Thing to Do

Visit Roadside Ruin

a small stone structure beneath a rock alcove

The Needles District

This short, 0.3 mile (0.5 km) loop leads to a typical ancestral Puebloan-era structure. Few in the park are in as good condition as this one.

Along the way you will see native plants which people used to meet their daily needs. They will help acquaint you with the way of life of the early inhabitants of this area.

Who lived here?

Around 950 CE (Common Era), ancestral Puebloan populations around Mesa Verde and Fremont communities to the north were growing. Emigration into the Canyonlands area increased. Both groups were farmers, seeking locations that provided water, arable land, building sites, and a variety of wild plants. One of those productive locations was the nearby Salt Creek drainage.

The ancestral Puebloans practiced full-time farming, but the Fremont split their time between farming and foraging. They raised corn, beans, squash, and cotton and gathered seeds, roots, and fruits. They also hunted deer and bighorn sheep and trapped or snared small animals and birds.

Climate change and regional droughts in the late 1200s made farming difficult. By the end of the century most farmers had emigrated south to what is now New Mexico and Arizona. They joined other groups that would become the Hopi and Zuni tribes. Others stayed and adapted to the colder climate by relying on wild plant gathering. These groups would become local Ute and Paiute tribes.

What is a "Ruin"?

Some later visitor named this place “ruin,” and the name "Roadside Ruin" first appeared on a National Park Service map in 1985. But today’s tribes would not use that word. They say these areas are still living and that their ancestors in the spiritual world continue to use this place.

Entrance fees may apply, see Fees & Passes information.
Roadside Ruin Trail is located in The Needles district, just past the visitor center.


  • Avoid hiking in midday summer heat; start early in the morning.


  • You may encounter sections of snow or ice on this trail. We recommend over-the-shoe traction devices when hiking in winter.
Accessibility Information
  • Roadside Ruin Trail crosses uneven surfaces. It is not accessible for wheelchairs.
  • In winter, there may be snow or icy conditions; we recommend traction devices for hikers.
  • Service animals are allowed in national parks.  Pets are not allowed on this trail. What is a service animal?

Canyonlands National Park

a stone structure beneath a rock alcove
A short trail leads to this stone structure tucked beneath a rock alcove.

NPS/Chris Wonderly

Using a structure

Structures like this could have held corn, seeds, and nuts, or they could have been storage for ceremonial items used for religious practice. In these cases, they are often well hidden or located in almost inaccessible places.

The small, rectangular doors were covered with slabs of rock. This structure’s door is on the roof. Some structures still contain corncobs, gourd shells, and foodstuffs, but artifacts are gone. Long ago rodents ate the contents of most structures, or looters took them away. Usually all we see in structures today are thick deposits of packrat droppings.

If you find any archeological or historical objects, leave them in place. Removing, damaging, or even moving an artifact destroys a site’s scientific value for future archeologists. It also deprives other visitors of the enjoyment of seeing the objects on site.

Trail Guide

You can download a trail guide for the Roadside Ruin Trail here. They're also available at the trailhead.

Last updated: January 27, 2021