Explore Ancient Ruins At Hovenweep National Monument

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Hovenweep National Monument is a small monument on the Colorado/Utah border, not too far from Cortez (Colorado) and Bluff (Utah,) but not particularly close to anything else other than the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. 

After passing the sign for it a few times with no real idea of how far it was from Bluff or Cortez, we decided to make a pit stop here on our way back to Bullfrog from Cortez.


Humans started living in this area over 10,000 years ago (that’s crazy!) and became the year round home of about 2,500 people int he late 1200s.  However by the 13th century, the area was abandoned most likely from a combination of factors: drought, depletion of resources, warfare, and factionalism and they began moving south.  Here is the more in depth history.

The drive from Cortez to Hovenweep is one hour, fairly uneventful, and not particularly scenic, but it’s not all that long for out west.  It’s a small monument with ancient peubloan ruins around the rim of a small canyon with a hiking trail connecting all (or most) of them.  A bonus for making the drive out here is that there is no entrance fee!


Once you get to the park you’ll see the visitor center right away.  They have limited hours, so check those before going if you really want to watch the movie or get something.  From the visitor center, continue away from the parking lot to get to the ruins.  First you’ll come up to a view point and the rim trail will leave from here.

Just at this view point you can see ruins across the canyon and some remains around you.  We started following the trail to the right from this spot.  I’m not sure if it goes to the left.  I’m sure it connects there somewhere, but it’s very obvious on the right, so we followed it.


This direction first brought us to some smaller ruins along the rim on our side.  You can see ruins across the canyon the whole walk, which is pretty flat most of the way.  Eventually we got to the Hovenweep Castle, which was the biggest, most intact, ruin that we made it to. 

We went just a little farther before turning around because it was SO HOT and we didn’t have water because we weren’t expecting to walk that far.  It was probably close to 110 degrees and we were there around 5 PM.  Don’t forget to bring water.


We went back the way we came stopping for a few more pictures along the way before heading home.  While this may not be the most exciting, most impressive, or most convenient ruin site, it’s worth a stop if the topic interests you and you’re in the area. 

Over the summer I’ve enjoyed learning more about the archaeology and history of the Four Corners area.  I’m still no expert, not even close, but I do enjoy it.  I’ll always stop for ruins and petroglyphs now.


It’s no Mesa Verde, but it’s still cool to see.  If you only have time to visit one ruin site, I’d definitely go with Mesa Verde.  It’s a lot more impressive.  The structures are way bigger and there are literally thousands of them. 

The scenery itself isn’t much better than what you see here, but that’s not what the park is about.  It’s about the history and the culture, which I think I would appreciate more after knowing more about the area.  I didn’t love it when I went, but I’d love to go back still, especially to do one of the tours into Cliff Palace.


National Park Goodies


Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:

  • Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
  • If you find artifacts, do not take them.  Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
  • If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can.  Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter.  Mesa VerdeEdge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
  • And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks!  I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to for real.

Where is Hovenweep National Monument?

Hovenweep National Monument is right on the Utah/Colorado border sort of between Cortez, Colorado and Bluff, Utah. It’s pretty out of the way of everything so chances aren’t likely you’ll accidentally pass by here. It’s about 50 minutes from Cortez, Bluff, and the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center.


How long is the hike to see ruins at Hovenweep?

The Hovenweep Ruin Trail takes you around the gully the ruins are situated above and the whole this is 1.6 miles round-trip and has just 141 feet of elevation gain. It’s an easy hike but one I would avoid on really hot days. Or at least bring plenty of water.


Is visiting Hovenweep worth it?

Yes, if you have the time. If you’re on a time crunch, I would skip it, but if you’re flexible, it’s worth the stop. You don’t need tons of time here, the most time consuming part of visiting Hovenweep is probably getting there since it’s in the middle of nowhere.


Books to read before visiting the Four Corners:


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Have you been to Hovenweep?  Do you want to go?  What are your favorite ruins?

2 thoughts on “Explore Ancient Ruins At Hovenweep National Monument

  1. Goodness, even your photos look super hot! You’ll be able to look back at them this winter and feel warm. 🙂

    I love the look of these ruins. They have survived pretty well considering how old they are!

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