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Hiking in Mesa Verde and Mancos Valley; Cottonwood Pass closures and National Trails Day 

Mesa Verde National Park, about a six-hour drive from Colorado Springs, and just east of the town of Cortez, is home to archaeological ruins and cliff dwellings from Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area from 600 to 1300AD. As with many National Parks, it has a number of hiking trails, and most of them are pretty short — under 2.5 miles round trip — and lead to viewpoints of the historical artifacts in the park. 

While you should definitely visit all the historical sites in Mesa Verde and be awed by the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the native people, you may want to try out some other trails in the park. Most of the trails are located at the far reaches of the park, up to 20 miles from the entrance, but there are a few trailheads at the park's Morefield Campground, four miles from the park entrance. These trails are open to hikers only, and dogs are not allowed on any trails in the park. Stop at the visitors center at the entrance to the park for maps and detailed directions. (Entrance fees do apply.)

The Prater Ridge Trail is actually two loops on top of a broad mesa. You can do either trail, or do as I did on a recent trip and join them together for a hike of a little under eight miles — the longest single hike in the park. With the exception of a moderate one-mile stretch from the trailhead to the intersection of the loops, the hike is easy/moderate. There are great 360-degree views, and the west side of the loop hugs the rim of the mesa.

click to enlarge Prater Ridge Trail Loops - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Prater Ridge Trail Loops


click to enlarge One of the many great views from the Prater Ridge Trail - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • One of the many great views from the Prater Ridge Trail














A shorter but a bit more strenuous hike is the Point Lookout Trail. This hike, to the end of the a bluff looming over highway 160 and the park entrance, starts at the amphitheater in the Morefield Campground. It climbs steeply through a long series of switchbacks for the first three-quarters of a mile before continuing north for a little over another one-third of a mile across the top of the bluff. It offers great views of the La Plata mountains and Mancos Valley to the east, and the Sleeping Ute mountain to the west.

click to enlarge The Point Lookout Trail - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The Point Lookout Trail






click to enlarge The view to the west from the very end of Point Lookout. Sleeping Ute Mountain is in the distance - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The view to the west from the very end of Point Lookout. Sleeping Ute Mountain is in the distance




















The Knife Edge Trail, an easy 2.2 mile round trip hike that starts at the north end of the campground, follows the old entrance road to the park. There are numbered signs along the trail that refer to an informational pamphlet available at the trailhead — don't be cheap and donate the suggested 50 cents. The pamphlet is mostly used to identify flowers and plants along the trail and also some geological information, but it also has some information about the history of the old road. The trail has nice views north and west of the park, of Point Lookout and the adjacent Lone Cone to the east.

click to enlarge Point Lookout and the La Plata mountains, as seen from the Knife Edge Trail - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Point Lookout and the La Plata mountains, as seen from the Knife Edge Trail
click to enlarge The Knife Edge Trail follows the old entrance road to the park. This is a very easy hike at about 2 miles round trip - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The Knife Edge Trail follows the old entrance road to the park. This is a very easy hike at about 2 miles round trip












While you're in the area of Mesa Verde, you owe it to yourself to visit the nearby Mancos State Park. Surrounding the Jackson Reservoir, the park features fishing and boating, campgrounds and picnic sites, and a trail network that goes around the reservoir. That system also connects to the Colorado Trail, which runs from Durango to Denver, and to other trails in the adjacent national forest. On my visit there, my dog and I — leashed dogs are allowed on trails but not in the reservoir — linked a couple of trails together to do a an almost 4.25-mile loop. The trails are mostly in heavy forest and offer great views of Mesa Verde, Sleeping Ute and the La Plata Mountains.

click to enlarge The loop around Mancos State Park we hiked. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The loop around Mancos State Park we hiked.


click to enlarge Pre-sunset view of the La Plata Mountains over Jackson Reservoir in Mancos State Park - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Pre-sunset view of the La Plata Mountains over Jackson Reservoir in Mancos State Park















Cottonwood Pass Closures

The dirt portion of the road on the west side of Cottonwood Pass in Gunnison County has been completely closed since last year while undergoing paving, and will remain closed this year as the work continues. Additionally, roadwork on the paved east side of the pass in Chaffee County will result in a large section of that side also being closed as well. Cottonwood Pass is a popular summertime route from Buena Vista to Taylor Lake and Crested Butte, also serves as the jumping off point to popular hiking destinations such as Ptarmigan and Hartenstein Lakes, Mt Yale, the Continental Divide Trail and many more. If you're planning on hiking or driving in that area, you'll want to check on road closures.

National Trails Day

National trails Day is this Saturday, June 2nd, with events to celebrate the country's trails taking place in Colorado Springs, El Paso County and state parks. For more information and to find an event go to americanhiking.org.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 26 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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