily dedicated to cultural preservation and is often one of the standout spots on vacation for many travelers.
7. Guy Drew Vineyard
For lovers of fine wine and stunning natural beauty, Guy Drew Vineyards is the perfect place to experience both together.
This family owned and operated winery is located southwest of downtown Cortez and was established in 1998.
Over 150 acres of vineyards with panoramic views are planted with a variety of tree species including juniper and pine.
Built in traditional Pueblo style, the winery offers vineyard and winery tours, as well as tasting sessions in the tasting room.
Their wines come in a variety of colors and flavors, from red and full-bodied to white and refreshing.
8. Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Refuge
Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Refuge is conveniently located in Montezuma, just a short drive from Cortez. In an area known for its water scarcity, it’s a huge draw for both recreational-seeking humans, as well as water-needing birds and animals.
Bird watching is popular at Totten Reservoir. A large number of species can be seen from the trails, including migratory and wading birds, owls, hummingbirds and woodpeckers.
Reservoir fishing is also good, with several game fish such as bass, catfish, pike and snapper.
Check online fishing reports to see what’s biting before you go.
9. Ancient National Monument Canyon
Ancient Canyon National Monument is a league in itself due to its abundance of historically significant archaeological sites.
Located about 20 minutes west of Cortez, it covers nearly 180,000 acres and contains thousands of separate sites from multiple Native American groups that inhabited the area long ago.
The monument features some of the best-preserved ruins in the west, including cliff dwellings, farmland, kiva, and various petroglyphs and pictographs scraped into the canyon rocks.
To make the most of your time on site, consider spending at least half a day.
10. Sunflower Theater
Cortez’s Sunflower Theater, located on East Street in town, is a great community resource often overlooked by visitors from outside the area.
The theatre features productions such as plays, vintage and independent films, musicals and dance recitals, and hosts many performances for children each year.
Previous guests have described the Sunflower Theatre as quaint and inviting. In addition to its historic charm, it has state-of-the-art lighting, sound and projection systems for a unique and unforgettable experience.
Tickets for popular shows can be purchased quickly, and some theaters can be rented for private events.
11. Power Science Center
Even in relatively small rural towns, there are more and more attractions specially designed for children.
Located on Camino del Rio Drive in Durango, the Powerhouse Science Center is the perfect place for families with children to spend a few hours when the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor activities.
The museum’s interactive exhibits deal with space, technology, electricity, animals and the environment, just to name a few. For kids tired of historical sites and national parks, this is often one of the funnest and most entertaining experiences of their trip.
Consider arriving when they first open to avoid weekend crowds.
12. Mesa Verde National Park
More than four decades ago, Mesa Verde National Park was officially added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the western United States and has been a protected national treasure since the early 20th century.
The park and surrounding area were once home to the Pueblo Indians, who built impressive homes and cliff dwellings; some of the latter still cling precariously to the sheer rock face more than 600 years after their construction.
There are thousands of archaeological sites and sites in the park, and many visitors choose to experience them on a guided tour.
13. Downtown Durango
For many out-of-state visitors, Durango embraces the spirit of the American West like any other city or town.
This is a great day trip option for those living in Cortez, offering many historical, artistic and cultural attractions in addition to the many natural wonders outside the town limits.
The city is within easy walking distance and is full of boutique shops, great restaurants, and many museums, galleries and quaint live entertainment.
Downtown Durango tends to come alive in the late afternoon and early evening, when restaurants and bars offer food and drink deals. This is a great place to meet locals.
14. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway and Museum
A stop at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway and Museum is a great way to kill a few hours, especially for amateur train and rail enthusiasts as well as history buffs.
The museum is housed in an old warehouse building that was once a stop on a now abandoned railway line. In addition to an impressive collection of artifacts and equipment, there is a railroad journey through the majestic San Juan Mountains driven by a historic locomotive.
Train tours are consistently rated as one of the best in the country and are relatively inexpensive.
15. Purgatory Resort
Purgatory Resort is located within the San Juan Mountains, about a half-hour drive from Durango.
The resort spans over 1,000 acres and has nearly 100 individual runways serviced by a dozen elevators.
Although the San Juan Mountains are not as large as the Rocky Mountains, the resort has always been well received by tourists.
The trails range from the expert-only Black Diamond to beginner and kid-friendly trails, so it’s a great place to practice for those with little or no skiing experience. Compared to many of the state’s trendier, better-known resorts, lift tickets and accommodations are excellent value for money.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Cortez, Colorado (CO)
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