Hiking

rock-lined hiking trail leading to Hovenweep Castle
Hiking trails are lined with rocks to provide natural boundaries.  Stay within the rocks and behind barriers to help us protect the cultural and natural history of Hovenweep.

NPS photo

 

Hiking is the easiest and only way to see Hovenweep’s impressive ancestral Puebloan structures. All of Hovenweep’s trails are designed around the structures, although most also offer sweeping views of the surrounding area and closer looks at Hovenweep’s geology and variety of plants.

Respect and Protect

  • You must stay on the trail at all times. Stepping off the trail could damage fragile archeological and cultural sites or fragile desert ecosystems.
  • Trails are closed at night. You must be off trail by sunset and cannot be on trail before sunrise (times vary by season).
  • Do no touch or enter any structure. Not only are they significant cultural heritage sites, but they are also unstable and not fortified.

Be Prepared:

  • Learn more about safety at Hovenweep.
  • Check the weather to know what to expect.
  • Bringing a pet with you? See our restrictions and tips.
  • Read about park regulations.
 

(read more about Square Tower Group)
Location: Near visitor center and campground

Paved Path to Canyon Overlook

Distance (round-trip): 0.32 miles / 600 yards / 0.5 kilometers
Average Time: 10 – 30 minutes

The sidewalk path to the Canyon Overlook starts at the visitor center and winds to the rim of Little Ruin Canyon. The Overlook provides scenic views of Little Ruin Canyon and several of the Square Tower Group structures as well as the surrounding landscape, including Sleeping Ute Mountain. Metal placards identify native plants along the way and signs at the Overlook discuss the structures. A trail guide (free) is available in the visitor center. From the Overlook, you can continue on the unpaved Square Tower Loop Trail.


Square Tower Loop Trail

Distance (round-trip): 2 miles / 3.2 kilometers
Average Time: 1.5 – 2 hours

This trail begins at the Canyon Overlook and loops around Little Ruin Canyon. The loop trail is primitive, passing over slickrock and packed dirt, and is lined with rock. As you wind around the canyon, you pass within 5-10 feet of most of the Square Tower Group structures, allowing an uninterrupted and natural view of these architectural wonders. Part of the trail enters and exits the canyon to loop back to the Canyon Overlook, with steep elevation changes. A trail guide (free) is available in the visitor center. Tower Point section can be added to this trail. This trail can is also be broken into sections to allow for time or mobility constraints.

From the campground: A trail leads from the campground (across from the fee station) to the Square Tower Loop Trail. The trails meet on the north side of the canyon, between the canyon crossing and the Canyon Overlook. The campground connector trail adds 0.5 mile / 0.8 kilometer, round-trip.


Hovenweep Castle Hike (Out-and-Back)

Distance (round-trip): 0.82 miles / 1.32 kilometers
Average Time: 1 hour

Hiking to Hovenweep Castle along the Square Tower Loop Trail allows you to see the structures of Square Tower Group (some from a distance) within a shorter hike and without much elevation change. From the Canyon Overlook, follow the primitive Square Tower Loop Trail to the right (west) to Hovenweep Castle. Stay to the right at any trail intersections. At Hovenweep Castle, hike a little past the castle to see Hovenweep House and Square Tower. Return the same way you came, staying to the left at trail intersections. Tower Point can be added to this trail.


Adding Tower Point to Your Hike

Distance Added: 0.32 mile / 0.5 kilometer
Average Time Added: 15-20 minutes

Tower Point is a small section of trail on the north side of the canyon, between the Overlook and Hovenweep Castle. You can add this section to the Square Tower Loop Trail or the Hovenweep Castle Hike. Tower Point is named for the remains of a tower at the point where a side canyon branches off of Little Ruin Canyon. Adding this section gives you a different perspective of Little Ruin Canyon and views of structures with Sleeping Ute Mountain in the background.

(read more about Cutthroat Castle)
Location: Trailheads are down an unimproved dirt road that is 8.5 miles from the visitor center. High clearance and 4-wheel drive are strongly recommended and, in some places, required. Stop by the visitor center for directions and road conditions.

Upper Trailhead to Cutthroat Castle (Out-and-Back)

Distance (round-trip): 1.34 miles / 2.16 kilometers
Average Time: 1 hour minimum
From the upper trailhead, the trail to Cutthroat Castle winds through a hip-height slot in boulders, then opens up to regular primitive trail. The trail descends through open country, down part of a sandy wash, and along a slickrock edge, where it ends among the structures at Cutthroat Castle. Most of the trail provides sweeping views of neighboring Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. At the site, the trail winds around and through a cluster of structures (but not into them), giving you the chance to see Cutthroat Castle from many angles. Cutthroat Castle is also accessible from a Lower Trailhead.


Lower Trailhead to Cutthroat Castle (Out-and-Back)

Distance (round-trip): 0.14 mile / 0.23 kilometer
Average Time: 10 – 30 minutes
The road to reach Cutthroat Castle’s lower trailhead is very rough and requires high clearance and 4-wheel drive. Stop by the visitor center for more information. The trail to the structures is much shorter, but relatively steep and primitive. The trail connects to the main trail at Cutthroat Castle and winds among the structures (but not into them). The trail dead-ends in the cluster of structures, giving you the chance to see them from many angles. Return to your vehicle on the same path.

read more about Horseshoe and Hackberry)
Location: Horseshoe and Hackberry are conveniently on the same trail. The trailhead is down an unimproved dirt road that is 4 miles from the park visitor center. High clearance and 4-wheel drive are strongly recommended. Stop by the visitor center for directions and road conditions.

Horseshoe and Hackberry Trail (Out-and-Back)

Distance (round-trip): 1.44 miles / 2.32 kilometers
Average Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour
This trail is primitive and crosses packed dirt, sandy wash, and slickrock. Past the trail register, the trail climbs up a few steep steps to reach the mesa top. From there, the trail is relatively level and follows the rim of the canyon to the couple of structures at Horseshoe. The trail provides ample opportunity for photographs of structures with sweeping views of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in the background. Past Horseshoe House, the trail continues further to Hackberry, which is now mostly rubble. In its prime, Hackberry was the largest complex at Hovenweep National Monument. The trail dead-ends at Hackberry – retrace your steps to return to your vehicle.
Looking for a shorter hike? The trail just to Horseshoe and back is 0.64 miles (1 kilometer) round-trip.

(read more about Holly)
Location: The Holly site is located down an unimproved dirt road that is 4 miles from the park visitor center (the same road as Horseshoe and Hackberry). High clearance and 4-wheel drive are strongly recommended. Stop by the visitor center for directions and road conditions. You can also hike to Holly from Hovenweep’s campground, located ¼ mile from the visitor center.

Hiking at Holly (Out-and-Back hike from Holly parking area)

Distance (round-trip): 0.44 mile / 0.71 kilometer
Average Time: 15 – 30 minutes
From the parking area at Holly, a small trail leads around the structures and dead-ends at the Holly Petroglyph Panel. The trail is primitive and crosses slickrock and packed dirt as it winds around the head of the canyon. The trail provides views from several angles of Holly Tower in the canyon and Holly House on the canyon rim. Take a few extra moments along the trail and see if you can spot the remains of other structures in and around the canyon. At the trail’s end, look out and slightly down to see the petroglyph panel underneath an overhang. We believe the panel marks the summer solstice. A diagram in the trail register box shows where the petroglyphs are located.


Hiking to Holly (Out-and-Back hike from campground)

Distance (round-trip): 7 miles / 11 kilometers
Average Time: 4 hours, longer in the high-heat of summer
This trail leads from Hovenweep’s campground to the Holly site through Keely Canyon. From the campground, follow the primitive trail through a slot canyon* to the canyon floor. The trail then follows along a wash, winding across it occasionally. About 2.5 miles in, the trail passes the rubble remains of a structure. The trail ascends through a second slot canyon* and crosses part of the mesa top to meet the trail at Holly. Hike on the trail at Holly (0.44 mile, round-trip), then return back on the campground trail. Parts of this trail cross into Bureau of Land Management land. Follow all applicable rules and regulations.
*This trail passes into two slot canyons. Both slots are about 18 inches wide and 35 – 58 feet long.

(read more about Cajon)
Location: The parking area / trailhead for Cajon is located down a dirt road that is 9.2 miles from the park visitor center. High clearance is strongly recommended. Stop by the visitor center for directions and road conditions.

Hiking at Cajon (Out-and-Back)

Distance (round-trip): 0.2 mile / 0.32 kilometer
Average Time: 10 minutes
Cajon is the least-visited area of Hovenweep and typically quiet. The trail from the parking area is primitive but flat, mostly crossing slickrock. The trail curves around the head of the canyon and around the structures clustered there, dead-ending just past the last structure. Looking out past Cajon, the canyon opens up into a large valley below, with sweeping views of canyon country. On a clear day, you can see Sleeping Ute Mountain in Colorado, Shiprock in New Mexico, the Carrizo Mountains and Monument Valley in Arizona, and Bears Ears and the Abajo Mountains in Utah. Return to your vehicle on the same trail.

 

Last updated: March 22, 2018

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Mailing Address:

McElmo Route
Cortez, CO 81321

Phone:

(970) 562-4282 x5

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