register help

Square Tower Group Loop, UT

131 8 0
Guide 8 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List UT > Southeast
4.3 of 5 by 3
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 2.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 1.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,242 feet
Elevation Gain 80 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 1-2 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 1.9
Interest Ruins
Backpack No
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
29  2017-10-15
Hovenweep Hikes
9  2016-02-14 PaleoRob
23  2014-07-06
Hovenweep Hikes
15  2011-09-16 blueberry1222
9  2009-12-27 PrestonSands
56  2008-02-10 PaleoRob
19  2006-03-23 PaleoRob
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Mar → Early
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  6:03am - 6:15pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
The most accesible of Hovenweep's hikes.
by PaleoRob

Hovenweep National Monument, spanning the border between Utah and Colorado, gets its name from a Ute word meaning, "desolate plains" or something similar. Looking from the visitor's center across the Great Sage Plain towards Ute Mountain, Shiprock, and Mesa Verde, its easy to see why. The expanse of land between you and the far-off landmarks appear to be barren and lifeless. In fact, though, this land is criss-crossed with shallow canyons. Much of this land, on the Colorado side of the border, has been incorporated into the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Before COANM came into being, though, there was Hovenweep National Monument, which spans the border between Colorado and Utah. The monument has four small enclaves, surrounded by BLM, Reservation, and private land. These plots protect four major Anasazi complexes. Three are only accessible via dirt roads. The fourth, however, is located right at the visitor center, off a paved road - Square Tower Group.

The trail starts out at the visitor center, and heads south towards Little Ruin Canyon. The trail is well maintained and soon reaches the rim of the canyon. The trail branches at this point. I have always hiked this trail going to the left here, and will describe it as such.

At the branch, there are the remains of an Anasazi building called Stronghold House and a great view across the Great Sage Plain to Ute Mountain, Mesa Verde, Shiprock, the Chuskas, and of course Little Ruin Canyon, which the Square Tower Group is centered on. If you picked up a trail guide from the Visitor's Center (highly recommended) you can read more about the construction of Stronghold House, and learn a bit more about the view.

Heading downcanyon, the trail generally follows the rim. The trail then branches again, with one branch dropping into the canyon with the other continuing along the rim. The rim trail eventually leads to the campground, so here you are going to want to follow the trail into the canyon.

The canyon is not very deep, and through a few switchbacks you are quickly deposited at the canyon bottom. As you hike into the canyon, as well as on your way out, look for black bands of crumbly rock in the canyon wall. There are coal seams throughout the area, as well as natural gas deposits. You probably noticed some natural gas wells on the drive to the monument. After crossing Little Ruin Canyon, which indeed is not very wide or deep, you climb out with a steep, but not long haul. The trail now continues following the rim of the canyon along the west side of the canyon. It is not far from where you emerge back onto the rim when you reach the first serious ruin of the trail; Twin Towers.

Moving on upcanyon on the rim from Twin Towers, you come across Rimrock House. Rimrock House may not have been in fact a house; it lacks clear room divisions and has peephole like openings in its walls, a feature common to some ruins across the region. Take a moment at this point to look down into Little Ruin Canyon and examine the remains of Round Tower. Its base was nearly perfectly circular and likely stood 2 stories tall.

There is a long stretch then between Rimrock House and the next ruin and stop on the trail guide. While you walk along this stretch, be sure to look back and enjoy the view as Little Ruin Canyon frames Sleeping Ute Mountain. There are also good views to Eroded Boulder House and back across the Stronghold House. Notice the debris on the slope below Stronghold House... it gives some sense of how big the pueblo would have been 800 years ago.

The next major ruin, right near the head of the western branch of Little Ruin Canyon, is Hovenweep House. From what remains on the rim you can easily tell it was a massive structure. In fact it was part of the one of the largest villages in the Little Ruin Canyon area. Take time to examine the careful masonry. Across the head of the canyon from Hovenweep House is Hovenweep Castle. During its heyday it was a sprawling complex that climbed up from the terraced gardens on the canyon bottom all the way up to its towers soaring above the rim. The debris piles around the base of the remaining structures hints at its massiveness.

Also visible in the canyon is Square Tower. Perched on a boulder, Square Tower sits near the spring at the head of the canyon. In conjunction with the two massive villages on either side of the canyon (Hovenweep Castle and House), this area of the canyon seems to be set up to defend the spring. Certainly it would do a good job at that, but is that what the buildings were constructed for? Moving on from Hovenweep House, the trail crosses a small draw above the head of Little Ruin Canyon. Here the Anasazi built a small check dam to capture water during times of runoff. This allowed more water to eventually percolate down to the spring below, as well as providing a little bit of arable land on the slickrock expanse of the rim. The remains of the check dam can be seen from this point.

Hovenweep Castle is probably the most impressive structure on the Little Ruin Canyon loop, and rightfully so. Not only is it the largest standing structure on the trail, but it also has a lot of interesting archaeological features to it as well. It is highly recommended to pick up the trail guide if for no other reason than to see the beautiful reconstruction of the Hovenweep Castle community it has. It's quite a contrast to see what remains now and what existed back then.

At Hovenweep Castle the trail splits. Taking the right-hand fork takes you out to Tower Point, were the remains of a tower stands on the rim. There are great views downcanyon, as well as into alcoves on both branches at the head of Little Ruin Canyon where the remains of granaries and other structures can be seen. Directly below Tower Point, generally not open to the public, are some petroglyphs, including one that appears to show a parrot perched on a T-shaped doorway. This symbol is part of the Hovenweep National Monument logo, and can also be seen on the trail guide and some signs in the Visitor's Center. Taking the Tower Point segment of the hike will add .5 miles to the whole hike, bringing the total to 2 miles.

After passing the head of the eastern branch of Little Ruin Canyon, the trail follows the east rim through pinon and juniper forest, occasionally with a nice glimpse back into the canyon. Just before meeting up with the trail back to the Visitor's Center, you come across one more ruin; Unit Type House. Also known as a unit pueblo for its standardized construction style across the southwest, Unit Type House is a great example of the typical features found in a unit pueblo.

From there the trail meets back up with itself at Stronghold House. Take the trail back to the Visitor's Center, where you can look at the exhibits, or get a trail guide and information about one of the other 3 units of Hovenweep National Monument.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2008-01-13 PaleoRob
  • map
    area related
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Square Tower Group Loop
rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
Days 12 and 13 of a 14-day run through SE Utah. Left Moab early Sunday. Try getting breakfast in Moab on a Sunday morning without standing in line. I blew it off and went to the grocery store for provisions and grabbed something there.

Drove through Blanding and turned towards the old Hatch Trading Post. It is closed now, fenced and grown up, sign says its for sale for a bit above a million. History doesn't come cheap.

Stopped off at the Cajon Group first. The seep that gave life then still seeps from the head of the canyon. No one around, silent, big views, impressive structures.

Stopped at the Visitor Center, asked about the campground hoping he'd say full and I'd have an excuse to boondock. Plenty of room. Chose site 26 for the angle between the bright sun and the little slatted shelter. Sleeping Ute Mountain was the backdrop east. Set up camp and relaxed a bit. Would be cold tonight so I grilled dinner early and tried to read until even a quilt over me couldn't make it uncomfortable. Could hear the heaters in all the RVs cycling on and off all night.

Water I'd left out was frozen in the morning. Solid. Guessing 29 as a low. Slept good though. Made two thermoses of coffee, and a quick breakfast. Hiked the Square Tower Group Loop from camp. This was a busy place in the day. Lots of fairly well preserved ruins. These guys were masons extraordinaire. Great houses, high towers, kivas, creative entrances, everyone was busy surpassing the Jones and one upping the Smiths here. Bet I can build a house on that rock over there. No you can't. Watch me.

Took Bullit for a drive to the groups north. Mostly alone out here, few souls care enough to take bumpy roads to old places, no tour buses. Horsehoe was a unique design and like the other groups there are many rock mounds of houses fallen down. Hackberry was a delight. The tree for which the unit is named still dominates the spring at canyon's head. This was a thriving little village, you can feel it. Sherds were thick, found a few painted ones as I knelt in the detritus of a proud people. The work area was down by the spring, still a pool scooped out by hands long gone frequented by the feathered and furred current inhabitants. The smoke stains on the rocks tell you so much.

I heard voices at Painted Hands, not ancient, just a woman complaining about the scramble down and her partner chirping back to just do it. I worked my hike to avoid them. Missed the delicate white hands at first, doubled back and slowed down to find them. The thought universal, this is me, I was here. These are found around the world.

The Cutthroat Castle Group was last. There are two trailheads, the upper and lower. A sign at the upper points to the lower along a rough track with admonitions of high clearance and 4WD and other discouraging comments. This was my last dirt of the trip. I shifted down and went to the lower.

The hike to the ruins from the lower is much shorter, just several hundred feet. I heard voices below, two ladies, thought erroneously they were together. I dropped in, tipped my hat and began to explore. The allowed maneuvering room is small and I could hear the conversation, mostly one sided. The more senior of the two was lamenting the unrelenting sun, the impending climb out. I moved close enough to interrupt and offered a ride, explaining the short hike and bumpy road and the fact I had removed the rear seats in my 4-door truck to save weight and add space and thus could offer only one ride. After a spell of verbal thinking she accepted. Seems she was on a solo 3-month trip with no particular destinations and no definitive end in the largish RV I'd seen at the upper trailhead.

Back in camp I grilled one last steak with some squash and beans. I'd saved the last chapter of Craig Child's Stone Desert for my last evening in camp. Both the meal and the chapter were filling, nutrition to build on. Hovenweep is about building.
Square Tower Group Loop
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
The final destination of Day 2 of #MountainWeekend was Hovenweep, since Jen had never been. After a few stops along the way we finally pulled into the VC parking lot in the early afternoon. The CNHA desk staff told us that the trail across the canyon was icy and to avoid it. We decided to hike around on the rim and take the advice of the nice lady. We headed down into the canyon briefly to look at the ice on the south side of the canyon, then popped back up on the rim. Even on the rim there was lots of mud and icy spots. The temperatures were in the 50s, so very pleasant hiking. We both got a little burned while walking the trail. We turned around after going out to Tower Point and seeing Hovenweep Castle, as we had dinner plans with a friend in Durango who was driving up from Farmington. Took 10 out of the monument and over into Colorado - it is paved all the way now, except for one 100 yard gravel stretch. Potholes are still awful. The roads to the outliers look hideous; don't go to them until it has dried out a bit more.
Square Tower Group Loop
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
I made the drive out to Hovenweep from Cortez via scenic McElmo Creek/County Road G. I popped into the visitor's center, layered up in the sub-freezing weather, and hit the trail at 3:30 pm. Numerous ruins, four inches of snow and ice on buff colored sandstone, and soft afternoon light made for a fun afternoon. After completing the hike, I had time for one more loop before the trail closed at sunset, so off I went. Aside from the couple photographing Hovenweep Castle, I had the place to myself. This place is well off the beaten path, and well worth a visit.
Square Tower Group Loop
rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
After the Butler Wash Road proved to be too muddy for Beth's Escape, we headed to Bluff for the Great House, and then couldn't make up our minds on whether to go to Moab or Hovenweep for the day. We settled on Hovenweep; we'll probably head up to Moab in the spring for my birthday.

Permit $$

Hovenweep National Monument
$6per vehicle (Good for 7 days) Permit Information

Map Drive
Paved - Car Okay

To hike
From Blanding, Utah, take US191 south to Utah Route 262, signed for Hovenweep National Monument. Follow 262 until it branches to the right. Keep going straight (to the east). This should be signed. There is a sharp turn several miles later at Hatch Trading Post, and is also signed for Hovenweep. After Hatch, there is a section where the road is unpaved, but well maintained, for about 1 mile. There are not really any more road numbers or names that are easy to pick out, but the signs for Hovenweep are large and easy to follow. If you end up at Ismay Trading Post you have gone into Colorado and that's too far.
help comment issue

end of page marker