what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

Hovenweep National Monument – What to See and Do

Situated in the quiet southeast corner of Utah and the southwest corner of Colorado, Hovenweep National Monument is one of the lesser-visited National Park sites in Utah.  In fact, only about 40,000 visitors show up every year.  And while you likely won’t be spending many days here like some of the other parks in Utah or nearby Colorado, there is quite a bit to see and do in Hovenweep National Monument that will keep you busy for at least a few hours, if not an entire day!  Certainly stop in if you find yourself visiting nearby Four Corners Monument or Mesa Verde National Park.

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

We hope that this guide provides a nice overview of What to See and Do in Hovenweep National Monument, including a bit about camping, the best hikes in the park as well as some information about the history of the park!


Traces of human activity in the area of the Cajon Mesa have been tracked back to 6000 to 8000 B.C., when nomadic people would come through the area in search of game and food that could be gathered from the local flora.  As generations started to become more focused on agriculture, they began settling down in the area, which occurred starting in 200 A.D.  However, it wasn’t until around 900 A.D. that the area around Hovenweep National Monument started to become developed with simple housing structures.

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

The structures that are inside of Hovenweep National Monument were built around the early 1200’s and were in use until around the 1270’s, when drought forced the inhabitants to relocate.

You can read more about the structures history in the Hovenweep National Monument visitor guide offered by the National Park Service.

Hovenweep National Monument was established in 1923 and encompasses 784 acres of protected land.


hovenweep national monument map

Hovenweep National Monument map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Most of what you’ll find to do in Hovenweep National Monument involves being outside and on your feet.  But don’t worry, even in the heat of the summer there are places to see that are quick to walk to and will only take a few minutes.  If you have a bit more energy or time, then there are some nice hikes that take you closer to the ruins that are worth checking out as well.

When visiting Hovenweep National Monument, our recommendations for what to see and do include:

  • Stopping in at the Hovenweep Visitor Center. Located in the same area as the Square Tower Group, the Hovenweep Visitor Center is a great place to go when starting your visit to the park.  Staff is on-site to answer any questions you have, there are restrooms and water refill stations as well as shaded picnic tables.  You can also find out about any park events happening as well as the latest road conditions for some of the more remote areas of the park, since the park is not one contiguous unit.  The visitor center also has a small gift shop as well as exhibits on display.  The visitor center is open year-round, with the exception of Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the winter months, which is from early December through mid-April.

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument visitor center

  • Picnicking.  Hovenweep National Monument is quite remote, so on one hand there are an infinite number of spots to stop and have a picnic, but on the other hand there are few places with facilities.  Next to the visitor center are a few covered picnic tables, which are great for stopping off and having a picnic.  Plus, if you are here in the evening, the sunsets are amazing and the stars are plentiful!


For those of you who like to hike, there is a good variety of options for you, and most of them are quite short.  If you don’t like to hike, there are short walks to do as well!  Here are a few of the options that we recommend:

  • The Little Ruin Trail to the Square Tower Group is by far the most popular trail in the park. This loop trail is quite easy and is only 1.5-miles (round-trip).  The total elevation gain is about 140 ft.  The trail starts by heading south from the Visitor Center (or campground).  If you hike counterclockwise, you’ll quickly descend down into the canyon.  While there aren’t any particular great views in the canyon, you will be in the shade briefly and be immersed in a forest of desert shrubs, which is quite pretty.  Heading out of the canyon you’ll pass by multiple dwellings, including the Twin Towers, Rim Rock House and Hovenweep House.  Turning back toward the start of the trail, you’ll finish the hike by passing by the square tower, Hovenweep Castle and Tower Point.  The trailhead starts at the Visitor Center.

little ruin trail map


what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

  • The Horseshoe and Hackberry Trail is an easy hike that is about 1.2-miles (round-trip). The hike has an elevation change of only about 90 feet.  Once you get to the trail, the path heads due east.  Along the way you’ll first see the Horseshoe House at about 0.2-miles into the hike.  The Horseshoe House is named from its shape and is at the entrance to Hackberry Canyon.  Continue on and you’ll reach to Hackberry.  This structure is right along the Hackberry Canyon, which is named for the Hackberry trees nearby.  Though this trail takes a bit of effort to get to, it's certainly beautiful and worth visiting.  The light is particularly beautiful in the early morning or near sunset.  The Horseshoe and Hackberry Trail is reached by driving on a BLM road off county Road 10, 4 miles north of the visitor center.  4WD / high clearance is recommended.
horseshoe and hackberry trail map
  • The Cutthroat Castle Trail is an easy, 1.3-mile (round-trip) hike that gains only about 180 feet in elevation. This hike starts from the gravel parking area and is marked by cairns.  At the end of the trail you’ll get to the structures at Cutthroat Castle, but along the way you’ll have amazing views of Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.  The trailhead is reached by driving down a gravel road, 8.5 miles north of the visitor center. 

cutthroat castle trail map

cutthroat castle

Cutthroat Castle, image courtesy of Andrew Kuhn

  • The Holly Trail is also a short and easy hike that is worth doing, at 0.3-miles (round-trip). The trail starts by heading east and then quickly turns south before reaching the Holly Unit.  From the trail you’ll pass by several great views of the structures.  The Holly Trail is reached by heading down a gravel road 4 miles north of the visitor center.  Note: as an alternative, you can also hike from the campground, which extends the trail to 0.7-miles (round-trip).

holly trail map

holly unit

Holly Unit, image courtesy of Jacob W. Frank

  • Finally, the Cajon Unit is a short and easy 0.2-mile trail with minimal elevation gain. The trail is flat and leads to the structures at Cajon.  Beyond the last structure is a great view into New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado!  Since it is past the visitor center, it’s the quietest part of the park.  Cajon is reached by heading to the visitor center and then driving 9 more miles to the southwest.  Travel about 3 miles down a dirt road before shifting into 4WD and driving the last 0.25-miles to the parking area.

cajon trail map in hovenweep

cajon unit in hovenweep

Cajon Unit, image courtesy of Neal Herbert


As mentioned earlier, Hovenweep National Monument is quite remote, but there are some beautiful spots nearby that are worth checking out while you are out here!  Our recommendations include:

  • Canyon of the Ancients National Monument: An expansive National Park site, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument is another great collection of historic structures.
  • Mesa Verde National Park: Located to the east, Mesa Verde National Park has some of the most impressive cliff dwellings in the world.
  • 4 Corners Monument: One of the more popular spots in this part of the country, this is the only place in the US where you can be in 4 states at the same time.


what to see and do in hovenweep national monument


Most parks in the country are located on GPS and quite easy to get to.  Hovenweep National Monument is one of the few locations in the lower 48 that isn’t well marked on GPS.  Be sure to check the NPS site for turn-by-turn directions ahead of your visit.  If you are coming from Cortez, Colorado, here are directions:

  • Head north on US 491 for 22 miles, then take a left on Country Road CC.
  • Go about 5 miles, then turn left on Country Road 10.
  • Continue for 22 miles and then take a left to enter the park.


A vehicle pass is required and is $20.  You can also use the America the Beautiful (annual) National Park pass.


There is only one campground at Hovenweep National Monument.

Hovenweep Campground:

  • Location: The Hovenweep Campground is located right near the Visitor Center.
  • Accessible via: Car.
  • Reservations: None.
  • Capacity: 31 sites.
  • Electricity / Water Hookups / Dump Station: No / No / No.
  • Toilets / Showers: Flush toilets and no showers.
  • Additional details: This campground is located right near the visitor center, with access to hiking trails. The sites are exposed, but each site has a shaded picnic table.  Most sites are set up for tent camping, but a few offer back-in sites for RV’s up to 36 feet.  Though the campground is pretty spartan, the nighttime skies and quiet here are really amazing.


By far the most pleasant time to visit Hovenweep National Monument is in the spring and fall.  The temperatures are moderate and you can really get out and explore without too much worry of heat exhaustion or slippery and icy trails.  It can get cold at night, so just be sure you bring layers of clothing with you.  Spring also brings in cacti bloom, with most of the other plants blooming in the fall after the summer rainy season.

With the more moderate temperatures comes more people.  While the park is never that busy, it is busiest in spring and fall, and the campground can fill up on weekends.

Winter is a great time to visit, but services are limited (closed Mon-Wed) and the trails can be snowy or icy, so traction is recommended.

Summertime is a good time to visit as well (that’s when we went), but it is very hot, with temperatures in the upper 90’s or higher.  Just be sure to hike early in the morning and bring plenty of water with you.

One other tip-since this park is quite remote, be sure your vehicle is in good shape and starts reliably.  Cell service is spotty at best, and it would take a long time to get help if needed.  Bring plenty of water in your car in case you get stranded!

what to see and do in hovenweep national monument


Yes, pets are welcome!  Just be sure to keep your pets on a leash of 6 feet or less, per park regulations.


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what to see and do in hovenweep national monument

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About Just Go Travel Studios

We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

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