Visiting Yucca House National Monument in Colorado

Yucca House National Monument is one of the most unique sites in the entire U.S. national park system. Despite being a declared a national monument by Woodrow Wilson in 1919, the site has had absolutely no development. There is no visitor center, no ranger, and no staff dedicated to the site.

In fact, in one of the oddest entrances to any park service site, you have to drive through someone’s front yard to get to the property.

Unlike many of the neighboring sites preserving Anasazi culture, the Yucca House National Monument in Colorado is mostly unexcavated. It remains as it was when it was rediscovered in the 19th century. Here’s what you should know about Yucca House—including what you can expect when visiting, what to do, and where to stay nearby.

Overview of Yucca House National Monument

Some of the few visible remains at Yucca House
Some of the few visible remains at Yucca House—most of the site is unexcavated.

Yucca House is one of several sites in the Four Corners area that preserves the ancient remains of Ancestral Pueblo archeology sites. The others include Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, Aztec, Chaco Canyon, and Bandelier.

Yucca House is actually one of the largest archeology sites in Colorado, although it’s largely unexcavated. It’s estimated that there are over 100 small kivas (buildings), and a single pueblo that experts estimate had over 600 rooms. Because it’s unexcavated, however, you have to use your imagination to see it.

Also, there is no signage on the site, so it’s often difficult to tell where the ruins are located once you’re exploring the national monument.

What to Do at Yucca House

Much of the landscape at Yucca House looks like this
Much of the landscape at Yucca House is shrubby and dry.

The only real thing to do at Yucca House is walk around and try to find the few ruins visible above ground—walls of some buildings are close to the entrance gate.

You may find pottery shards on the ground (I found several)—please leave them where you find them. It’s illegal to take anything from a national park site, especially archeological artifacts.

At best, you can expect to wander around the grounds for about 30 to 60 minutes. There really isn’t much to see or do beyond that. There are no formal trails on the site, nor is there any signage within the park.

The site dates back to 1150-1300 BCE, and the original site, which was donated to the U.S. government, was only 9.6 acres. From 1921 to 2002, the land surrounding the site was owned by a woman named Hallie Ismay, who was considered the unofficial Yucca House guardian. She donated an additional 24 acres of land in the 1990s in the hopes that an alternative route to visit the site could be created. An additional 160 acres were recently donated as well, but it’s awaiting congressional approval.

How to Get to Yucca House

The view from the parking area to the entrance
The view from the parking area to the entrance

Yucca House is located about 11 miles outside of Cortez, Colorado. If you put directions to Yucca House National Monument into Google Maps, you will get the correct route to the site.

Even though the directions appear to be straight forward, it can be very confusing as you drive there since you have to drive through private property.

Google Maps Route from Cortez to Yucca House
The Google Maps route from Cortez to Yucca House.

Once you turn off of Highway 8, you go onto an unpaved road. This road will have gates on it that might have signs saying “No Trespassing” or “Private Property.” The public does have access to the road, despite what the signs might say. Just stay on the road.

If the gates are closed and blocking the road, get out of your car, open the gate, drive through, and then close the gate behind you. Do this so cattle do not escape through the gate when it’s open.

One of the gates you will have to pass through to get to Yucca House
One of the gates you will have to pass through to get to Yucca House—you have the right to pass through despite what the signs say.

Eventually, you will approach a house with a machine shed.

If this all seems sort of awkward, then you are in the right place.

It’s a very awkward situation when visiting a national park site. As you drive into the driveway of the house, you will see the sign for Yucca House on the left and a very small boardwalk. Park your car near the boardwalk, and do not enter the owner’s private areas of the property.

This the property you will be entering
This is the private property you will be legally entering.

Where to Stay

The town of Cortez is located only 11 miles from Yucca House National Monument. With a population of approximately 8,700, it’s the largest town in this part of Colorado.

There are several hotels in Cortez you can book—the majority are chain hotels, which cater to motorists and people on vacation. Hotel rates in Cortez can vary widely based on the day of the week and the time of the year, but you can usually find a room at every price point.

Park Stamp Information

The Yucca House stamp is available at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center
The Yucca House stamp is available at the Mesa Verde Visitor Center.

As there is no visitor center, you cannot get a stamp for Yucca House at the site. The stamp for the site is available at the Mesa Verde National Park visitor center, which is just outside of Cortez. It will be right next to the stamp for Mesa Verde. Most visitors to Yucca House will probably also visit Mesa Verde as well, so it should be quite easy to get both stamps.

Nearby National Park Sites

There are several national parks in the Four Corners area (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona). The closest other parks to Yucca House include:

How to Visit Yucca House National Monument, Colorado
How to Visit Yucca House National Monument, Colorado