Positioned between Canyonlands Needles area and Mesa Verde National Park, a visit to Hovenweep National Monument gives you a well-preserved glimpse into ancestral Puebloan life in the 1200s. If like us, you’re on a Grand Circle road trip going from Moab to Mesa Verde, Hovenweep is worth a half-day stop.
Hovenweep is a Ute/Paiute word that means “deserted valley.” Despite being deserted nearly 750 years ago, numerous structures remain intact with a variety of architectural styles. Seriously, considering how little preservation work was done for almost 700 years, we couldn’t believe how intact some of the buildings are. The ancient Puebloans knew how to build!
Planning a Trip to Hovenweep National Monument
Things to Know
- GPS directions can be a bit squidgy. Use the official directions instead.
- Preserve Hovenweep for the future and Leave No Trace.
- Summer weather is hot and dry. Wear sun protection and carry enough water.
- Make sure your car has a full tank. Hovenweep and the neighboring Canyons of the Ancient National Monument don’t have any gas stations.
- You can check operating hours here.
- Hovenweep National Monument is FREE.
- Watch where kids stick their hands and feet. Rattlesnakes enjoy Hovenweep too.
Getting to Hovenweep National Monument
Getting to Hovenweep is the hardest part about visiting. You don’t just drive by this “middle of nowhere” monument. Most likely, you are visiting Hovenweep between Moab and Mesa Verde National Park (or vice versa). That’s when we visited and it works perfectly!
The closest “turnoffs” in Colorado are Pleasant View and Cortez. The closest turnoffs in Utah are Blanding and Bluff. You can find official directions on the NPS site.
Good news. Despite its remote location, the roads to Hovenweep are all paved.
Where to Stay
Unless you’re staying long enough to camp in the park, you’re probably not staying at Hovenweep.
We stayed the night prior in Monticello, Utah. Blanding, Utah would be closer (45 miles), if you’re also visiting Natural Bridges National Monument.
If you’re heading to Colorado, then Cortez, Mancos, and Mesa Verde National Park all have lodging options.
Things to Do in Hovenweep National Monument
Hike the Rim Trail Loop at Square Tower
We hiked the Rim Trail Loop with the add-on Tower Point Loop and Stronghold House trail. All together that’s about 2.5 miles. The Rim Trail takes you by all the highlights of the Square Tower Group area. Our favorite spots were Hovenweep Castle, Square Tower, and looking down into Little Ruin Canyon from Tower Point.
Other areas of the monument have more hiking trails. If you have time, ask a Park Ranger for details.
Become a Junior Ranger
Kids can earn a Hovenweep National Monument Junior Ranger badge. To earn the badge, kids must complete one hike and 3-5 activities, depending on age. All the activities are quite quick and kids can easily complete them during a water break on your hike.
If you are new to the Junior Ranger program, read our complete guide.
Learn More From a Park Ranger
Hovenweep is a quiet place. We only saw one other group hiking and a few people at the Visitor Center. Take advantage of this to chat with a park ranger. (Admittedly, my kids never shy away from this. They love finding a ranger “in the wild” to ask their current list of burning questions.)
The park ranger we accosted (umm…found…seriously, we had the same hiking boots so she was obviously great :-)) chatted with us for over 30 minutes. We learned tons about the water supply, farming, and building techniques of the ancestral Puebloans in that area.
Places to Visit Near Hovenweep
Unless you’re a local, Hovenweep is probably not your only road trip destination. We visited as part of a Grand Circle road trip through Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.
Canyon of the Ancients National Monument
After Hovenweep, we took more small county roads through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument to the Visitor Center and Museum. We used the Junior Ranger book to guide us through an investigation of the hands-on museum displays. The two most popular activities were weaving on an upright loom and grinding corn with a mano and metate. I didn’t think we would ever get Falcon to stop grinding corn!
Mesa Verde National Park
I’m not sure if it was good planning or luck, but Hovenweep (and Canyon of the Ancients) set us up perfectly for Mesa Verde. Both monuments gave us a chance to learn about ancestral Puebloan culture and history prior to arriving in Mesa Verde. At Mesa Verde, you have a chance to learn more about ancestral Puebloan history and tour one of the famous cliff dwellings.
Other Nearby Places
Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands Needles area, and Monument Valley are all within striking distance of Hovenweep. You could easily visit Hovenweep and still reach one of these places in the evening.