House on Fire Ruin – South Fork of Mule Canyon

House on Fire Ruin – Mule Canyon- South Fork

After moving to Monticello, the first hike on Cedar Mesa that my husband and I went on was to House on Fire Ruin.  House on Fire is located in the South Fork of Mule Canyon, and is a well known and highly visited ruin in the area.  It’s only a 1.5 mile hike (3 miles round trip) to the ruin, and it’s unique in that at certain times of the day when the sun is hitting it just right, the coloring of the rock above the ruin looks like flames and smoke are coming out of the top.  It seems to be very popular with photographers… If you google it, hundreds of amazing pictures of it will come up.  I’ve heard this ruin called many things; Flaming House, Fire House, Burning House, etc., but House on Fire seems to be the most common.

My husband and I decided to do this hike because we had heard that aside from House on Fire, which is the first ruin you’ll come to, there are about seven other ruins within the next 2.5 miles up the canyon.  We figured that even if we missed the main ruin we were going to see, at least we’d see something!

Finding House on Fire turned out to be very easy- like I said, it’s the first ruin you come to, and it’s the one that most people seem to be there to see, so it’s pretty well marked.  I can’t remember if there is an actual sign telling you when to veer of the trail, but you can’t miss it.

House on Fire Ruin – Mule Canyon – South Fork

Window at House on Fire Ruin – Mule Canyon – South Fork

House on Fire Ruin – Mule Canyon – South Fork

We’ve been to House on Fire about 4-5 times now, but on our first visit we weren’t there at the right time to get very good pictures of the flaming roof phenomenon.  I think you need to be there in the late morning when the light is reflecting off the opposite wall of the canyon.  If you’re there too late the ruin will be in direct light and then your pictures end up kind of washed out.

After we finished looking around and taking pictures we headed farther up the canyon to see if we could find the other ruins we had heard about.  Between the trailhead and House on Fire we had seen several other groups of hikers, but once we got past House on Fire, I think we only saw one other group the rest of the day.

In total, I think we hiked about 4 miles up the canyon (2.5 miles or so past House on Fire) and we found seven out of the eight ruins we had heard where there.  The whole canyon was absolutely beautiful and although House on Fire is definitely the most spectacular ruin in Mule Canyon, we really enjoyed the whole hike.  Most of the other ruins we saw were pretty high up on the canyon walls.  There were a few that you could hike up to fairly easily, but there were several that were way too high- luckily we had brought our binoculars.

Ruins in Mule Canyon – South Fork

Mule Canyon – South Fork

Ruins in Mule Canyon – South Fork

One of my favorite parts of my first visit to the South Fork of Mule Canyon was when we stopped for lunch about 3 1/2 miles up the canyon.  We had climbed up to some of the ruins and the view was so nice from up there, we decided it would be a good place to stop for lunch.  For about the last mile or so, there had been two ravens cawing back and forth from opposite sides of the canyon and we were watching them while we were eating lunch.  When we started hiking again they began circling around overhead.  It was so quiet in the canyon, we could hear their wings cutting through the air and every beat of their wings.  It was such a cool experience!

House on Fire has kind of become our ‘go-to’ ruin.  Whenever we have friends come visit, this is where we take them.  It’s a short hike and there’s very little (if any) elevation gain, so it’s a great hike for everyone.

Directions:  The trailhead for House on Fire is located on Co. Rd 263 which is about halfway between  Blanding and Natural Bridges National Monument near mile marker 102 on the north side of the highway.  If you’re coming from the west it’s very easy to find- you will see a sign for ‘Mule Canyon Ruins‘- this is NOT where House on Fire is located, this is a developed site with a kiva with interpretive signing, paved parking lot, and a pit toilet.  As soon as you pass this, the turn for House on Fire will be your next left.  If you’re coming from the east, it’s the next right after mile marker 102.

Turn north onto 263 and you will immediately see a kiosk- this is where you can pay for your backcountry permit to hike to House on Fire.  Backcountry permit fees (as of 4/2012) are $2/person, or if you will be spending some time hiking in the area, you can also purchase a week permit for $5/person. (Please visit the Monticello BLM Cedar Mesa Backcountry Permits page for updated information)

After purchasing your permit, continue down the road approximately .3 miles and you will see a small turnout for parking on the right-hand side and the trailhead marker on the left.  (If you were to continue down the road a little farther, you will come to the trailhead for North Mule Canyon-much less visited, but another great hike!)

Distance from House on Fire to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

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19 Responses to House on Fire Ruin – South Fork of Mule Canyon

  1. Sandy says:

    Gosh! That’s another one on my bucket list. So much to do and so little time. Great info~!=)

    • Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sandy! Both North & South Mule Canyons are AWESOME and definitely worth a visit. As I was writing this entry I realized that I haven’t been there for at least a year- I’m thinking it’s time for another visit! :)

  2. Jared says:

    I’ve seen pics of this place before and have wanted to go find it. Looks like I’m gonna have to take the kidos out and do it.

    • Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, Jared! I think this is a great hike for kids- not too long and no elevation gain. I think it’s just the right length to keep them interested, plus there’s an awesome ruin at the end!

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  5. califdan says:

    Thank you for providing location info for House on Fire (which turns out to be somewhat difficult to come by). We were in Monument Valley in 2010 and had planned to hit Mule Canyon on our way out to go back home but it turned out that to completely overcast that day so we had to jettison that plan and went over to the South Rim instead, making our way back to the west coast. Since then House on Fire has remained on my list. We’re now planning a trip to Mesa Verde, Santa Fe, and Taos so will give it another shot this time around.

    • Your kidding! Overcast weather is the best for hiking and photography. It was thundering and raining when I was there and it was fabulous. Got the shot of a lifetime.

      • Allison says:

        Glad you got some great shots of House on Fire! I’m sure you’re a much better photographer than I am! :)

      • Dan says:

        In general, overcast works well for mid day shooting as it tames the contrast and evens out the light by softening the harsh shadows. For shooting cliff dwellings and the like, overcast is great, but second to sunrise, sunset IMHO.

        However, House on fire is a special case. I order to the get the vibrant red flame affect you have to have good sunlight reflecting off the redish rock apron in front of the structures and up onto the rock overhang. Without that sunlight, it the flames are just rocks.

        Dan

  6. heronwheels says:

    This has been on my list for quite some time, I just never seem to fit it in. I didn’t realize there were other ruins up canyon. Just out of curiosity, are dogs allowed on the hike out to these ruins (and beyond)?

  7. jane tompson says:

    Just wondering how much climbing is involved to see and photograph House on Fire. I am an amputee and don’t think I will be able to climb up and down slick rock..

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  10. Simon says:

    Thanks for the accurate description. You are so lucky to live in such a great area/region/state with such beautiful things to visit ! I was in some parks early this year, and didn’t have time to visit everything I wanted (I think I’ll need 10 years to do that) especially when you know that I come from Switzerland, so my vacation time is counted… Definitely on my list north and south canyon !

  11. timothy says:

    You should respect the dwellings and not climb inside. If everyone did that, think of how quickly they would be destroyed. Please just observe, enjoy, and leave them as you found them.

    • Allison says:

      Timothy-
      Thank you for your comment. I’m not sure if your comment was directed at me, or just to provide information to others who are reading this blog, but you are absolutely right- you should NEVER enter any of the dwellings. I actually don’t even touch the structures- just like you said, if everyone did it, they wouldn’t be around long for others to enjoy!
      Allison

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