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.
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.
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.
Update March 25, 2016
I wanted to share this great video put out by Friends of Cedar Mesa just yesterday, which is the first in a series of ‘Visit With Respect’ videos that they’ll be rolling out in the next few weeks. In the excitement of visiting a new ruin, it can be easy to forget how easily ruins can be damaged by people. I want to share this video as a reminder to always make sure to refrain from touching, leaning, standing or climbing on any structures, no matter how solid they look. These videos offer helpful tips on how to ensure that our amazing archaeological sites like House on Fire, 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.
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:
- Blanding: 25 miles/40 km
- Monticello: 47 miles/76 km
- Bluff: 41 miles/66 km
- Mexican Hat: 40 miles/ 64 km (via hwy 261)
- La Sal: 90 miles/144 km
- Monument Valley: 65 miles/104 km (via hwy 261)
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