Butler Wash Ruins Utah

Blast From The Past: Trail Of The Ancients Scenic Drive In Utah And Colorado

Trail of the Ancients is a scenic drive taking you to various sites featuring ancient Anasazi ruins and culture in Southeast Utah and Southwest Colorado.  From Mesa Verde to Monument Valley and Ruins to petroglyphs, this Colorado and Utah road trip will help you see it all.

The map I’ve included doesn’t show a route, but it shows all the stops on one map.  Google Maps wasn’t letting me make a trip with all of the stops in it and it wasn’t showing the route I did have, so I decided to show each stop and where it is and you can make a route depending on where else you’ll be.  It’s also got the other cool stops listed at the bottom of this post.  The official stops are in green and the others are yellow.

Major towns along the Trail of the Ancients Drive

  • Cortez, Colorado
  • Blanding, Utah
  • Bluff, Utah
  • Mexican Hat, Utah

Important things to know about the Trail of the Ancients Drive

  • You will not need a permit for any of these things unless otherwise noted.
  • Any vehicle will be fine for the Trail of the Ancients.  The only part that might be difficult without 4 wheel drive is the road out to Muley Point.
  • Give yourself more time than you think you need for drives between each place.  It’s so scenic out here, you’re going to want to stop.  A lot.
  • That said, it’s very remote out here and you most likely won’t have phone service between (or at some) destinations.  Make sure you’re prepared for desert travel.
  • If you’re renting a car, make sure you’re Ok to take it on dirt roads.  That will probably vary by company and car.
  • Spring or fall might be better for this drive because it’s not as hot or as busy, but summer is still going to be great, just be prepared for the heat.
  • All elevation listed is approximate and will vary throughout the park or area and is measured as feet above sea level.
  • Make sure you have plenty of water and some snacks in the car, just in case.  Mostly extra water.
  • Cell phone service will be spotty at best outside of any of the towns, so plan for that.  Verizon has the best service out here, then AT&T.

Geocaching along Trail of the Ancients

This is going to be a great area for Geocaching.  There aren’t tons along every road constantly, but there are some really awesome ones in this area that will take you to some pretty cool things.  I know one is near a petroglyph site in Blanding.  There’s a really cool RV one on the way to Monument Valley.  This would be a great place to try it for the first time if you haven’t before.  I’ll make note of any areas where I know you can find some.

Geocache near monument ValleyGeocache near monument Valley

Monument Valley

Where

Elevation

4882 feet

How much

$20 per vehicle

Hours

Scenic drive hours

May 1 – September 30, 6 – 8:30
October 1 – April 30, 8 – 4:30

Visitor Center Hours

May 1 – September 30, 6 – 8
October 1 – April 30, 8 – 5

Cell phone service

Some, but it’s spotty

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

Yes, but they must be on a leash and cleaned up after.  They are not allowed in buildings.

Accessible

On the drive, yes.  On the hike, no.  Tours may depend on the company so check that ahead of time.

What to do

Do the scniec drive, for sure, and if you have time, do the Wildcat trail.  It’s the only hiking trail in the park taking you around one of the Mitten Buttes.  If you want to see more of Monument Valley, definitely do a tour. You can do overnight tours on Hunts Mesa, scenic flights, regular tours of the main area, Mystery valley Tours, and special photography tours.  There is something for everyone.

Monument valley without a guideMonument Valley Arizona

Goosenecks State Park

Where

Elevation

4500 feet

How much

$5 per car

Hours

All the time

Cell phone service

Some, but most likely spotty

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

Yes, but on a leash

Accessible

Kind of.  There is a paved road to the viewpoint, but from the parking area to the actual view, it is gravel on rock, so wheelchairs may need assistance.

What to do

Admire the views, work on photography, and go stargazing if you’re camping in the area.  There are no hiking or biking trails in the park, but it’s the perfect stop if you’re visiting Monument Valley or Valley of the Gods area.

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Valley of the Gods

Where

Elevation

4108 (ish) feet

How much

Free

Hours

All the time

Cell phone service

Possibly, but spotty or none at all

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

Yes, but on a leash

Accessible

In a vehicle, yes, but it is a dirt road and will be sandy outside the road

What to do

Drive the scenic road through a mini Monument Valley before (or after) visiting the full-size Monument Valley down the road.  There aren’t any hiking trails alog the road, but if you’re confident enough, you can just hike out wherever.  Just keep an eye out for cryptobiotic soil (the brown crusty stuff) and don’t step on it.  There are some Geocaches along the Valley of the Gods road.

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Cedar Mesa/Comb Ridge

Where

This is basically the whole area between UT 261 and Blanding/Bluff.  It includes Comb Ridge and the Grand Gulch Primitive Area.

Elevation

6300 (ish) feet

How much

Free, but some hikes may require a permit and fee, it will depend on the hike

Hours

All the time

Cell phone service

Probably not

Kid-friendly

Depends on the trail

Dog-friendly

Depends on the trail

Accessible

No

What to do

What not to do!?  There are so many different ruin sites in this area, you could stay busy for weeks.  Months, even.  Lime Canyon, Moon House Ruin, Kane Gulch, Road Canyon, are just a few of the notable hikes.  You can find tons of awesome ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs out here.  You may even come across artifacts if you’re lucky, but leave them in place and just take pictures.

Grand Gulch Utah

Moon House Ruin

Muley Point Overlook/Moki Dugway

Where

Elevation

6343 feet

How much

Free

Hours

All the time

Cell phone service

Some, but it’s spotty

Kid-friendly

Yes, just keep an eye on them at cliff edges

Dog-friendly

Yes, but on a leash

Accessible

Not really.  The overlook is sandstone and the pullouts on the Dugway aren’t paved.

What to do

Admire some of the best views of Southern Utah from Muley Point and the Moki Dugway.  You can see the San Juan River and Monument Valley from the overlook and Monument Valley and Mexican Hat from the Dugway.  I know there are a few Geocaches at both areas.

The road to Muley Point might not be suitable for regular passenger cars.  We had to go through some deepish sand when we went.  The Dugway is fine though, I know semi trucks take it.

v2_IMG_3413Moki Dugway scenic drive

Butler Wash and the Mule Canyon Ruins

Where

The Mule Canyon Ruin hike starts on Texas Flat Road, not by the Mule Canyon Ruin site on Highway 95.

Elevation

5300 (ish) feet

How much

Butler Wash is free, but Mule Canyon has a $2 per person per day fee.

Hours

All the time

Cell phone service

Not really.  There might be some at Butler Wash, but it’s spotty.

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

Yes, but they must be on a leash

Accessible

No

What to do

Stop at the Butler Wash Trail to see some cliff dwellings.  On The dirt road before the Butler Wash Trailhead (coming from Blanding) you can find some very easy to access dinosaur tracks not too far in.  There is a sign for them.  I believe they’re on Butler Wash Road.  Mule Canyon is before the turnoff for Natural Bridges (coming from Blanding) on Texas Flat Road.  Less than half a mile in is the trailhead on the left side of the road.  This is where you can hike to House on Fire ruins.  If you continue down the canyon, there are eight ruins total to see.  Some may be easy to miss, so look up a lot and keep an eye out for them.  The Mule Canyon hike will be 2-10 miles round trip or 1-6 hours depending on how far you go, how fast, and how much you stop.

Butler Wash Ruins UtahHouse on fire ruins mule canyon

Natural Bridges National Monument

Where

Elevation

I cannot find it, but probably between 5000 and 6000 feet

How much

$20 per vehicle

Hours

The monument is open al day every day.  The visitor center is open daily from 9 – 5.  In winter, it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Years Day.

Cell phone service

No

Kid-friendly

Yes, just keep an eye on them on Sipapu trail and near edges

Dog-friendly

Yes, in parking areas, paved roads, paved trails to bridge overlooks, paved pullouts on the scenic road, and the picnic area.  They are not allowed on trails, anywhere off-trail, or in teh visitor center.

Accessible

Yes and no.  The visitor center, restrooms, and bridge overlook trails are, but the hiking trails down to the bridges are not.

What to do

If you’re camping here, definitely, make sure you get some time for stargazing.  This is one of the darkest skies and perfect for it.  Stop at all of the bridge overlooks and if you have time and want to get into the park more, at least hike down to one of the bridges.  I would recommend the Sipapu Trail, but that is also the most dfficult in the park.  Totally worth it, though.  You can hike to all three bridges in a 9.8 mile loop, Sipapu to Kachina in a 5.7 mile loop, or Kachina to Owachomo in a 6.5 mile loop.

Sipapu bridge natural bridges utahv2_IMG_2398

Edge of the Cedars State Park

Where

Elevation

6030 feet

How much

$5 per person, $3 for kids

Hours

I’ve gotten a mix of answers on hours of operation, so I’ve shared all of what I’ve found.  I would recommend calling ahead just in case.

Open 9 – 5 daily, 9 – 6 in the summer, and closed on holidays

November – March, Monday – Saturday 12 – 5
March, Monday – Saturday 9 – 5
April – October, Monday – Saturday 9 – 5, Sunday 12 – 4

March-November, Monday thru Saturday 9 – 5, Sunday 9 – 4

Cell phone service

Yes

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

Probably not.  I would ask at the desk about dogs on the short trail out back.

Accessible

I think so.  There is a short paved interpretive trail out back.  I believe the museum is, but let me know if I’m wrong and I’ll update this.

What to do

Do a self-guided tour through the museum before heading out back to the short interpretive trail.  You can also climb down into a kiva and see ancient dwellings.  This is a great stop if you want to see tons of artifacts.  Like, literally tons.

Edge of the cedars state park blanding utahIMG_0779

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Where

The Anasazi Heritage Center is at located at 27501 Highway 184, Dolores, Colorado and is a great place to start your visit.  You can also get there from Cortez, Colorado, just drive north on Highway 491, then west on County Road BB.

Elevation

6191 (ish) feet

How much

$3 per adult for the Anasazi Heritage Center from March – October, free the rest of the year

Hours

The Anasazi Heritage Center is open 9 -5 from March – October and 10 – 4 in the off-season.

Cell phone service

Unlikely

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

I’m not sure.  I believe so since it is BLM land, but they may need to be on a leash.  Let me know if you know otherwise and I’ll update this.

Accessible

Probably not for most of it, but in the Anasazi Heritage Center, I think so

What to do

See some of the more than 6000 ruin sites in the park.  Some may not look like much and might not be more than an indetation in the ground, but there is still plenty to see.  You won’t find cliff dwellings here, but you will see above ground pueblos, like Lowry Pueblo.  Visit the Anasazi Heritage Center to learn more about the culture and ways of life in the area when people actually lived in these dwellings.

Canyons of the ancients national monument

Canyons of the ancients national monument

Hovenweep National Monument

Where

Elevation

6191 (ish) feet

How much

Free

Hours

Trails are open sunrise to sunset.  The visitor center is open daily from 9 – 5.  In winter, it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday as well as Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Years Day.

Cell phone service

Some, but it’s spotty.

Kid-friendly

Yes, just keep an eye on them near any cliff edges

Dog-friendly

Yes, but they must be on a leash.  They are allowed on the trail and in the campground, but not the visitor center.  They must remain on the trail.

Accessible

In the visitor center, yes, and to the first overlook, but not on the trail.

What to do

There aren’t tons of things to do here, but definitely do the hike around the cliff edge to see the various ruins.  Hovenweep Castle is the most impressive of the ruins, but they’re all worth seeing.  The Square Tower Unit is the main area of the park, but there is also the Cutthroat Unit (closed at the moment for safety reasons) and the Horseshoe/Hackberry and Holly Units.

Hovenweep national monument utahHovenweep national monument utah

Four Corners National Monument

Where

Elevation

5213 feet

How much

$5 per person

Hours

October 1 to March 31, 8 – 4:45

April 1 to April 30, 8 – 5:45

May 1 to Thursday of Memorial Weekend, 8 – 6:45

Friday of Memorial Weekend to Aug 15, 8 – 7:45

Aug 16 to Sept 30, 8 -6:45

Cell phone service

Most likely not

Kid-friendly

Yes

Dog-friendly

No

Accessible

I believe so, the monument area is paved, but I can’t find anything specific.  Let me know if you’ve been and know, I’ll fix this.

What to do

Take a picture of yourself in the only place where four states meet in one spot.  You may have to wait your turn if it’s busy.  Take a litte time to enjoy some fry bread then persue the permanent stalls for some Navajo jewellrey and chat with creators about their work while you look.

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Photo by Ken Lund Flickr

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Mesa Verde National Park

Where

Elevation

7552 feet

How much

$15-$25 depending on time of year

Hours

Always open, but services may vary depending on season and you acn find out more about those specifically here.

Cell phone service

No

Kid-friendly

Yes, just keep an eye on them near ruins and cliff edges.

Dog-friendly

Not really.  They are allowed, leashed, on paved roads, parking lots, and in the campground but cannot be left unattended or tied to any object.

Accessible

Certain areas are more accible than others.  You can find all of the information on the accesibility of different sites here.

What to do

There is so much to do at Mesa Verde.  I would highly recommend doing one of the tours to Cliff Palace or Balcony House.  Make sure you drive to all the different areas like Chapin Mesa and Wetherhill Mesa.  There are plenty of hiking options in the park to fill time between tours.  Check out Spruce Tree House from afar.  The trail to it is still closed due to safety concerns.  Hike down to Step House, the only cliff dwelling you can hike to on your own at this time.  The far view sites are pretty cool to see, too.

mesa verde coloradomesa verde colorado

Other Awesome things to do in Southern Utah

If you’re in the area, you’re probably visiting other parks on your Utah road trip.  I decided to add some other places you might find interesting that aren’t part of the Trail of the Ancients Drive.  They are primarily in Southeastern Utah, as far over as Escalante.  Most are focused on ruins and Anasazi culture, but there are a few dinosaur activities, too.  These are just some of the easier to access sites, but if you have more time and the proper mode of transportation, there are so many more cool things to see in Southern Utah.  Do some digging before your trip and ask around with the locals once you’re there for other ideas.

Have you done the Trail of the Ancients Drive?  Or been to any of the stops separately?  Which ones are your favorites?  

2 thoughts on “Blast From The Past: Trail Of The Ancients Scenic Drive In Utah And Colorado

    1. Thank you! It really is and even after almost two years here, there is still so much to see!

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