The very first hike I went on after I moved to Monticello was at Hovenweep National Monument, on the Utah/Colorado border. Up until then, I don’t think I had ever heard of Hovenweep, but when my husband and I were on our way to Cortez, CO for the first time, we saw a sign and decided to stop there on our way back to Monticello.
There are several different roads you can take to get to Hovenweep. If possible, when I visit somewhere, I always try to take different roads on the way there and back- I like to see as much as I possibly can where ever I go, so being able to drive two different roads is always a bonus! One really convenient thing about the roads leading to Hovenweep is that whichever direction you’re coming from or heading afterward, you will be able to visit without having to backtrack.
On our first visit to Hovenweep, since we were on our way back from Cortez, we drove in from the east through McElmo Canyon. That road (Road G) runs between the Navajo Reservation and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and it’s a really beautiful drive, I was surprised to see that there are even a couple wineries down there! Since our first visit we’ve been back several more times and I think we’ve driven on every possible road leading into and out of Hovenweep and we’ve enjoyed them all- you can see something different on each road- you really can’t go wrong!
The visitor center was already closed when we arrived. During business hours you would need to go inside to pay or to show your pass, but when you arrive after hours you can just pay at the box that is located just outside the visitor center. I know I went over this already in my first post, (Paul Bunyan’s Potty & Tower Ruin- Canyonlands National Park) but I saw so many people when I was working at the visitor center in Monticello who hadn’t bought the Annual Pass and wished they had, that I feel like I need to keep mentioning the benefits of the purchasing the pass!
The cost for the Annual Pass is $80 and it allows the cardholder (and passengers) unlimited entry to any national parks or monuments for one year. Entry fees vary, but if you’re vacationing in Southern Utah and are planning to visit the parks and monuments, this is what you’d pay for each individually:
- Zion N.P. $30/vehicle
- Bryce Canyon N.P. $30/vehicle
- Capitol Reef N.P. $10/vehicle
- Natural Bridges N.M. $10/vehicle
- Hovenweep N.M. Free
- Canyonlands N.P. $25/vehicle
- Arches N.P. $25/vehicle
Many visitors to our area also visit the Grand Canyon ($30/vehicle) or Mesa Verde ($10-15/vehicle depending on the time of year) so you can see that it’s definitely worth it to buy the pass! (Fees updated 10-1-15)
When we arrived not only was the visitor center closed, but there wasn’t a single car in the parking lot- we had the place to ourselves! This is probably not all that common during the summer, but our first visit was at the very end of March, so it wasn’t the busy season yet.
There is a two mile loop trail that starts at the visitor center and leads you past all the ruins of the Square Tower group. There are several other sites at Hovenweep that you can hike to such as Holly, Horseshoe & Hackberry, and Cutthroat Castle, but it was getting late so we chose Square Tower since it’s the closest to the visitor center.
Although I didn’t know very much about it at the time, I’ve since learned that the area where Hovenweep is located is thought to have remained mostly uninhabited until about 700AD which is when surrounding populations began to grow and the first people started making their way to the area. Even though people began arriving in 700AD, it wasn’t until about 1100AD that the population really grew, and by the late 1200s the population is thought to have reached about 2,500! However, by the end of that century the area had pretty much been abandoned and it’s thought that drought, overuse of natural resources, and possibly even warfare are some of the factors that caused people to leave the area.
As we made our way around the loop trail, the sun was beginning to set and it made an already beautiful place even more spectacular. The lighting on the ruins and towers almost made it look like they were glowing, and with the the Sleeping Ute Mountain in the background, it couldn’t have been a more perfect first hike in Southeast Utah!
**I wanted to share this informative video put out by Friends of Cedar Mesa, which is just one in a series of ‘Visit With Respect’ videos that they’ve developed. In the excitement of visiting a new ruin it can be easy to forget how easily ruins can be damaged, and these videos offer helpful tips on how to ensure that our amazing archaeological sites like Hovenweep, can be enjoyed by future generations. If you’d like to view the rest of the videos in their Visit With Respect series, please click HERE.
Distance from Hovenweep to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:
- Bluff: 35 miles/56 km
- Blanding: 45 miles/ 72 km
- Mexican Hat: 61 miles/ 98 km
- Monticello: 67 miles/ 107 km
- Monument Valley: 86 miles/ 138 km
- La Sal: 107 miles/ 172 km
For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386
Or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also a 30 site campground at Hovenweep that is open year-round. Sites are $10/night and are available on a first come, first served basis.