Courtesy Ute Mountain Tribal Park
Visitors hike up this latter to get the best view of the cliff dwellings in the Ute Mountain Tribal Park

One of the World’s Top Destinations: a Primitive Adventure in Colorado’s Ute Nation

Heather Steinberger

Located in southwestern Colorado, 35 miles west of Durango, Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was named one of “50 Places of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler, and it won the Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Award for “Top Monument.”

As an internationally recognized destination with some of the most well-preserved archaeological sites in the country, it’s unsurprising that more than a half-million visitors descend on the national park each year, eager to see the cliff dwellings of the ancestral Puebloan people. It’s equally unsurprising that the summer months can be crowded ones in the park.

What do you do if you want to skip the teeming masses? Consider a visit to the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, which opened this month for the 2014 season.

Also an important part of what is often called “Mesa Verde country,” the 125,000-acre tribal park is adjacent to the smaller national park and lies entirely within the boundaries of the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Reservation. It’s home to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, one of three federally recognized tribes of the Ute Nation and descendants of the historic Weeminuche Band.

Although it’s not as well known as its neighbor and receives less than 10,000 visitors per year, the Ute Mountain Tribal Park was called one of “80 World Destinations for Travel in the 21st Century” by National Geographic Traveler, one of just nine U.S. destinations to receive the designation. Visitors to the tribal park will see hundreds of archaeological sites, including ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and petroglyphs, and historic Ute wall paintings and petroglyphs.

Best of all, since the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe operates the park as a primitive area, the sites remain in unspoiled natural surroundings that still resemble the wilderness that the ancestral Puebloan people and historic Ute Nation knew. According to Jacob Dance Jr., the Ute Mountain Tribal Park’s office manager, this is very much by design.


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