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Spotlight: Chimney Rock National Monument

Spotlight: Chimney Rock National Monument

Here you can imagine the landscape as it was a thousand years ago, with cultivated fields and settlements extending from the valley floors to the mesa tops.

Chimney Rock Some of the historical sites and beautiful vistas that can be found at Chimney Rock. (Mark Roper)

What You’ll Find

A thousand years ago, the vast Chaco civilization was drawn to Chimney Rock’s soaring massive pinnacles, rising hundreds of feet above the valley floor. High atop these ancient sandstone formations, Ancestral Pueblo People built hundreds of stone buildings, including the highest elevation ceremonial “great house” in the Southwest.

The pinnacles that give Chimney Rock its name align with multiple archaeoastronomical features. The Ancestral Puebloans incorporated their knowledge of astronomy into the design of their community. Today, Chimney Rock is one of the best-recognized archaeoastronomical resources in North America, with alignments with the northern lunar standstill, summer solstice, equinoxes and Crab Nebula.

This landscape, featuring both Chimney Rock and Companion Rock, holds deep spiritual significance for modern Pueblo and tribal communities and was one of the largest communities of the Pueblo II era (900-1150 A.D.). Today, descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo People return to this important place of cultural continuity to visit their ancestors, and for spiritual and traditional ceremonies.

Enjoy a “visual celebration” of Chimney Rock

Getting There

Chimney Rock National Monument covers 4,726 acres between Pagosa Springs and Durango in southwestern Colorado. It can be found 3 miles south of Highway 160 on Highway 151. Tours begin for the season on May 15 and are offered through September 30 and are available for advance reservation on Recreation.gov.

Make Sure You

Take advantage of Chimney Rock Interpretive Association’s (CRIA) programs! The association conducts daily guided walking tours and operates a Visitor Center from May 15 to September 30. The association also hosts special events including pottery workshops, night sky archaeoastronomy programs and more. Visitors can also take advantage of self-guided tours that highlight the richness of Chimney Rock's geology and cultural significance.

The Native American Cultural Gathering, held over one weekend in late July or early August, is sponsored by Southwest Native Cultures and includes traditional singers, storytellers and dancers from various Pueblos and tribes. The public is welcome to attend, during which normal tours are suspended. Check CRIA’s Special Events calendar.

Stay Here

The first-come, first-serve Ute and Lower Piedra Campgrounds are near Chimney Rock. If you are looking to reserve a campsite in the area, try one of the following campgrounds:

Blanco River Group Campground
East Fork Campground
West Fork Campground
Graham Creek, North Canyon, and Pine Point Campgrounds are about 30 minutes away at Vallecito Reservoir

Check our complete list of reservable campgrounds in the San Juan National Forest.

Try This

The “Four Corners” area of the nation’s southwest is rich in Ancestral Puebloan cultural sites. Why not expand your exploration to include Aztec Ruins National Monument, Chaco Culture National Historic Park, Mesa Verde National Park, the Anasazi Heritage Center and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument or Salmon Ruins. Check the Chaco Cultural National Historic Park website for more information on Chacoan outliers.

Don’t Forget

Artifacts, fossils, and historic remains are fragile and irreplaceable, and contain invaluable information about our shared national heritage. The Chimney Rock archaeological area is rich in these resources and holds a unique place in the Ancestral Puebloan world. Please respect this special place and do not remove any item or disturb the landscape.

Get Started!

The Forest Service manages Chimney Rock National Monument in partnership with the nonprofit Chimney Rock Interpretive Association which sponsors the tours, special programs and a small visitor center from May to September. CRIA received the Forest Service 2012 Volunteer Group of the Year award in recognition of their interpretive and stewardship services. Visit CRIA for more information about the services they provide.