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

“It’s something the tribe has chosen to do,” he said. “For example, if a dwelling falls, we’ll stabilize it, but we won’t restore it. There are no reconstructions. Everything is left in its natural state.”

The tribal park, which opened in the early 1980s, has offered guided tours for more than 20 years. And you must have a Ute guide and permit to enter tribal land; hiking and exploring on your own is not permitted.

Guests can choose full or half-day tours, which leave from the visitor’s center at the junction of highways 160 and 491, 20 miles south of Cortez, Colorado. You can follow the guide in your own vehicle to the trailhead, or you can ride in one of the tribal park’s 15-passenger vans for $12 per person.

Dance said the full-day tours are the way to go, especially if it’s your first time at the park.

“With the half-day tours, you’ll see the smaller sites, but you won’t visit the major cliff dwellings,” he noted. “The full-day tours are the best.”

Indeed, the full-day tour covers the park’s surface sites, such as kivas, pit houses and pueblos; ancestral Puebloan and Ute rock art; archaeological artifacts; and four large cliff dwellings, named Tree House, Lion House, Morris #5 and Eagles Nest.Visitors tour parts of the Ute Mountain Tribal Park (Courtesy Ute Mountain Tribal Park)

To view the dwellings, you’ll need to descend four ladders. Three are approximately 5-feet in height, and the fourth is roughly 20 feet. A fifth ladder is optional.

“The Eagles Nest is my favorite,” Dance said. “It’s the last one on the full-day tour.”

He said that the last long ladder might seem intimidating for those who are uncomfortable with heights, but prospective visitors shouldn’t worry.

“They’re big, sturdy ladders,” he said. “They’re easy.”

The full-day tour starts at 9 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. It involves about 3 miles of hiking throughout the day, and guests are advised to bring their own lunches and plenty of water. In contrast, the half-day tours run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; all sites are within a short walking distance from the gravel road.


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