Visit the sites and centers of Native American tribes in Colorado

Explore the history of Colorado Native American tribes throughout the state.
June 7, 2022
A view from the top of Chimney Rock National Monument, a great site in the San Juan Mountains to experience the history of Native American tribes in Colorado. Photo by Hoard Rowe/Chimney Rock National Monument.
A view from the top of Chimney Rock National Monument, a great site in the San Juan Mountains to experience the history of Native American tribes in Colorado. Photo by Hoard Rowe/Chimney Rock National Monument.

The history of Native American tribes in Colorado is visible today along the state’s cliffs, mountains and valleys, from Ancestral Puebloan dwellings in southwest Colorado to memorial sites marking unimaginable atrocities on the Plains.

Explore these sites and museums to learn more about American Indian culture in Colorado.

Ute Indian Museum

The Ute Indian Museum, off U.S. Highway 550 in Montrose, Colorado, celebrates American Indians who now live in Colorado and those who inhabited the state before it was ever a U.S. territory.

The museum is located on the original homestead of Chief Ouray, leader of the Ute people, and his wife, Chipeta. There is a memorial to Chief Ouray, Chipeta’s Crypt and walking paths, teepees, and also a memorial to the Spanish conquistadors who traveled through the area in 1776.

The Ute Indian Museum located at 17253 Chipeta Rd, Montrose Colo. Photo: City of Montrose.
The Ute Indian Museum, is located at 17253 Chipeta Road, Montrose Colorado. Photo: City of Montrose.

Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum

This cultural center and museum in Ignacio, Colorado, provides visitors with a cultural experience through self-guided exhibits and galleries. Visitors may also choose a guided tour by staff that takes them behind the scenes to staff-only access areas where they can view artifacts not currently on display.

Learn about the story of the Ute people, from prehistory to modern times, through interactive electronics and life-size replicas. There is also a buffalo hide tipi, cabin and school room at the center.

Chimney Rock National Monument

At the southern edge of the San Juan Mountains, the monument covers 7-square miles. It preserves 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings of Ancestral Puebloans. The homes and buildings have spiritual significance to many tribes. Some of the ancient structures have been excavated and stabilized, giving visitors a glimpse into the daily life of native ancestors.

With a permit from recreation.org, you can tour or get day-use access to monument from May through September.

A view from the top of Chimney Rock National Monument, a great site in the San Juan Mountains to experience the history of Native American tribes in Colorado. Photo by Hoard Rowe/Chimney Rock National Monument.
A view from the top of Chimney Rock National Monument, a great site in the San Juan Mountains to experience the history of Native American tribes in Colorado. Photo by Hoard Rowe/Chimney Rock National Monument.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park is a great place to spend a whole day exploring the history of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built their community on the cliffs more than 700 years ago.

The park encompasses 52,000 acres, which you can explore by foot, either self-guided or with a scheduled tour group, or by driving through the park. Check for road closures in the park because there is ongoing construction.

You can learn more about the rich history of the park with audio tours or podcasts offered by the National Park Service website. If you like, you can listen as you hike to different outlooks or traverse along several trail systems.

If you want to see the dwellings up close, book a guided tour with a ranger between May 1 and Oct. 22, 2022. Tickets can be obtained up to 14 days in advance and must be purchased on recreation.gov or by calling 877.444.6777. The Step House, on Wetherill Mesa, may be toured without a ticket.

Canyons of the Ancients

About 12 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park is Canyons of the Ancients. This 176,000-acre area encompasses several historic sites, dispersed camping opportunities and trails for different uses.

Your first stop when visiting the area, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, is the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum. The center offers helpful information, including a map of the area.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

Located in southwestern Colorado near Mesa Verde and Canyons of the Ancients, the center strives to empower present and future generations by making the past accessible and relevant through archaeological research, education and American Indian knowledge.

This experience is different than traditional museum or site visits. The center offers educational opportunities through various online and in-person programs, such as multi-day cultural explorations and experiential education programs for school groups, college students, teachers and lifelong learners. Make prior reservations before visiting the campus.

Plains Conservation Center

Learn more about life on the Plains in the late 1800s at the Plains Conservation Center, a 1,100-acre preserve in Aurora, Colorado.

The Plains Conservation Center offers maps of the area and provides a site history. Visit the Denver Botanic Gardens events site to register for different education programs held at the center throughout the year.

The reserve has a replica of a homestead village and a tipi camp. Visitors can hike the trails to these areas and may even see bald eagles, pronghorns, or coyotes.

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site on Colorado's eastern plains. Photo: National Parks Service.
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site on Colorado’s eastern plains. Photo: National Parks Service.

This site looks like a shallow grassy valley in Colorado’s eastern plains but is the location of disturbing events that changed the course of history.

Early on the morning of Nov. 29, 1864, about 675 U.S. volunteer soldiers under the command of Col. John M. Chivington attacked a village of about 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans along Sand Creek. They drove the people out of their camp, massacring women, children and elders as they fled. After eight hours of fighting, the troops killed about 230 villagers.

At the visitor center, you can learn more about the massacre and show respect for the lives lost. Rangers provide orientation and historic talks between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Contact park staff from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday through Monday, at 719.729.3003 for details.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.

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