Bicycles are allowed on paved roads in the park except the twisty Wetherill Mesa Road, but there are no bike lanes and very narrow shoulders. During periods of low visibility (or when traveling through the tunnel on the main park road), bicycles must be fitted with a white light on the front and a red light (or reflector) on the back. Bikes are not allowed off-road or on trails.


Turkey vultures soar between April and October, and large flocks of ravens hang around all summer. Among the park's other large birds are red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, and a few golden eagles. The Steller's jay (the male looks like a blue jay with a dark hat on) frequently pierces the pinyon-juniper forest with its cries, and hummingbirds dart from flower to flower in the summer and fall. Any visit to cliff dwellings late in the day will include frolicking white-throated swifts, which make their home in rock crevices overhead. Pick up a copy of the park’s "Checklist of the Birds" brochure or visit the National Park Service's website ( for a detailed listing of the feathered inhabitants here.


A handful of trails lead beyond Mesa Verde's most visited sites and offer more solitude than the often-crowded cliff dwellings. The best canyon vistas can be reached if you're willing to huff and puff your way through elevation changes and switchbacks. Carry more water than you think you'll need, wear sunscreen, and bring rain gear—cloudbursts can come seemingly out of nowhere. Certain trails are open seasonally, so check with a ranger before heading out. No backcountry hiking is permitted in Mesa Verde, and pets are prohibited.


Farming Terrace Trail. This 30-minute, ½-mile loop begins and ends on the spur road to Cedar Tree Tower, about 1 mile north of the Chapin Mesa area. It meanders through a series of check dams, which the Ancestral Puebloans built to create farming terraces. Easy. Park entrance road, 4 miles south of Far View Visitor Center, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, 81330.

Knife Edge Trail. Perfect for a sunset stroll, this easy 2-mile (round-trip) walk around the north rim of the park leads to an overlook of the Montezuma Valley. If you stop at all the flora identification points that the trail guide pamphlet suggests, the hike should take about 1½ to 2 hours. The patches of asphalt you're likely to spot along the way are leftovers from old Knife Edge Road, built in 1914 as the main entryway into the park. Easy. Morefield Campground, 4 miles from park entrance, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, 81330.

Soda Canyon Overlook Trail. One of the easiest and most rewarding hikes in the park, this little trail travels 1½-mile round-trip through the forest on almost completely level ground. The overlook is an excellent point from which to photograph the Chapin Mesa–area cliff dwellings. Easy. Cliff Palace Loop Rd., about 1 mile north of Balcony House parking area, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, 81330.


Petroglyph Point Trail. Scramble along a narrow canyon wall to reach the largest and best-known petroglyphs in Mesa Verde. Older literature occasionally refers to the destination of this 2.4-mile loop hike as "Pictograph Point," but that's a misnomer. Pictographs are painted onto the rock, and petroglyphs are carved into it. If you pose for a photo just right, you can just manage to block out the gigantic "don't touch" sign next to the rock art. A map—available at any ranger station—points out three dozen points of interest along the trail. The trail is open only when Spruce Tree House is open; check with a ranger to verify times. Moderate. Spruce Tree House, next to Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, 81330. Contact ranger for hours.

Spruce Canyon Trail. While Petroglyph Point Trail takes you along the side of the canyon, this trail ventures down into its depths. It's only 2.4 miles long, but you descend about 600 feet in elevation. Remember to save your strength; what goes down must come up again. Access to the trail is limited to times when Spruce Tree House is open; check with a ranger beforehand. Moderate. Spruce Tree House, next to Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, 81330. Check with ranger for times; registration required.


Prater Ridge Trail. This 7.8-mile round-trip loop, which starts and finishes at Morefield Campground, is the longest hike you can take inside the park. It provides fine views of Morefield Canyon to the south and the San Juan Mountains to the north. About halfway through the hike, you'll see a cut-off trail that you can take, which shortens the trip to 5 miles. Difficult. West end of Morefield Campground, 4 miles from park entrance, Mesa Verde National Park, CO, 81330.


There are no large cities in the Four Corners area, so there is little artificial light to detract from the stars in the night sky. Far View Lodge and Morefield Campground are great for sky watching.


In 1968, state officials approved the construction of an irrigation dam across the Dolores River, forming the McPhee Reservoir, the second largest in the state. It draws anglers looking to bag a variety of warm- and cold-water fish along its 50 miles of shoreline, which is surrounded by spectacular specimens of juniper and sage as well as large stands of pinyon pine. There's a boat ramp and a generous fish-cleaning station. The area also has camping, hiking, and a relatively easy mountain-bike trail, and the mesa offers panoramic views of the surrounding San Juan National Forest.

Tours and Outfitters

Duranglers. In business since 1983, Duranglers sells rods, reels, flies, and other equipment, gives fly-fishing lessons, and runs guided trips to top trout-fishing spots in the area, including the San Juan, Animas, Dolores, Piedras, and Los Pinos rivers. 923 Main Ave., Durango, CO, 81301. 970/385–4081.


Beginning in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, the Dolores River runs north for more than 150 miles before joining the Colorado River near Moab, Utah. This is one of those rivers that tends to flow madly in spring and diminish considerably by midsummer, and for that reason rafting trips are usually run in April and May, and occasionally early June.

Tours and Outfitters

Durango Rivertrippers. This outfitter runs two- and four-hour trips down the Animas River. You can up your adrenaline output by swapping the raft for an inflatable kayak on any of the Animas River trips. Or ask about zipline and rafting packages, tube rentals, and ATV tours. 720 Main Ave., Durango, CO, 81301. 970/259–0289.


Animas View Overlook Trail. If you're pressed for time (but still want spectacular views), try the 0.7-mile Animas View Overlook Trail. It takes you past signs explaining local geology, flora, and fauna before bringing you to a precipice with an unparallelled view of the valley and the surrounding Needle Mountains. It's the only wheelchair-accessible trail in the area. Trailhead at Forest Rd. 171, Milepost 8, Durango, CO.

Colorado Trail. Starting a few miles northwest of Durango, the Colorado Trail covers about 500 miles on its way to Denver. You're not obliged to go that far, of course. Just a few miles in and out will give you a taste of this epic trail, which winds through mountain ranges and high passes and some of the most amazing mountain scenery around. Trailhead off County Rd. 204, Durango, CO.