Cortez is the seat of Montezuma County in Colorado’s far southwest corner. It’s located near the Four Corners area, which is where the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet and form perfect right angles on each side.
Though Cortez has a population of fewer than 10,000 residents, it’s the county’s most populous municipality, and it’s surrounded by immense wide-open spaces and state and national parks.
The area is popular with backcountry hikers and all-around outdoor lovers, but there are cultural, art, and historical attractions as well.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Cortez, Colorado.
1. Cortez Cultural Center
For first time visitors to Cortez interested in getting a thorough overview of the area’s history and culture, the Cortez Cultural Center on North Market Street would be a great first stop.
Featuring an impressive collection of art and artifacts from both Native Americans and settlers, the center also hosts special events such as guest speakers, art and music courses, and traditional Native American dance productions in the summer.
The Native American items on display include Navajo, Pueblo, and Ute baskets, pottery, clothes, and jewelry, as well as art.
Many guests stay longer than they planned, so consider blocking out a few hours.
2. Parque de Vida
For such a small town, Cortez has a number of conveniently located municipal parks that are the perfect places to exercise, catch a game, or just relax with a good book.
Parque de Vida is the town’s most amenity-filled park and includes multiple baseball and softball fields, basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts, an amphitheater, and a playground. Needless to say, getting bored while on-site shouldn’t be an issue.
The park hosts many of the town’s annual fairs, of which the Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display is one of the most popular.
Parque de Vida is within walking distance of other downtown attractions.
3. Main Street Brewery
Colorado is big beer country, and though it was once dominated by mass-produced brews, it has experienced a craft brewing renaissance in the past few decades.
Main Street Brewery in Cortez has been open for more than 20 years and usually has more than a dozen beers on tap that come in a range of colors, flavor profiles, and alcohol contents to suit most taste buds.
Main Street is also known for its tasty grub, including pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and salads.
For those who’d rather enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail, there’s a full bar on-site as well, and they’re open every day for lunch and dinner.
4. Hovenweep National Monument
Colorado has an impressive collection of national parks and monuments. For those passing through Cortez, Hovenweep National Monument is one of the most convenient to visit.
The area boasts some Native American village sites that date back more than 800 years. At their height, they were home to thousands of people who scraped a living from the harsh and unforgiving environment by hunting and gathering.
They’re spread over a large area and include impressive multi-leveled structures made from rock and adobe which have stood the test of time remarkably well.
Consider starting your exploration at the visitor’s center.
5. Conquistador Golf Course
Located on North Dolores Drive just outside town, Conquistador Golf Course is an 18-hole, par-72 course that features scenic vistas of the neighboring mountains, treed areas, strategically-placed water and sand hazards, and well-maintained greens and fairways.
Many savvy golfers consider it one of the region’s premier courses, and it’s appropriate for players of most ages and skill levels.
For those who could use a few instructional sessions with a pro, lessons are available, and there are practice areas and a pro shop as well.
Tee times go quickly, especially on weekends and holidays in the summer, so plan accordingly.
6. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center
Comprised of nearly 200 acres of amazing landscapes and significant Native American archaeological sites, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is the area’s premier destination for those interested in learning about the Pueblo people who called Colorado home for ages before it was officially settled.
The center’s staff offer a wide range of engaging, educational, and entertaining programs that are appropriate for most ages. Guided tours of the on-site archaeology laboratory and historic sites are readily available as well.
The center is largely dedicated to cultural preservation and often ends up being one of the standout attractions of many travelers’ vacations.
7. Guy Drew Vineyards
For lovers of great wines and amazing natural beauty, Guy Drew Vineyards is the perfect place to experience both together.
This family-owned and operated winery is located to the southwest of downtown Cortez and was founded in 1998.
The vineyard is comprised of more than 150 acres that offer panoramic views and a variety of trees species like juniper and piñon.
The winery was built in the traditional Pueblo style, and vineyard and winery tours are available, as are sampling sessions in their tasting room.
Their wines come in a variety of colors and flavors ranging from red and hearty to white and refreshing.
8. Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area
Totten Reservoir State Wildlife Area is conveniently located in Montezuma, just a short drive from Cortez. In a region that’s known for its lack of water, it’s a big attraction for both recreation-seeking humans, and birds and animals in need of water.
Bird watching is popular at Totten Reservoir. From the trails, it’s common to see a large number of species, including migratory and wading birds, owls, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers.
Fishing is good in the reservoir too, and there are several game fish species such as bass, catfish, pike, and bream.
Check the online fishing reports to see what’s biting before heading out.
9. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
For its sheer abundance of historically significant archaeological sites, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is in a league by itself.
Located about 20 minutes west of Cortez, it’s spread over nearly 180,000 acres and is home to thousands of individual sites from multiple Native American groups that lived in the region in ages long past.
The monument features some of the west’s most well-preserved sites, including cliff dwellings, farm plots, kivas, and a variety of petroglyphs and pictographs scraped into the canyon’s rock.
To get the most out of your time on-site, considering spending at least a half-day.
10. Sunflower Theater
Cortez’ Sunflower Theater is located on East Main Street in town and is a great community resource that’s often overlooked by visitors from outside the area.
The theater features productions such as dramatic plays, vintage and independent movies, musicals, and dance recitals, and there are a number of annual presentations for kids.
Previous guests have described Sunflower Theater as quaint and inviting. In addition to its historic charm, it boasts state-of-the-art lighting, sound, and projection systems that make for unique and memorable experiences.
Tickets can go quickly for popular shows, and parts of the theater are available to rent for private events.
11. Powerhouse Science Center
Attractions specifically designed with kids in mind are becoming more available, even in relatively small, rural towns.
Powerhouse Science Center is located on Camino del Rio Drive in Durango and 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 touch on space, technology, electricity, animals, and the environment, to name just a few. For kids who are tired of historic sites and national parks, it’s often one of the most fun and entertaining experiences of their trip.
Consider arriving when they first open to avoid crowds on weekends.
12. Mesa Verde National Park
More than four decades ago, Mesa Verde National Park was made an official UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s one of the American West’s most significant archaeological sites, and since the early part of the 20th century, it has been a protected national treasure.
The park and surrounding areas were once home to the Pueblo Native Americans, who built impressive homes and cliff dwellings; some of the latter are still clinging precariously to sheer rock faces more than 600 years after they were built.
The park’s archaeological sites and ruins number in the thousands, and many visitors choose to experience them as part of a guided tour.
13. Downtown Durango
For many out of state visitors, Durango encompasses the spirit of the American west like no other city or town.
For those staying in Cortez, it’s a great day trip option and offers a number of historical, art, and cultural attractions, in addition to lots of natural wonders just outside town limits.
The downtown area is easily walkable and full of boutique shops, top-notch restaurants, and plenty of museums, galleries, and quaint live entertainment venues.
Downtown Durango tends to come alive in the late afternoon and early evening when restaurants and bars are offering food and drink deals. It’s a great place to meet locals.
14. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum
Stopping at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum would be a great way to spend a few hours, especially for amateur train and railroad enthusiasts and lovers of history.
The museum is housed in an old depot building that was once a stop on a now-defunct rail line. In addition to an impressive collection of artifacts and equipment, there are rail tours that wind their way through the majestic San Juan Mountains while under the power of a historic locomotive.
The train tour has been consistently ranked as one of the most fantastic train rides in the country, and the cost is relatively inexpensive.
15. Purgatory Resort
Purgatory Resort is located about a half-hour from Durango inside the San Juan Mountain range.
The resort is comprised of more than 1,000 acres that feature nearly 100 individual runs serviced by a dozen lifts.
Though the San Juan Mountains aren’t as big as the Rockies, the resort gets consistently high rankings from visitors.
The trails range from expert-only black diamonds to those appropriate for beginners and children, so it’s a great place to practice for those with little or no skiing experience. Compared to many of the state’s swankier and more well-known resorts, lift tickets and lodging are good value.