Hiking Mesa Verde, Black Canyon & Great Sand Dunes National Parks

Learn about Southwest Colorado’s history and geology as local experts lead hikes through nature-made dunes and man-made ancient ruins in some of the state’s greatest national parks.
Rating (4.6)
Program No. 22855RJ
9 days
Starts at

At a Glance

Canyons, river gorges, giant sand dunes: these are just a few of the natural wonders that are waiting to be discovered in Southwest Colorado. From Mesa Verde to the Black Canyon and beyond, explore nature-made rock formations and man-made ancient ruins at national parks and heritage sites around the state. Spend a week hiking with park rangers and experts to study the history and geology of the parks and discover what makes them true world treasures.
Activity Level
Outdoor: Spirited
Hiking 4-6 miles daily over primitive, uneven trails. Terrain includes deep sand, loose rocks and requires agility and balance for climbing up/down ladders at historic sites. Elevations of 5,000 to 11,000 ft. and elevation changes of 900 ft. on hikes. Daily travel of 1-3 hours by van to trailheads, along scenic routes, with stops.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Hike the spectacular rim of one of Colorado’s picturesque national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
  • Gain two perspectives on ancient Native American history with hikes at Mesa Verde National Park and Hovenweep National Monument to explore magnificent ruins and Ancestral Puebloan sites.
  • Hike through Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and learn from experts how this dramatic, changing landscape resulted from 15,000 years of sand deposits.

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Featured Expert
All Experts
Profile Image
Peter McCarville
Peter McCarville is a consulting geologist, geological instructor and educator who has lived in Colorado on the western slope since 1995. He also works as an instructor and program designer for Mountains and Plains Institute (MPILLS), leading hiking and skiing excursions, while making cameo appearances as a geology expert on other programs. He has a wonderful ability to convey complex natural history in layman's terms.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image
Dan Peha
View biography
<%= Bio %>
Profile Image
Peter McCarville
View biography
<%= Bio %>
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico
by Virginia Simmons
Using government documents, archives, and local histories, Simmons has painstakingly separated the often repeated and often incorrect hearsay from more accurate accounts of the Ute Indians.
Colorado Scenic Byways, Taking the Other Road
by Jim Steinberg, Susan Tweit
This two volume set was inspired by those blue highways and a quintessentially American love: the open road. Americans had begun taking to the road such as it was long before the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1925 designated the first numbered cross-country routes. After the interstate highway program was authorized in 1955 as a way to move troops and material around quickly, Americans became obsessed with speed. And forgot the soul of the open road: the freedom to wander, the chance to stop and sniff a wildflower, ramble beside a creek, shape a snowball from a late-summer snowbank, gawk at a long-abandoned mining town, buy a fresh peach from a farm stand, or simply discover a new vista. The Scenic Byway system was born out of a desire to identify roads offering just those kinds of opportunities. It harks back to national routes designated in the 1930s such as the Great River Road tracing the course of the Mississippi and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachian Mountains. States and federal government agencies began designating scenic and Highways historic byways in the 1980s. Colorado identified its first byways in 1989; now the state has 25 official Scenic and Historic Byways, chosen for their outstanding archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and of course, scenic qualities. Ten have also been selected for the National Scenic Byways Program, begun in 1991.
Messages in Stone: Colorado's Colorful Geology
by Vince Mathews and the Colorado Geological Survey
Introduction to the rocks, structures and geologic history of Colorado. Includes discussion of landforms and geologic hazards. Lavishly illustrated with photographs of Colorado sites and maps. Appropriate for geologists and non-geologists.

Click here to provide website feedback
Website Feedback