4 Easy Hikes to Take Near Cortez

If you’re in the Cortez area and want to do some easy-moderate hiking, but don’t want to drive too far - here’s a quick list of my 4 favorite:


1. Sand Canyon Trail Head, Canyon of the Ancient National Monument

Length: variable (my route is approximately 3.5 miles)

Elevation: very little

Highlights: This is by far my favorite hiking spot. The Canyon is beautiful and there are several neat ruins along the route. (For my route, follow the orange trail, turn left for the 1 mile connector, follow green and then turn again for the 1.2 NO HORSE connector to return to the trailhead).

Caution: There are a lot of washes on this route and it’s easy to walk down what you think is a trail. Make sure you walk on MARKED areas only. And bring LOTS of water, just in case. Click HERE for a MAP and more info.

Directions from Cortez: Head WEST on US-160 and merge onto US-491 South. At the first major stoplight outside of town, turn RIGHT onto County Road G (there should be signs for the airport & Hovenweep National Monument). Continue on County Rd G for 12.5 miles. You will pass lots of farms as you drive. There are two parking lots for Sand Canyon Trailhead, the first is very new & flat gravel. The second trail head, about 1.5 miles up the road is rocky and can be tricky to maneuver for low-clearance vehicles.


2. Geyser Springs Trial, Dolores CO

Length: 2.6 miles round trip (out & back)

Elevation: 500 Foot Elevation Gain

Highlights: Beautiful pasture views that turn into Aspen & mountain forests. AT the end of the trail you can take a break at the only natural geyser in Colorado

Directions from Cortez: Head NORTH on CO-145, pass through the town of Dolores & continue north. About 12 miles outside of Dolores the road forks, turn LEFT onto County Road 38. Drive about 20 miles on this road, do not turn at any forks. You should pass Mavreeso Campground after one such potential fork and stayed the course. The Geyser Springs Trailhead will be on your RIGHT in a large field with and parking lot.


3. Horseshoe & Hackberry Trail, Hovenweep National Monument

Length: 1.44 miles round trip (out & back)

Elevation: 500 Foot Elevation Gain


Highlights: This is a very simple trail, and for those not wanting to really walk you can see a ruin from the car! These sites are unique in that many people don’t drive out to see them. Definitely worth a trip!

Directions from Cortez: Head NORTH on CO-491 out of Cortez. After the town of Yellow Jacket (it’s small, you may blink & miss it) turn LEFT onto County Road BB. If you enter the next town of Pleasant View you’ve gone too far. Continue on BB for 6 miles then turn LEFT onto County Road 10 towards San Luis County. After what feels like forever (approximately 20 miles) turn LEFT onto BLM Rd 4227. Drive along this road for a couple miles to the trailhead. Parking is primitive and on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead.

On To Holly: After the Horseshoe & Hackberry trail, BLM Rd 4227 continues to the Holly site and Holly Petroglyphs. This is a longer out & back trail you can take to the main Hovenweep Visitor Center. The road to Holly, however, is not passable by low-clearance vehicles. Be prepared to do some extra walking if you want to make it to Holly. The structure are pretty impressive, though, so it may be worth the drive.

Caution: DO NOT (for any reason) attempt to go to Cutthroat Castle Group. The individual who owns the right of way to the monument (whose previous owner was generous and accepting of the BLM road through his property, but since sold it) is very dangerous & aggressive. Park personnel are trying to resolve the situation.

4. Petroglyph Point Trail, Mesa Verde National Park

Length: 2.4 miles round trip (loop)

Elevation: 433 Foot Elevation Gain

Highlights: This is a relatively low traffic trail for Mesa Verde NPS. It has beautiful views of the canyon and (bonus) you get away from many of the other tourists for a couple hours. While some feel the petroglyphs are not as plentiful or unique as you might hope, I love seeing ancient stuff anytime! This trail is a lot more than just the petroglyphs, it comes with a self-directed guide with numbers and descriptions of various plants, land features & history.

Directions from Cortez: Take US-160 East towards Mancos to reach the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park. (If you do not have a Park Pass you will need to pay the $25 daily entry fee). Follow the road into Mesa Verde, head towards Spruce Tree Canyon & the Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe (you will turn RIGHT onto Mesa Top Ruins Rd). Park at the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum and continue to the trailhead.


Navajo Lake Trail - Lizard Head Wilderness Area

Up for a long hike and a longer drive? Try Navajo Lake Trail between Dolores & Telluride. This 4.5 mile out & back trail (9 miles total) ends at a stunningly blue lake at the base of several mountains. You’ll hike through fields, forests and pass a waterfall. The trail has an impressive 2,467 foot elevation gain, though, so don’t think this is easy! For more information and directions head to The Hiking Project.

And a word of CAUTION for those hiking in the summer: monsoon season comes quickly and brings lightning. Hike in the morning and get off the mountain before 1 PM.