Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado is an archaeological site that preserves the remains of an ancient Ancestral Puebloan settlement. In the summer months, you can drive to the top of the mesa. In the winter months, you can hike the road up to the archaeological site and have it all to yourself. We’ve visited Chimney Rock both ways and provide details below.

There is also a state park in North Carolina called Chimney Rock, but this National Monument in Colorado is a completely different place.

We took all of the photos below during the off-season when we were the only ones there.

Chimney Rock archaeological site
Chimney Rock archaeological site

Background on Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock is located in southwestern Colorado, about 15 minutes west of Pagosa Springs on the way to Durango. The archaeological site is up on a mesa at an elevation of about 7,500 feet.

The site contains over 200 ancient homes and ceremonial buildings, including a Great Kiva, Pit House, Multi-Family Dwelling, and a large Chacoan-style Great House Pueblo.

Chimney Rock view
Chimney Rock standing out in the landscape

The Ancestral Puebloans occupied Chimney Rock between around 1,000-1,125 AD, during the Pueblo II period. They were influenced by the Chacoan culture and likely used the site as a celestial observatory and seasonal calendar.

Chimney Rock is considered a sacred place with spiritual significance to over two dozen modern Native American tribes.

Things to See

Great House Trail

With an elevation gain of 200 feet, the Great House Trail is a moderately challenging, unpaved trail that is 2/3 of a mile round trip. This is the path to the top of the mesa where the main archaeological site is.

Foot travel only sign
Only foot-traffic is allowed on the Great House Trail

Pets are not allowed past this point near the upper parking lot. It is for hikers only.

There is a sign with details about the 1/3 mile hike, including warnings for those who may not be physically able to handle the terrain.

The Great House Trail sign
An informational sign about the Great House Trail

The path includes segments along steep drop-offs without handrails, so be sure you are ok with heights before you go.

Start of the great house trail
Start of the Great House Trail

The first part of the trail is fairly rocky up some steps made with rocks.

rocky steps on the great house trail
Rocky steps along the Great House Trail
Rocky steps at chimney rock national monument
Rocky steps

It levels out in areas, which are just a moderate uphill climb.

Great House trail flat area
Great House Trail

But then it becomes rocky again.

We’ve done this hike with people of all levels of physical abilities, and it’s not too strenuous. However, the elevation might get to some people as it’s over 7,000 feet high.

Rocky section of great house trail at Chimney Rock archaeological site
Rocky section of Great House Trail to top

Once you near the top of the mesa, you will start to see some amazing views of the surrounding area.

views from chimney rock of SW Colorado
Views from the hike to the top
SW colorado view from Chimney Rock archaeological site
Southwestern Colorado landscape
views from top of mesa
Views from Chimney Rock

Great House Pueblo

Once you get to the top, you will see the archaeological site.

stone wall structure at Chimney Rock archaeological site
Chimney Rock archaeological site

One thing I think is really interesting is how the visitor center is designed to mimic the style of the structures on top of the mesa. Compare the rock walls below to the visitor center construction details.

stone walls
Stone walls
round kiva at Chimney Rock archaeological site
Structure at Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock archaeological site
Stone walls
Chimney Rock archaeological site structure
Ancestral Puebloan structure
Chimney Rock archaeological site walls
Rooms at Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock

You can’t actually hike all the way to the rock formations, but you will have some pretty good views from this vantage point.

When we’ve hiked this in the off-season, the mountains covered with snow in the background are a nice contrast. There will likely still be snow in May and June, but in the later summer months, it will have mostly melted.

view of chimney rock from top of mesa
Chimney Rock view from the top of the mesa

View From the Top of the Mesa

There are some fabulous views of the surrounding southwestern Colorado area from the top.

We took the video below from the top in the off season when we had it all to ourselves.

YouTube video

Mesa Village Trail

For anyone who doesn’t want to to the Great House Trail to the top of the mesa, there is also an easier paved trail with some interesting sites along the way.

The Mesa Village trail features a fairly level, paved loop that covers about 1/3 of a mile. Along this trail, you can see a reconstructed pit house and a Great Kiva, which have been excavated and restored.

mesa village trail route
Mesa Village Trail route

This trail is a good option for anyone who may not want to hike the more difficult Great House Trail.

You start the trail from the upper parking lot area.

Start of the Mesa Village Trail

Visitor Center

The Chimney Rock Visitor Center was recently constructed.

chimney rock national monument stone sign
Chimney Rock National Monument stone sign

We find that its unique design blends in well with the local terrain. In fact, the stone design is very similar to what you will see when you go to the top and see how the kivas were built.

Chimney Rock Visitor Center
Chimney Rock Visitor Center
Chimney Rock visitor center with chimney rock in distance
Chimney Rock Visitor Center with rock formations in background

You’ll have a good view of the rock formations from the visitor center area.

chimney rock in distance
View up to Chimney Rock from the Visitor Center

There are some informational displays outside the Visitor Center, including in a shaded area. (It can get really hot here, so you’ll probably appreciate the shade!)

shaded area at chimney rock visitor center with chimney rock in the distance
Shaded area at Visitor Center

You can read about the archaeological site when the Visitor Center is closed for the off-season.

Chimney Rock information signs
Information about Chimney Rock
A Chacoan Outlier sign
Visitor Center displays
Look to the sky sign
Details about constellations

Visiting Chimney Rock

Dates Open

Chimney Rock National Monument entrance sign
Chimney Rock National Monument entrance sign

There are two options for visiting Chimney Rock, depending on the time of year.

Chimney Rock closed sign
  • Between May 15th and October 15th each year: Chimney Rock is open for visitors in vehicles. You can drive to the top to the archaeological site in your own vehicle.
  • Between October 16th and May 14th each year: Chimney Rock is closed to vehicles. However, you can park outside the gate and hike to the top on the gravel road. This is what we do frequently, as it’s quiet and you can have it almost all to yourselves.

The National Monument closes during October and May due to elk migrations in the area.

Chimney Rock archaeological site rules
Sign outlining the rules for visiting Chimney Rock

Layout of the National Monument

When you enter the Chimney Rock National Monument area, you will first go past the visitor center.

welcome to chimney rock national monument sign
Chimney Rock map

Then you will either drive (when it’s open) or hike to the top of the site where the archaeological site is located. It’s about a 2 1/2 mile drive or hike to the top.


sign about tours at Chimney Rock archaeological site
Sign about Chimney Rock tours

You are able to choose to give yourself a self-guided tour of Chimney Rock, or go on a guided tour.

To reserve a guided tour, see the schedule here.

Day Use Pass

During the off-season, you can hike to the top without a pass. However, during the summer months, you will need a pass which you can purchase at the visitor center.

recreation fee required sign
Recreation Fee Required sign

National Park passes are also valid for entry. (If you have a 4th grader, you can get a free National Park pass for one year.)

Lower Parking Area

There is a large gravel parking area with a turnaround for vehicles near the visitor center.

gravel parking area
Lower parking area
gravel turnaround area
Turnaround area near Visitor Center

From there, you can drive to the mesa to see the kivas at the archeological site.

upper mesa/kivas sign
Sign to Upper Mesa

If you are visiting in a larger vehicle, you will need to park at the lower level and take a shuttle to the top of the mesa. Regular passenger cars can drive to the top.

Parking on Top of the Mesa

The top of the mesa has parking available for regular cars. When we’ve visited in the busy summer months, it can get full, so it’s a good idea to check with the visitor center about its status.

Chimney Rock upper parking area
handicapped parking spaces in upper parking area
Upper parking area is a one-way parking lot

There are also bathrooms available at the top, but they were locked in the off-season when we visited.

bathrooms at upper parking area
Bathrooms at upper parking area

There are some nice views as well as information signs to tell you more about what you’re seeing.

info signs at Chimney Rock archaeological site
Sign about the Upper Mesa Village
wayfaring signs at Chimney Rock archaeological site
Wayfaring signs


Pets are not allowed at the top on the archaeological site. However, in the off-season, you can hike with your dog on the road, but you still can’t bring your dog onto the top archaeological site on the mesa.

We’ve hiked on the road with our dogs in the off-season and have never had any issues.

dog on gravel road
Dog walking along road to Chimney Rock in the off-season

In the summer months, there is a dog kennel available in the shade so that you do not need to leave your dog in your car in the hot sun.

Daily Closing Time

Between May and October when the road is open, you need to be sure to be out of the monument area by 4:30. The gates are closed at 4:30 every day.

entrance gate locked at 4:30 PM daily sign
Chimney Rock closes at 4:30 daily

Hiking the Road in the Off-Season

Chimney Rock National Monument is closed to vehicles from May 15th to October 16th each year. However, you can park outside the gates and hike up to to the top.

We love having this option, as it’s a good place to hike when all of the trails in the area are still closed or muddy from snowmelt. We’ve done this hike several times in the off-season.

road closed sign
Chimney Rock closed sign with details

Parking in the Off-Season

There is a parking area immediately outside of the gate to the main road for Chimney Rock (Forest Road 617).

FR 617 sign
Forest Road 617

There is a turnaround area for larger vehicles, including trailers.

turnaround sign
Turnaround area at entrance to Chimney Rock

From here, you will hike the gravel road to the visitor center area.

Gravel Road to the Top

It is a 2 1/2 mile hike (or drive in the open season) to the top of the mesa with a slow, but steady elevation gain on a gravel road. We’ve never found it to be challenging, but for those not used to the elevation, it may be a bit difficult.

gravel road to Chimney Rock archaeological site
Gravel road to top of Chimney Rock

It’s a good option for hiking when trails are still closed in the spring due to snowmelt.

Road with Chimney Rock in the distance

Chimney Rock will start coming into view the further on the road you go.

Views of Chimney Rock are getting closer
view of chimney rock from road
Another vantage of Chimney Rock along the road


Camping is not allowed anywhere within the Chimney Rock National Monument area.

This includes camping in your car or RV at the entrance gate.

no parking over night sign
No overnight parking sign

Final Thoughts on Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock National Monument is a fascinating and beautiful place.

It’s a nice hike to the top if you go in the off-season. If you are sore after hiking uphill for several miles, check out the natural Piedra River hot springs that are free and close by. But you will have to hike a short distance to get to them!

The monument holds numerous special events throughout the year. These include full moon programs, night sky programs, birding programs, geology tours, and walking tours. Check out their website for more details.