As temperatures fall and elevation rises, we crossed into Colorado and on our way to Pagosa Springs we opted to visit Mesa Verde National Park. The park entrance is just 35 miles west of Durango, and the road inside winds 20 miles into some of the best cliff dwellings you’ll ever see. Plenty of vistas, viewpoints and trailheads along the way, and it’s an exquisite drive around sunset.
10 miles in you’ll find the Far View Lodge with comfortable (although slightly dated) rooms and views to the Southeast. Perfect for sunrises, especially since each room has a decent sized patio. The lodge also boasts excellent dining options as Chef Brian Puett incorporates ancient Puebloan fare in the Metate Room Restaurant. Hunted wild game, gathered nuts & herbs, and decent wine options celebrate the culture of the region.
When visiting Mesa Verde NP, it’s good to know that some of the cliff dwellings require pre-purchased tickets available at either of the two visitor centers inside the park. Tickets reserve you a time slot and these tours take you inside the dwellings, up and down ladders, and throughout the intricate houses. In the summer months time slots can fill up quickly so purchasing ahead of time is a good idea ($4-6 per tour). But for the time and cost-conscious traveller, there are two dwellings you can view for free – The Spruce Tree House and the Step House. We took the Spruce Tree House Trail Loop, which took us about 45 minutes to hike down, wander through and then back out. Worth the time and an easy hike!
After enjoying all that Mesa Verde has to offer, we continued East towards Pagosa Springs. About 40 miles outside of Pagosa we veered off into the hills in Bayfield, CO and up to Vallecito Reservoir. Spanish for “Little Valley” this lake is claimed as Colorado’s most beautiful. Surrounded by a network of tree carvings, camping, boating, fishing and cabins, we found another respite high up in the Rockies and only a 10 mile detour off the highway to Pagosa. With plenty of stores and dining options, we went to the local’s choice – Pura Vida Cafe. Situated with the county’s best rated patio and a stellar view of the lake. Famous for their Chokecherry Mojito and Elvis Burger (with peanut butter and jalapeno), lunch set us back $40 for two entrees and two cocktails.
With no shortage of campgrounds, we nestled into a nice lakefront site at Pine Point campground for $17. After setting up camp and relaxing to take in the views, we truly found a slice of paradise in the Rockies.