Colorado Scenic Byway: Trail of the Ancients & Mesa Verde National Park

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Colorado's Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway travels between two remote national monuments and Mesa Verde National Park. This National Scenic Byway near Cortez and Dolores takes you through the heart of the  landscape and unique history of the American Southwest. Because there are so many destinations of archaeological significance, It's best to take your time along the tour.

• Hovenweep National Monument: Remote and often uncrowded, this national monument includes a bevy of structures, namely a series of stone towers built by the Ancestral Puebloan people.

• Canyons of the Ancients National Monument: This remote and rugged patchwork of land surrounds Hovenweep and contains the highest concentration of archaeological sites in the United States. From grand cliff dwellings to modest check dams, these structures enable you to visualize how the landscape must have looked when the Ancestral Puebloans lived here.

• Anasazi Heritage Center: Located on McPhee Reservoir near Dolores, the Anasazi Heritage Center interprets the various cultures of the region through exhibits, interactive demonstrations and film.

• Mesa Verde National Park: This World Heritage Cultural Site houses some of the most dramatic archaeological sites on earth. Some of the grandest sites include the dwellings at Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House and Balcony House, where you can climb into kivas and immerse yourself in the wonder of this ancient civilization’s handiwork.

• Four Corners: This may not be a site of great historical significance, but it is the only place in the United States where the borders of four states (Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico) meet.

Distance: 116 miles
Suggested time: Allow 5 to 8 hours

Colorado is home to 25 Scenic and Historic Byways, 11 of which are also federally designated America's Byways. Read about all 25 in our Quick Guide to Colorado's Scenic & Historic Byways or view our virtual Colorado Byways Guide. You can also visit the Colorado Department of Transportation's Colorado Scenic and Historic Byways site.

Photos: Mesa Verde National Park, Hovenweep National Monument and Ute Mountain (photo courtesy of Craig Pierce), Anasazi Heritage Center (photo courtesy of Craig Pierce).

Cliff dwellings inside Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado
Cliff dwellings inside Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, CO
Hovenweep National Monument and Ute Mountain in southwest Colorado
Colorado's Hovenweep National Monument and Ute Mountain
Courtesy of Craig Pierce
Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores in southwest Colorado
Anasazi Heritage Center near Dolores, CO

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