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On Sept. 21, 2012, President Barack Obama designated the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area as  America’s 103rd national monument—the seventh to be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Covering 4,726 acres of the San Juan National Forest between Pagosa Springs and Durango, Colo., the Chimney Rock National Monument is a significant archaeological, cultural, geological and biological site.

Home to Ancient Pueblo Indians

Surrounded by the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, the site holds great significance for the Native American tribes of southwestern Colorado and neighboring states. The site was once home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians, who built more than 200 homes and ceremonial buildings high above the valley floor more than 1,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe that the site marks a connection to the Chacoan society who inhabited Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico.

The area has 118 known archaeological sites, including the dramatic Great House Pueblo which likely was used as an observatory for the annual summer solstice. Other features include the Great Kiva, which was likely used for religious ceremonies and community activities; storage rooms; and residential pit houses.

Contrasting Geology

The dramatic geology of the monument stands in stark contrast to the majestic Ponderosa Pine forest and rolling savannah-like plains along the valley floor.  The Piedra River cuts along the edge of Peterson Mesa in the northern portion of the monument. Steep cliffs and expanses of exposed sandstone and shale are evidence of the geologic era. 

  • Located  one-half mile from the entrance off Highway 151, the Visitor Center Cabin is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from May 15 to Sept. 30. Volunteers and staff provide site and tour information.
  • The Visitor Center Cabin has a pit-house model and artifact display and offers a selection of books, gifts, and souvenirs, as well as necessities such as bottled water, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
  • Picnic tables, restrooms, but no running water, are available near the Visitor Center Cabin.
  • Chimney Rock Interpretive Association offers daily guided walking tours May 15 – Sept. 30. Tours start at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and typically last about 2 1/2 hours. Bring water, hat, sunscreen, bug repellant, and good walking shoes for the rough Great House trail. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more.
  • Pets are not allowed on tours. A shaded kennel is available on a first come, first served basis.
  • A handicapped accessible, self-guided tour features the Great Kiva and a reconstructed pit house. Numbered sign posts along the path correspond to a printed brochure that describes each numbered stop along the way. The self-guided tour is only available from 10:45 am to 2:45 p.m., when Volunteer Monitors are on site. Please call the site at 970-883-5359 and inquire about self-guided tours for the day you plan to visit Chimney Rock.
  • Fees for guided and self-guided tours are collected at the Visitor Center Cabin: $10 for adults  (17 and older); $5 for children ages 5-16; free for children under 5.
  • Chimney Rock Interpretive Association also offers pottery workshops, night sky programs and Native American cultural gatherings. 
  • More than 100 significant Pueblo Indian archaeological sites.
  • Migratory mule deer and elk during the fall and spring.

The San Juan National Forest encompasses about 1.8 million acres in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Terrain ranges from high-desert mesas to alpine peaks, with thousands of miles of back roads and hundreds of miles of trails to explore.