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Winter Wonderland for Non-Skiers: Colorado's Hidden Gems Revealed!

Are you planning a winter trip to Colorado, but not into snow sports? No worries! Looking for things to do in Colorado in the winter? We’ve got you covered with this 4-day itinerary to Colorado’s winter wonders (without the skis!).

Day 1: Winter’s Embrace on Ancient Stones

No trip to Cortez, Colorado is complete without visiting Mesa Verde National Park! On your first day in Cortez, plan to spend it traveling back in time and admiring the beauty a little snow brings to these ancient cliffs and dwellings.

Pre-Morning: Sunrise Tour, Cortez

The world wakes up slowly in the winter, so before heading to Mesa Verde National Park - go on a sunrise tour with Cortez Tours! This is a great way to learn a little more about the Puebloan culture and history behind the cliff dwellings – especially since all the tours in Mesa Verde National Park are closed for the season. 

gold sunrise over Mesa Verde National Park with snow on the ground
Sunrise over Mesa Verde plateau

Plus, the sunrise is beautiful (if a little cold!), and bonus you don’t have to wake up that early in the winter!

Breakfast: Absolute Bakery, Mancos

After your tour, head to Absolute Bakery & Cafe (affectionately called ABC by the locals) in Mancos for breakfast. This place has the best breakfast in the Four Corners and has a beautiful location. The Bauer Bank building is from the late 1800s, so make sure to check out the hand-hammered copper tiles in the ceiling. (Bonus if you can find the angels!) My husband’s favorite breakfast from ABC is the breakfast burritos, which are also great for on-the-go. My favorite thing (and something often served on the Mesa Verde Sunrise Tour) is the key lime raspberry bar.

I also suggest getting a grab-and-go lunch at ABC. Most of the restaurants in Mesa Verde National Park will be closed, so you want to make sure you pack some snacks!

Mancos is an adorable little town to tool around in when you have time. For now, it’s probably close to 9:30 AM – so you need to get up to Mesa Verde!

Check the weather before you depart: Mesa Verde gets a lot more snow than Cortez does. You might need to alter your itinerary if the roads leading up to the park aren’t clear.

Winter Time Travel: Mesa Verde National Park

The Visitor’s Center at the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park is worth a quick stop. Between the gift shops, the beautiful views, and the informational boards lining the walls you will be sure to learn some things and take some pictures!

From the Visitor’s Center, it is a 40-minute drive up to the main park loop. The road up to the park, however, is beautiful – especially in the snow. I recommend stopping at most (if not all) of the pull-offs to enjoy the expansive views of Montezuma Valley. 

Once you get to Spruce Tree House, get out & take another walk around and visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. This is one of the oldest museums in any of the National Parks in the USA, and holds many cultural artifacts and a bookstore!

After visiting Spruce Tree House and the Museum, drive the Mesa Top Loop. The Mesa Top Loop is the most popular road through Mesa Verde National Park and the only one open in the winter months. That’s not a problem though, as this is a beautiful drive rich in history. Make sure to stop at each of the sites and walk around. Mesa Verde boasts more than 700 years of human history, so make sure you see it all - from the early pit houses to the impressive & grand architecture of the Cliff Palace.

If the trails aren’t too snowy, I also recommend a winter hike at Petroglyph Point Trail. This 2.5-mile loop trail is relatively easy with beautiful rock carvings and jaw-dropping views. 

You’ll likely spend all day up at Mesa Verde, so when you get back into cell service - call ahead and order dinner from Thai Cortez to take back to your hotel and just relax & enjoy!

Fun Fact: Mesa Verde National Park boasts a brand-new round-a-bout: the first round-about in Montezuma County.

Day 2: Steamy Serenity - Soaking in Colorado's Winter Wonderland
After a long day exploring Mesa Verde, it’s time for a relaxing day in Durango. 

Morning: Brunch at El Moro Tavern, Durango

Start your day with a culinary treat at El Moro Tavern in Durango, Colorado. You’ll have a hard choice to make between their two incredible options for eggs benedict:

  • the Italiano is a delightful combination of perfectly poached eggs, savory pancetta, arugula, velvety hollandaise sauce, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

  • The Sandia is a magnificent southwest take on the eggs benedict with polenta cakes in place of a biscuit, pork tenderloin and green chile & chipotle puree, and smooth hollandaise.

The good news is you can’t go wrong either way! And, don't forget to pair your brunch with one of El Moro’s signature cocktails!

Late Morning: Maria's Bookshop - A Literary Haven

After brunch, take a short stroll to Maria's Bookshop, a beloved independent bookstore in the heart of Durango. Browse through their curated collection of local authors and find a captivating winter read to accompany you on your journey to the hot springs.

Afternoon: Durango Hot Springs - Winter Wellness

Head to the recently renovated Durango Hot Springs for an afternoon of relaxation. Immerse yourself in one of the 11 adult-only soaking pools, each offering a unique and tranquil setting. The pools are located on the hillside, giving you a great view of the snow-covered mesas on the other side of the valley and the famous Durango train that occasionally rumbles by. Bring your book from Maria’s and soak in the majestic beauty and healing waters of Durango Hot Springs!

Late Afternoon: Cream Bean Berry - Sweet Indulgence

Wrap up your time in Durango with a visit to Cream Bean Berry for a scoop of artisanal ice cream. With a variety of flavors to choose from, it's the perfect way to treat yourself after a rejuvenating soak in the hot springs.

Beer next to a rainy window

Evening: Dinner at WildEdge Brewing Collective, Cortez

As the day winds down, make your way back to Cortez for a cozy dinner and drink at WildEdge Brewing Collective. Indulge in local craft beers and a hearty meal in the warm and inviting atmosphere of this beloved, local brewery. If you’re lucky, there might even be a local musician playing!

Day 3: Unveiling the Past - Spend a Winter Day Perusing Local Museums

Montezuma Heritage Museum: A Pioneer's Chronicle

Begin your day at the Montezuma Heritage Museum, the newest museum in Montezuma County. Step into a bygone era as the museum pays homage to the people's history while putting the spotlight on Cortez's pioneer history from the late 1800s onwards. Marvel at artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that vividly tell the tale of the early settlers who shaped the landscape.

Shopping Extravaganza: Merriweather Home

It’s time to indulge in a bit of winter retail therapy. Head to Merriweather Home + Market, a haven for artisanal treasures. With 80% of their wares sourced from local artisans, this market is the ideal spot to pick up unique souvenirs and support the vibrant creative community. 

Merriweather also boasts the newest street mural in Cortez. Eudaimonia, a brightly colored sun on the side of the building, is supposed to represent how the market owner feels about her store: that she has found her life's purpose and joy in sharing local arts and wares with others.

Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum: Puebloan Splendor

Next on your historical agenda is the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum outside of Dolores. Immerse yourself in the rich Puebloan history of the era with engaging exhibits and a captivating narrative. Afterward, take a stroll to a Pueblo site, where you can absorb the stunning views of McPhee Reservoir, connecting with the landscape that once hosted ancient civilizations.

Artistic Interlude: Zu Gallery and Turquoise Raven Art Gallery

In the afternoon, explore the art scene at two local art galleries. The Turquoise Raven Art Gallery is a bold gallery where local talent from across the region is showcased and celebrated. The Zu Gallery is a unique fusion of an art store and wine bar. Immerse yourself in the creations of local artists while sipping on a glass of wine, creating a perfect blend of culture and relaxation. The Zu Gallery has exciting and engaging events nearly every day of the week. You might stop in during a community sing-a-long, a local author talk, or a painting glass. The Zu Gallery is always the place to be!

Loungin' Lizard is located in one of the oldest commercial buildings in Cortez. The Wilson Building was finished in 1889 and holds stories of gangs from the Wild West days and the Prohibition. To learn some of those stories - book a Ghost Tour with Cortez Tours!

After enjoying a glass of wine at the Zu Gallery, walk down the street to Loungin’ Lizard. This incredible restaurant is located in one of the oldest commercial buildings in Cortez and fuses classic American dishes with a southwest twist. I recommend the shrimp tacos, but my husband loves the pork schnitzel. 

Day 4: Winter Trails: Hiking Through Ancient Wonders in Sand Canyon

Today is the final leg of your Colorado winter adventure! Today, lace up your boots and get ready for a day of enchanting hikes in the heart of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, specifically at the captivating Sand Canyon Trail Head.

Breakfast Before You Go: Esmeralda’s Ranchito

If you want a truly authentic southwestern breakfast before you head on your hike, go to Esmeralda’s Ranchito at the edge of Cortez and order a custom, breakfast burrito. Then drive the 30 or so minutes down road G to get to one of the two parking lots at Sand Canyon. You can park at either trail site, although make sure you visit Castle Rock Pueblo, located at the further parking lot. There are over 20 miles of interlocking trails in Sand Canyon, you can find a map of the trails here

Wandering in a Winter Wonderland: Sand Canyon

As you set out on your hike, you'll be surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of Sand Canyon, with its towering cliffs and the timeless whispers of the past. Sand Canyon is usually warmer than downtown Cortez, so you likely won’t need to worry about ice or snow. (Mud, however, might be another story! So be prepared and wear good, comfortable, and warm shoes!)

As you traverse the trail, keep an eye out for ancient ruins nestled within the canyon walls. These remnants of Puebloan civilizations tell a silent story of the people who once called this place home. The winter ambiance adds a serene quality to the landscape, creating a perfect setting for reflection and exploration.

Red canyon with snow covered peak in the background.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in winter

Picnic Amidst the Rocks: Lunch with a View

Find a picturesque spot along the trail to pause and savor a packed lunch. Whether perched on a sunlit rock or nestled in a quiet alcove, enjoy a moment of tranquility surrounded by the natural wonders of Sand Canyon. (Remember, never go into and touch the dwellings. Admire these windows into the past, but do not disturb them!)

Take a moment to absorb the stillness and grandeur of your surroundings. Winter in Sand Canyon offers a unique perspective, allowing you to appreciate the stark beauty of the landscape and the enduring spirit of the ancient cultures that once thrived here.

a wine glass in front of fire

Post-Hike: Visit the Vineyard

After hiking through Canyons of the Ancient National Monument, drive (or walk) just a half-mile up the road to reach one of Colorado's premier wineries: Sutcliffe Vineyards. This is one of my favorite post-hike actitives, walking along the rows of merlot & chardonay and sipping the wine produced by those same vines! Sutcliffe has beautiful views and cozy fireplaces (and blankets) to wrap up in while you take it all in.

Evening in Cortez: Reflecting on Ancient Trails

Back in Cortez, unwind from your day of exploration. Whether you choose to indulge in a local restaurant's winter menu or opt for a cozy night in, let the memories of your hike through Sand Canyon linger as you reflect on the trails of time you've tread.

Thank you for joining us on this winter adventure through Colorado. We hope this itinerary has left you with some things to do in Colorado in the winter that aren't about skiing or snowboarding!

Safe travels and until your next journey!


4 day itinerary of southwest Colorado in the winter, without the snow!

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