Cortez, Colorado

Adventure Rating

Cortez, Colorado, is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the American Southwest, offering vanlifers a perfect blend of history, natural beauty, and outdoor adventures. As a gateway to several significant attractions, Cortez serves as an excellent base for exploring the region’s rich cultural heritage and stunning landscapes. 


Cortez is a charming small town located in the Four Corners area of southwestern Colorado. Surrounded by scenic vistas, national parks, and ancient ruins, Cortez provides a diverse range of activities for travelers. The town boasts a friendly atmosphere, making it a welcoming destination for vanlifers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.


Founded in 1886, Cortez has a rich history deeply rooted in the cultures of the Native American tribes that have inhabited the region for centuries. The area was once home to the Ancestral Puebloans, whose remarkable cliff dwellings and artifacts can still be explored today. The town itself grew as a hub for agriculture, ranching, and tourism, capitalizing on its proximity to notable archaeological sites and natural wonders.


Cortez is ideally situated near several must-visit attractions:

  • Mesa Verde National Park: Just a short drive from Cortez, this UNESCO World Heritage Site features stunning cliff dwellings and archaeological sites that offer a glimpse into the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans.
  • Canyons of the Ancients National Monument: This monument boasts thousands of archaeological sites spread across a vast and rugged landscape, perfect for those interested in exploring ancient ruins and petroglyphs.
  • Crow Canyon Archaeological Center: A research facility and educational center where visitors can learn about archaeology and the history of the region through hands-on experiences and guided tours.


Hiking opportunities abound in and around Cortez, offering trails for all skill levels:

  • Sand Canyon Trail: Located in the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, this trail features impressive rock formations and ancient ruins.
  • Petroglyph Point Trail: A moderate hike in Mesa Verde National Park that leads to a panel of historic petroglyphs.
  • McPhee Overlook Trail: A scenic trail offering panoramic views of McPhee Reservoir and the surrounding landscape.


Cortez provides a variety of camping options for vanlifers:

  • La Mesa RV Park: A well-equipped campground with amenities such as full hookups, Wi-Fi, laundry facilities, and showers.
  • Cortez/Mesa Verde KOA: Another convenient option with a range of amenities, including a swimming pool, mini-golf, and a dog park.
  • Walmart (Free): offers 1-day-only camping in their designated parking lot. 


For those seeking a more rustic experience, ample boondocking opportunities exist in the nearby San Juan National Forest and BLM lands. Areas like the dispersed camping sites around McPhee Reservoir offer beautiful, secluded spots to park your van and enjoy the natural surroundings.

Tourist Information

When visiting Cortez, be sure to stop by the Cortez Cultural Center to learn more about the local history and culture. The center features exhibits, Native American dance performances, and educational programs. For supplies and amenities, Cortez offers grocery stores, gas stations, and a variety of dining options. The town also hosts several annual events and festivals, adding to its vibrant community atmosphere.


Cortez, Colorado, is a captivating destination for vanlifers looking to explore the rich history and natural beauty of the American Southwest. With its close proximity to Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, and numerous hiking and camping opportunities, Cortez serves as an excellent base for your adventures. Pack your van, hit the road, and discover the treasures of Cortez, where history and outdoor adventure await.

It’s a privilege to have Cortez, Colorado for our enjoyment, so please practice Leave No Trace principles.

References and Links:

National Monument

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado is a hidden gem for vanlifers seeking a unique blend of ancient history, rugged landscapes, and outdoor adventure. This vast monument offers a glimpse into the past, with thousands of archaeological sites set amidst stunning canyons and mesas.

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Pagosa Springs

Nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, Pagosa Springs, Colorado, offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, rich history, and outdoor adventure for vanlifers seeking a memorable experience. From hiking and boondocking to relaxing in the famous hot springs, Pagosa Springs is an ideal destination for those looking to explore the great outdoors and unwind in nature’s splendor.

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