For this Four Corners road trip, we’ll assume you’re standing at the Four Corners National Monument. It’s Winter, and you have two days to go exploring. You’ll start by heading east on US 160 towards Durango.
Durango is the perfect first destination on a Four Corners road trip. No matter if you prefer to be active or relaxed on your vacation, Durango has activities for every preference.
Want to be active? How about rock climbing? Yup, even in the winter. The region has over 1,000 established climbing routes to choose from, ranging from beginner to expert skill levels, and even indoor rock climbing if it’skm7y6 a bit too chilly outside.
For those who just like exploring new places, downtown Durango has historic buildings, several free museums, and a steam train that takes you into the beautiful San Juan Mountains.
Want to totally relax? Two words: hot springs. There are a few to choose from within a short drive of downtown Durango and are perfect for those who don’t feel their vacation is complete unless their bodies feel rubbery
Bonus Side Trip: Million Dollar Highway
If you want a little more driving on your road trip, consider taking US 550 north from Silverton to Ouray, also known as the Million Dollar Highway. It’s an engineering marvel with breathtaking vistas, plus you can visit hot springs along the way. It’s about 140 miles round trip.
Overnight accommodations in Durango are plentiful, ranging from quaint bed-and-breakfasts to historic hotels, covering just about every budget and taste.
Mesa Verde National Park
When you wake up from your no-doubt restful, near-comatose, post-hot-springs sleep, you’ll head back west on US 160 towards Mesa Verde National Park.
No Four Corners road trip is complete without a trip to Mesa Verde.
Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 and spans 52,000 acres, protecting over 5,000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings considered among the best-preserved in North America. It was the home of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived there from about 600 AD to 1300 AD. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
It’s kind of a big deal.
Mesa Verde has various self-guided tour options to explore the park (guided tours are available in the warmer months), depending on how much time you’d like to spend, and what weather conditions are present. They even offer a handy guide to winter activities.
The park itself is between 6,000 and 8,500 feet above sea level, and during the winter months, some sections may be closed due to the weather.
If you want a quick hike, you can take the hiking trails to Park Point, the highest point in the park, or the Far View sites, which is about 3/4 of a mile to the mesa top.
If it’s a bit chilly or snowy, don’t worry. A little snow won’t ruin your time at Mesa Verde.
Cliff Palace Loop Road
You can take two 6-mile driving loops that both offer views of the spectacular cliff dwellings. The Cliff Palace Loop Road provides a view of the 150-room Cliff Palace and Balcony House cliff dwellings.
Mesa Top Loop Road
The Mesa Top Loop Road includes an audio tour by a Ranger and member of the Laguna Pueblo to provide insights into the rich history of the ancient ruins, the Ancestral Puebloan people, and the region’s natural features.
Yeah, we know. You want more time to explore. But we’re not done yet!
Our last stop on this quick Four Corners road trip is Shiprock (or Ship Rock, or Shiprock Peak), a rock formation located about 10 miles southwest of the town of Shiprock in northwestern New Mexico.
Head south from Mesa Verde National Park on US 160/491 and keep going straight on 491 when 160 veers off to the west. Look for Indian Service Road 13 on your right. The whole trip will only take about an hour.
Shiprock (the formation) is governed by the Navajo Nation in San Juan County and juts up from the New Mexico desert floor like a gothic cathedral. However, it gets its anglicized name from its resemblance to a 19th-century clipper ship. The Navajo call it Tsé Bitʼaʼí, which translates to “rock with wings” or “winged rock.”
This one is just for staring. After two days of trains, mountains, cliff dwellings, archaeological sites, Navajo culture, the Colorado Plateau, and hot springs, maybe just sitting and watching the sun set behind the glorious natural beauty of a rock outcropping will be a peaceful way to conclude your day. (Climbing was banned in 1970 after several injuries, plus it’s considered a sacred site, so don’t even think about it.)
From Shiprock, you can head west, back towards the Four Corners monument. Or head north to Shiprock (the town) or Farmington, New Mexico, for the evening dining and overnight accommodations. However, if you head back to the Monument and were to look at your journey on a map, it would be in the shape of a lasso. It seems appropriate for a trip through the Southwestern United States.
Are you planning your next Four Corners road trip yet?