Aerial view of Durango, Colorado.

6 Serene Towns in the Colorado Plateau for a Weekend Retreat

The Colorado Plateau is a vast and varied region. Covering over 240,000 square miles of some of the most unique scenery in Southwest USA, it includes a large part of a region known as The Four Corners where the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and (of course!) Colorado all meet. Given its spectacular and diverse landscapes, the Colorado Plateau has proven to be an extremely popular destination for weekend getaways. Factor in the many attractive small towns in the region, and those adventurous enough to explore this beautiful area will never run out of great places to visit. Find out more with our list of six serene Colorado Plateau towns perfect for a memorable weekend retreat.

Durango, Colorado

The gorgeous town of Durango, Colorado
The gorgeous town of Durango, Colorado.

Its location in the Animas River Valley near the foot of the San Juan Mountains has cemented Durango’s popularity for those seeking a fun weekend break. A highlight of a trip here is taking a scenic train ride aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This historic steam train takes passengers through the canyons of the San Juan National Forest. In addition to its views of the Animas River and surrounding peaks, the train's vintage cars and nostalgic atmosphere seem to whisk riders back to the Wild West.

Durango is also a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with endless hiking, mountain biking, and river rafting opportunities. Nearby Purgatory Resort is the perfect place for a serene stay, while those wanting to blow off some steam should venture out to its ski slopes or mountain biking and hiking trails, depending on the season. Prefer to stay in historic downtown Durango? Top-rated choices include the elegant Strater Hotel and The Rochester Hotel.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Aerial view of Flagstaff, Arizona
Aerial view of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Flagstaff’s location at the junction of the I-40 and I-17 highways makes it a no-brainer for a Colorado Plateau weekend retreat. A major draw for tourists is the Walnut Canyon National Monument where visitors can walk among ancient cliff dwellings that provide a glimpse into the lives of the Sinagua people who inhabited the area over 700 years ago. The trails here also offer breathtaking views of the canyon and the well-preserved structures.

Nearby Lowell Observatory offers a different kind of exploration: astronomical. As the place where Pluto was discovered, the observatory hosts daytime and nighttime programs allowing visitors to peer through telescopes and learn about the universe, while its location on Mars Hill gives panoramic views of Flagstaff and the surrounding area. Great places to stay in Flagstaff include the Hyatt Place and Embassy Suites by Hilton, which are just two of the many options near the downtown area.

Moab, Utah

The Canyons Near Moab, Utah
The Canyons Near Moab, Utah. Editorial credit: Gerald Peplow /

Moab has long been a popular Utah destination for those seeking adventure. With easy access to some of the most stunning red rock landscapes in the American Southwest, it’s perfectly situated for those wanting to explore Arches and Canyonlands national parks. The closest Arches National Park is just a few miles from downtown Moab and is famous for its more than 2,000 natural arches and unique rock formations, including the famous Delicate Arch, which has become an unofficial symbol of Utah. The park can be explored through a network of hiking trails or scenic drives.

Canyonlands National Park offers a more rugged and remote experience and is divided into three districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Each offers different experiences and adventure levels, but all are breathtaking in terms of scenery. Downtown Moab itself is quaint but lively, with a range of shops, restaurants, and galleries that cater to the adventure-seeking crowd. Serene accommodations options here include the elegant Sunflower Hill Inn and the boutique-style Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton.

Gallup, New Mexico

Red Rocks Balloon Festival at the Red Rocks State Park near Gallup, New Mexico.
Red Rocks Balloon Festival at the Red Rocks State Park near Gallup, New Mexico.

Located on the I-40 and a great jumping-off point for those wanting to travel the iconic Route 66, Gallup is also a great place to stop over for those wishing to learn more about New Mexico’s Native American culture. One of the city's top attractions is the Gallup Cultural Center, situated in a restored train depot and featuring exhibits on local history, Native American art, and the storied past of Route 66.

Another highlight is the Red Rock State Park. Located just east of the city, it’s famous for its stunning red sandstone formations and is a hub for outdoor activities such as hiking, rock climbing, and birdwatching. Red Rock Park also serves as the venue for the annual Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial. This major event attracts thousands of visitors with its Native American dances, art show, rodeo, and traditional craft vendors. Need somewhere to bed down for the night? Popular choices include the Historic El Rancho Hotel and Hampton Inn & Suites.

Cortez, Colorado

A scene from Cortez, Colorado
A scene from Cortez, Colorado.

Located in the heart of the Four Corners region, Cortez’s proximity to Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a huge plus for weekenders. This fascinating area provides a look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived there for over 700 years in a network of around 600 cliff dwellings, with sites like Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House accessible via guided tours.

Just a short drive away is the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, home to the highest density of archaeological sites in the United States. Highlights include numerous ruins to explore, along with the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum. In Cortez itself, the Cortez Cultural Center showcases the area’s rich heritage through Native American dance performances, art exhibits, and educational programs. Popular accommodations in Cortez worth considering are the Best Western Turquoise Inn & Suites and the Retro Inn at Mesa Verde.

Bluff, Utah

Bluff Fort Historic Site near Bluff, Utah
Bluff Fort Historic Site near Bluff, Utah.

Back in Utah, the small town of Bluff is located close to the Bears Ears National Monument, an area deeply sacred to many Native American tribes and rich in ancient ruins, rock art, and cultural sites, with ample hiking trails. The Valley of the Gods is another must-visit here and rivals the more famous Monument Valley in terms of stunning geological features with camping amidst those towering sandstone formations.

Interested in archaeology? A visit to the Sand Island Petroglyphs provides easy access to ancient rock art that adorns the sandstone cliffs, offering a glimpse into the lives of the region's early inhabitants. In Bluff itself, the Bluff Fort Historic Site is a reconstructed pioneer settlement where visitors can learn about the early Mormon settlers who established the town in the 1880s. Great places to stay in Bluff include the luxurious Desert Rose Resort & Cabins and the Kokopelli Inn.

The Final Word

There’s no denying that these small towns on the Colorado Plateau offer plenty of fun things to do. From the historic scenic railway of Durango to the dramatic landscapes of Moab, each destination provides a gateway to adventure and relaxation. Together, these towns epitomize the perfect blend of nature and culture and are ideal for weekend retreats.

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