Blake Walsh

23 Best Things to Do in Cortez, CO

  • Published 2023/03/02

Pack your bags, call your friends, and run to Cortez, Colorado.

This city is a little utopia concealed from the rest of the world for far too long.

Cortez is the seat of Montezuma County and its most populous municipality.

It’s also self-governing.

It housed the laborers who worked on the tunnels and irrigation ditches needed to divert the Dolores River into Montezuma Valley.

Likewise, the town gets its name from the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés!

Here are the best things to do in Cortez, CO:

Discover Ancient Sites at Mesa Verde

Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde

kravka /

Mesa Verde National Park is a world-renowned American national park.

The park preserves over 5,000 archaeological sites, providing tourists with a fascinating glimpse into the past.

In 1906, Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt established the park in Cortez.

Over a thousand species call this World Heritage Site and International Dark Sky Park home, including several found nowhere else on the planet.

Close view of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings

kravka /

The ancestral Pueblo people lived in prosperous villages on Mesa Verde’s mesas and cliffs for almost 700 years.

Today, the park preserves the cultural history of 26 Pueblos and tribes while providing a breathtaking glimpse into the past.

Mesa Verde is most renowned for constructions like Cliff Palace, supposedly North America’s giant cliff home.

Aerial view of Mesa Verde national park

Tristan Brynildsen /

Enjoy Outdoor Activities at the Denny Lake Park

Denny Lake Park is a beautiful place not just for a family outing but for a sports event.

You can enjoy the park’s picnic spots, playgrounds, and restrooms.

Fishing in the pond and kayaking are also popular activities in the area.

There are trails around the lake where you may stroll or run if you need a break.

Parking is plentiful at the park, so no need to worry about where to leave your car.

It’s easy to see why Denny Lake Park has become one of the most popular attractions in Cortez.

Enjoy all these amenities for a minimal entry fee.

Experience Farm-To-Table Dining at the Farm Bistro

The Farm Bistro in Cortez is where to go if you want a unique and delectable eating experience.

This restaurant’s farm-to-table cuisine served in a rustic-chic setting with a comfy lounge will leave you feeling fulfilled and eager to return.

The Farm Bistro includes a complete bar with an extensive range of microbrew craft beer, casual wines, and premium spirits.

The Farm Bistro is where to go if you want to try something different.

Check Out the Gallery Show at Notah Dineh Trading Co

Are you searching for something out of the box?

Notah Dineh in Cortez is the finest site to start planning your adventure.

This location is proud of its displays of early Native American life and culture, such as sculptures.

Established in 1961, Notah Dineh honors the contributions of Native Americans to US culture.

Exhibits include historical weapons and beaded leather apparel, to name a few.

USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards named Notah Dineh one of Colorado’s top Western museums.

Join a Pottery Workshop at Cortez Cultural Center

Put Cortez Cultural Center number one on your travel list.

This site features early American Indian culture exhibits, including traditional dance and literature.

You can find Pueblo artifacts, particularly those from the Ute Mountain tribes, here.

During the summer, bring your family to experience a free native American show and other fun activities during a festival.

You can also enroll your children in a pottery class.

Learn to Quilt at Cortez Quilt Company

If you’ve always wanted to learn to sew but have no idea where to start, visit the Cortez Quilt Company.

Its central location in the picturesque town of Cortez makes it handy for both residents and visitors.

The Cortez Quilt Company is a leading quilt store that sells and services BERNINA sewing machines.

What about a customized present for your loved ones?

They provide workshops ranging from beginning quilting to advanced sewing skills and an extensive selection of fabric and notions.

Enjoy Organized Tours at Canyon Trails Ranch

Do you want to go horseback riding at the Canyons of the Ancients?

Canyon Trails Ranch in Cortez arranges guided equestrian rides to Four Corners and McElmo Canyon’s picturesque attractions.

Paths wind through the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, providing views of several archeological sites.

Wagons and buggies are available on request.

This attraction is child-friendly, inexpensive, and perfect for a date.

Visit the Famous Cajon Group

Ruins of Cajon Group

kojihirano /

The Cajon Group is a small settlement situated at the head of a short canyon within the Hovenweep National Monument.

It was constructed similarly to other monuments’ settlements, including Hackberry and Holly.

Aerial view of Cajon Group

Joseph Sohm /

Hovenweep’s ancestors, the ancient Puebloans, left behind a spectacular circular tower on the canyon’s western side, evidence of their superior craftsmanship.

Only three structures remain, an oval pit house with an attached underground room on a platform, another pit house with a vast square kiva, and what looks to be an “outside” kiva or plaza area.

Twin towers ruin of Cajon Group

vagabond54 /

See Live Shows at the Sunflower Theater

The family-friendly Sunflower Theater of Cortez is a community theater that stages a wide range of shows.

For example, you can catch musicals, film screenings, and educational activities.

The 119-seat Sunflower Theater is also a multi-purpose venue that hosts various events.

The Sunflower Theater has state-of-the-art LED lighting and high-quality recording and broadcasting equipment.

You can rent Sunflower Theater to host parties, weddings, and other events.

Sip Fine Wine at the Sutcliffe Vineyards

McElmo Canyon’s unique microclimate allows Sutcliffe Vineyards to produce world-renowned wines.

In 1995, they established their first vineyard.

Six years later, they began selling their first bottles of wine.

They have since produced award-winning wines, which you can purchase in their tasting room.

Besides tasting four different wines each day, visitors can tour the vineyards and enjoy a panoramic view of the countryside.

Open year-round, the tasting room at Sutcliffe Vineyards offers visitors a tranquil setting that will keep them coming back for more.

Join an Educational Tour at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is a must-see for anybody interested in archaeology and history.

The facility allows visitors to learn about archaeology firsthand through excavation programs and hands-on educational activities.

Participants learn about archaeology and indigenous knowledge firsthand through research programs and hands-on educational activities.

You can work alongside professional archaeologists in the field and in the lab, travel with world-class scholars, earn college credit through the Field School, and more. Advanced registration is required.

Prepare for your journey by tapping into their free weekly Discover Archaeology webinar series or subscribe to their YouTube Channel to view the recordings.

Test Your Golfing Skills at Conquistador Golf Course

Are you prepared to test your golfing skills?

If yes, then go to the Conquistador Golf Club.

The championship golf course is a par 72 layout with scenic water features and undulating hills.

At 6,200 high, the weather is ideal for sports.

Golfers of all ages and skill levels can join an education and fitness program at the Conquistador Golf Club.

The Conquistador Golf Club hosts several competitions for special holidays and celebrations.

Enjoy Mexican Cuisine at La Casita de Cortez

La Casita de Cortez, a Mexican restaurant located on Main Street, features a menu of classic Mexican dishes and tequila.

La Casita de Cortez is a popular destination for residents and tourists who want to eat traditional Mexican cuisine.

Unique delights include appetizers such as shrimp ceviche, camarongos, and nacho campechana.

You can also try their entrees, such as chorizo steak fajitas, Azteca pollo Colorado, and tampiquena.

Try the steaks such as the Cortez steak from the La Casita Chef Creations menu.

Enjoy an outdoor lunch in a casual setting while taking in the stunning views of southern Colorado.

Enjoy Pad Thai at Thai Cortez & Sushi

Established in 2015, Thai Cortez & Sushi introduced authentic Thai cuisine to the Four Corners region.

They provide many options for hungry diners and sushi enthusiasts.

A few of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include nigiri, sushi rolls, curries, pho, and pad Thai.

They have also received the “Best Service” award, thanks to support from loyal diners.

Have Breakfast at the Pie Maker Bakery

Since 2012, the locally owned Pie Maker bakery has served breakfast to diners in Cortez.

This bakery is the best spot to spend your morning with a friend or loved one.

They specialize in savory and sweet pastries and handcrafted bagels.

Each of their baked items is handcrafted from scratch with premium ingredients.

Their bread flour is organic and unprocessed.

Likewise, Cortez Milling manufactures their all-purpose unbleached flour.

They exclusively use organic butter and hand-formed dough for baking their pastries.

You can also bring home a treat to your family or friends.

Visit Cortez Colorado Welcome Center

Exterior of Cortez Colorado Welcome Center

Edward H. Campbell /

Cortez Colorado Welcome Center is a great place to kickstart your adventure in Cortez, as you’ll get to learn what the municipality has to offer straight from their expert guides.

On top of their knowledgeable and friendly staff, the welcome center has tons of brochures and maps that’ll surely be of use as you check the nature spots and urban attractions in Cortez.

What’s also great about this is that there are a couple of small exhibits inside, mostly about the civilization and history of Cortez.

So, if you’re planning on doing a comprehensive tour of the municipality, be sure to drop by.

Cortez Colorado Welcome Center is located along East Main Street.

Experience Fall Foliage at Parque De Diva

Just a stone’s throw away from Cortez Colorado Welcome Center lies Parque De Diva.

It’s one of the most scenic places in Cortez during fall, as this park is brimming with large trees that turn into a rich mustard yellow during the later weeks of October and early November.

The foliage is complemented further by the scenic ponds here, teeming with aquatic life as well.

Besides its greenery, Parque De Diva is also a famous hotspot for locals and tourists to do some recreational activities.

There’s a baseball field here and wide open fields that even host events like hot air balloon shows sometimes.

Take Your Pooch to Cortez Dog Park

Cortez Dog Park is one of the bigger dog parks in Colorado, perfect if you’re bringing a large breed with you.

What makes it quite sizable is it actually connects to Denny Lake—a scenic place in Cortez.

It utilizes the surrounding nature in Cortez well, offering huge green spaces that are fenced properly to promote utmost safety.

Besides the scenery and space, Cortez Dog Park is also well-stocked with dog park goods and amenities such as waste bags and water fountains.

Cortez Dog Park is located along East Main Street, making it a convenient stopover before or after a day in the heart of the municipality.

Grab a Hearty Breakfast at Ute Coffee Shop

Ute Coffee Shop is one of the more popular dining establishments in Cortez, famous for its hearty breakfast plates.

Some of its best sellers are its chicken fried steak and the navajo taco—must-try items especially if you’re planning to do strenuous activities in Cortez.

Ute Coffee Shop also has a nice salad bar and a wide selection of coffee—regarded as some of the best in the area.

Another cool aspect here is that the restaurant has a huge parking space that allows tractor trailers and other semi trucks to park—it’s a great place for truck enthusiasts to see these hulking vehicles.

Located along South Broadway, you can conveniently visit Ute Coffee Shop.

Do Nature Observation at Carpenter Natural Area

Located along Lebanon Road, you won’t have to venture far from the heart of Cortez to experience its diverse ecosystem.

Carpenter Natural Area is a great place to do some trekking or biking, as you’ll see a picturesque but likewise rustic side of the municipality.

There are plenty of various flowers here, so be sure to bring a camera with you for some souvenir photos.

From time-to-time, you can also spot large mammals like deer here, but there are also the usual critters to be found.

Not too big but still exciting, you can easily allot one whole morning for Carpenter Natural Area.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Go Sightseeing at Hovenweep National Monument

Daytime view of Hovenweep National Monument

Zack Frank /

The Hovenweep National Monument is an ideal spot for admiring Cortez.

You can view the aged multi-story structures, built on top of stones, dating from 1200 AD.

Welcome sign of Hovenweep National Monument

Jeffrey M. Frank /

Although this location is halfway between Cortez, Colorado, and Blanding, Utah, it has a similar culture and attitude that you will enjoy.

Begin your journey at Square Tower.

You can continue exploring this historic area on foot or car with your friends.

Desert canyon at Hovenweep National Monument

Zack Frank /

Try Canoeing at the Dolores River Canyon

Aerial view of Dolores River Canyon

Serj Malomuzh /

The Dolores River Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonderland full of exciting activities.

Find it in Dolores, Colorado, 15 minutes away from Cortez.

It’s a stunning area to go hiking, canoeing, or kayaking in the Dolores River Canyon, a 30-mile stretch of a red rock canyon.

This canyon in Cortez is also surrounded by 26,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness, making it an ideal location for hiking.

The Dolores River Canyon Trail passes through a stunning red sandstone canyon with a slight rise.

Hikers with a sense of adventure might continue exploring the Dolores River Canyon.

Learn about the Ancient Southwest at the Canyons of the Ancients

Daytime view of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Traveller70 /

If you want to experience how people lived in the ancient Southwest, check out the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in Dolores, Colorado.

It’s 21 minutes away from Cortez.

President Clinton first declared the region a national monument on June 9, 2000.

It covers 176,056 acres in Montezuma County.

Site of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Traveller70 /

The Bureau of Land Management oversees the monument.

The vastness of the monument covers tens of thousands of sites, many of which Native Americans still use today.

You can also view some outstanding examples of Ancestral Puebloan cliff homes and other buildings.

After a long day of touring, there are plenty of trails, hiking paths, and even picnic places for you to enjoy.

Escalante ruins at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

MLMarkel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

Whatever your interests, Cortez is where you can truly relax and enjoy yourself.

It provides a convenient location for cultural education, too.

Besides the friendly locals and delicious cuisine, the attractions in Cortez provide only the best travel experience.

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