Monday, December 3, 2018

Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa

Share this Post Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Email This Pin This
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
The Citadel Ruins sit high above Road Canyon in Cedar Mesa & Bears Ears National Monument. This easy 2 mile trail leads you to one of the most impressive and well-preserved ruins in the area, that both dogs and kids can hike to as well. A citadel is a fortress that commands a city and used in defense during an attack. It leaves you to wonder, what could the Puebloan's have possibly been trying to defend themselves from? Other Native Americans? These ruins are close to 800 years old, and we'll never really know the answer to this, nor the reason the inhabitants disappeared.

As you hike out to the Citadel Ruins, you'll first walk along the flat mesa before dropping down to slick rock, which eventually leads you to a long, narrow strip of a peninsula that is home to these ruins. The views from this area are amazing - we hiked here late afternoon the day after Thanksgiving and the lighting was perfect. The deep blue sky with the golden hour glowing on the ruins was unforgettable. It should take you around an hour to reach the ruins, but don't be in a rush to get back. Take time to enjoy the views, before retuning. 

From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station on HWY 261, drive 9.3 miles south. Turn left at the brown, signed Cigarette Springs Road. Reset your odometer. Drive 6 miles, then turn left at a brown post with Wilderness Area marked on it. Drive 1 more mile to the very end of the road that ends in a big loop with plenty of parking. The last 3 miles are very rough, and small cars will not be able to make it. 4WD is recommended. This road will be impassable after storms, as it is all sand and slick rock. Call the ranger station to check road conditions before driving here.

Here is a driving map.

Distance: 4 miles RT
Elevation gain: 265 ft descent
Time: 1-3 hours
Dog friendly? Yes, technically on leash
Kid friendly? Yes
Fees/Permits? $2 per person per day fee. No permit needed.

Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
At the end of the road, you'll see the brown hiking sign off to the right. This is the TH for the Citadel Ruins.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
The hike begins.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
The first mile is very flat, and you can easily look down into Road Canyon to the North.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
About 1/2 mile into the hike, look down into the canyon when you see the alcove with an obvious trail leading to it. This is Seven Kivas, which I highly recommend hiking to before or after hiking to the Citadel.  You'll be able to see it better from this trail if you have binoculars. If you decide to hike both in one day like my friend and I did, it's only 7 miles total.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Eventually you'll hike across slick rock, following cairns.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
The first big step down. Mama-dog needed a little help but Charlie was able to jump down on his own.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Continue following cairns as you should now be on the south facing wall. You'll walk along this ledge for a few minutes.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Wow! Ok, this hike just turned pretty amazing with this view! 

This offers a great view of course, but to hike down to it you'll need to keep hiking down the south facing slick rock. Go back to the cairns.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Here we go, dropping down, as we make our way to the peninsula.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Most of the time Charlie can jump up himself, but his legs were a little too short here. A boost from his mama was just what he needed.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Continue walking along the peninsula, and you'll make your way up a few short ledges, still on the south facing wall.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
And there it it! The Citadel high up and squeezed into a ledge. Climb those rocks to get up to them.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
Wow, this place is so cool! 
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
What a view they had.
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
The Citadel in late-evening light. Just amazing, I really loved this hike and ruin site. 
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument
The best part was because we started hiking kind of late in the day, after Seven Kivas, everyone else who hiked here that day was hiking back to their cars. We must've passed 30 people. When we got here we had it all to ourselves!

Hiking to the Seven Kivas Ruin, Cedar Mesa
Share me on Pinterest!
Hiking to The Citadel Ruins, Cedar Mesa, Ruins in Utah, Bears Ears National Monument


Will Wickert said...

Wow, I can't fathom what it would be like there with 30 or so people along that trail given how far of a drive it is out there. Then again, both times I've set my eyes on the Citadel has been in January and February respectively. It certainly is a spectacular sight to look out over that peninsula.

To give some context to the strategic placement of the Citadel Ruin, there are several towers that were built throughout the same area (watchman towers?) and there is a cave not far off the northern flanks of Comb Ridge where the site of an ancient massacre was discovered. If I recall correctly, several dozen or more sets of human bones were found there, some having arrow or spear heads embedded into backbones. There's also a site at Green Mask in Grand Gulch, where, if I remember right, the remains of a corpse was found that had been severed in half at the waist. I think, given all that, it was apparent that these people had very violent enemies. Perhaps there were neighboring tribes competing with each other for what few and precious resources there were to survive. Perhaps there were some sacrificial rites at play? It is definitely fascinating and tragic to think back on all at the same time. It's why I always approach such ruins and sites down there with reverence and respect now. If you really want to read up on the area with respect to the Anasazi/Ancestral Pueblaons or "Ancient Ones", I recommend books like "In Search of the Old Ones", "The Lost World of the Old Ones", and "Sandstone Spine" by David Roberts. "Cowboys and Cave Dwellers" by Fred Blackburn & Ray Williamson is also a good one.

Alicia Baker said...

Right?? SO many people!

Oh wow, that sounds amazing and probably accurate with enemies.

Those books sound right up my alley, thank you!

John and Pam ( said...

This is such a neat hike. That first view of the Citadel peninsula neck is so very cool. We had the place to ourselves when we hiked it at the beginning of April. Love Charlie trying to get up that ledge:)

AJO said...

Greetings, hopefully this doesn't sound long winded but just a few things you should consider and my 2 cents. First of all, it looks like you are relatively new to Cedar Mesa. I'm sure with the few trips you have taken out there, you have figured out that it is a pretty amazing place. I was lucky enough to grow up on Cedar Mesa and have hiked those canyons my entire life. I have also worked as an archaeologist recording and mapping many sites as visitation increases rapidly. 25 years ago, when my parents and I first found the Citadel (actually came across it without knowing of it's existence) it was a very unknown site. Most of CM itself was not known about yet. Artifacts used to litter the ground and trails were non existent. Over the years as popularity grew and the internet became a platform to share these places, trails began to emerge, artifacts began to walk away and walls began to crumble. Now the Citadel has been partially stabilized and all the artifacts are gone. My point to all this, is I would be very cautious when it comes to sharing these places and especially showing coordinates and maps on how to get there. Seven Kivas and the Citadel are on the map and have thus been "sacrificed" to Bears Ears so I'm not necessary referring to these posts but moving forward, I would suggest withholding directions and maps to more sensitive sites or they will suffer the same fate someday. I'm not writing this to attack you by any means but I've seen this place change dramatically over the last 30 years and it hasn't been for the better. Although we assume people who take the time to visit these sites are respectful, vandalism and looting have been on the rise over the last 5 to 10 years. There are people too, who will personally attack you for giving out directions to these places. It's not a good habit to get into and you will get scolded. After all, most of the fun of seeing these places is the sense and moment of discovery in the first place. Most of these sites have never been stabilized before and they simply can't handle the increased traffic. With all that said, you're not the first and certainly won't be the last to blog about these places. It depends on what your morals and ethics are when approaching these places in the future and resisting the urge to share these fragile sites.

Following up on what Will mentioned, there was violence out here but the cave he's referring too and the man split in two predate the Citadel and other defensive sites like it by over a thousand years. Those were the Basketmaker people and were the Ancestors of the Puebloans. Most of these super defensive sites like the Citadel and Moonhouse are very late occupation and date to the mid 1200s. If you look around the Cortez, Co area, at that time there was a lot of violence going on and in some case full on battles took place. This is all happening among each other too, mind you. There is no evidence of an incoming group or tribe. Resources were at their lowest and populations were at their highest so violence ensued. The people of CM seemed to have built in defense in preparation if the violence made its way further west but it doesn't seem to have but ultimately there was a major reason they all picked up and left by 1300 AD. Man cut in two was also likely from a fall and not from violence. The books he recommended though are all worth checking out. Any literature on this area is fascinating.

I follow you on Instagram as ajoarts so check me out. This place and this culture are my passion and have been since I was a child. I'm always happy to hike with like minded people and share my knowledge. It's the only way I can protect this place now that the secret is out. Preservation through education is the only way this place stands a chance. Hope this information proves useful and you take it to heart. Happy hiking.


Alicia Baker said...

While I agree that everything has become more popular, I feel that if there are already directions and coordinates online, then my writing about it isn't changing anything. I actually feel better giving accurate directions and such, so that people do not get lost then have to call a ranger to be rescued. I always try to point out not to touch things, bring your dogs right up them, etc. I feel that I do my part in educating hikers in this area. People like to blame me for places getting trashed, and ultimately it is not ME, but comes down to educating people about this area - so why not try to incorporate that into my posts?

I love the history of this area. There's so much to read and learn about.

Thank you for your comment and honest approach.

AJO said...

You're right, the Citadel and 7 Kivas are on the map. Like I said, you're not the first and won't be the last to give coordinates to these sites. These sites are sterile and have been sacraficed to visitors. 90% of first time visitors are going either to those sites, house on fire or moonhouse. They have become the poster childs of Bears Ears and everyone wants to see them. Moving forward though,as you explore more of the area and come across lesser known sites that aren't as popular or have been stabilized, that's where I urge you to use caution. This is not a personal attack by any means. Seeing blogs and writings about this place will always make me cringe because I was fortunate enough to see it before the internet. Getting "lost" in the past is how we found these places. Sadly, people rarely hike like that anymore. They want to know right where they're going and how to get there. For me, this removes the sense of adventure and discovery. In my humble opinion, if you get lost trying to find the citadel, you probably shouldn't be out there in the first place. I appreciate you mentioning dogs in these sites because they can do a lot of damage (I hike with ours all the time). I have come across dog shit in the middle of a room before. I appreciate you teaching people to visit with respect. Like I said educating people is the ONLY way this place stands a chance. Being educated on how to visit these places can take a day or two to learn. To truly educate yourself on the culture and the area itself can take lifetimes. I've dedicated me entire life to it so far and I'm still learning more every day. Feel free to message me if you ever have questions about any of it. Keep hiking and keep exploring. There's no shortage of amazing discoveries to be made out there.

Unknown said...

Its a catch 22. I hiked to the Citadel about 9 years ago. I found it on someone's photos on Flickr which only mentioned the canyon it was in. Being a unique land form, I scanned the canyon rim on google maps & figured it out from there.
I'm from NJ just outside NYC & I believe most vandalism is done by locals especially rock art that is defaced by guns. I can't imagine someone traveling like I do just to vandalize sacred sites. Sadly, it only takes one exception/idiot to do irreparable harm.
However, 2 of the most notable cases of vandalism in Utah were done by local boy scouts or leaders. It was boy scout leaders who toppled a hoodoo in Goblin Valley & it was Eagle scouts who broke up & threw dinosaur tracks into the Red Fleet reservoir.
Unfortunately, this don't ask don't tell policy of these sacred site groups me, a lover of rock art & sacred sites, with the vandals. Locals, be they lovers like me or vandals are free to wander to discover these sacred sites but if you're not local like me its not practical & somewhat dangerous. Obviously, I would be more prone to getting lost just as you would in my neck of the woods.
Imagine if you came to NYC & no one would tell you where the Statue of Liberty is. Although not on the same scale, I would argue that it is being loved to death as well & it has been vandalized. Should you be kept from visiting the Statue of Liberty because you are grouped with potential vandals?
Although some sort of certification would be a step in the right direction, it would not be fool proof. Also you cannot equate knowledge of the science or history of such sites with genuine appreciation & respects.
Obviously, I don't have any answers but this needs to be an ongoing discussion in hopes some compromise can be discovered.
Lumping me in with potential vandals is a short term solution...We need a long term solution that is less exclusive. However, time is running out for me as I am in my 60's with increasing mobility issues.
If I never get to see Moonhouse or many others I have no knowledge of right now of before I die, was it worth it to deny me access?
Unfortunately, this comment will only let me choose my gmail address which is my business email. I would have preferred to use my more appropriate email. Thanks for listening...just saying...Thanks girlonahike!

AJO said...

I hear you 100%. For me, it's always been a double edge sword. I want to share some of these places but I've seen what that can do. I believe that a majority of people who visit these places are respectful, but like you said, all it takes is one idiot. I could go into the politics about the locals around here because yes, some are guilty of vandalism but that's a whole other can of worms. Many locals also want this place protected which unfortunately backfired this time around. The state of Utah doesn't have the best track record when it comes to preservation. Much of the vandalism is done by non locals as well. It's mostly accompanied by ignorance. A simple name and date carved on a rock (like the family from back east who carved their name at arches last year) seems harmless or taking a potsherd as a souvenir. It's not deliberate vandalism, they just dont know any better but that's why sites like the citadel are sterile of artifacts. I do believe some of these sites you do have to "earn" to see them and some sites should certainly be withheld completely. They're just to fragile to see that much visitation and most have never been mapped or recorded let alone stabalized. We had to hike without coordinates or trails to these places and find them on our own. Sometimes it took multiple trips to find a site but that moment of true discovery is a fantastic feeling. Also, looting and the black market for artifacts is still very much alive and well out here. In the last 5 years since all this monument talk, looting has skyrocketed. There is no shortage of amazing things to see out here no matter your ability level. Hence why these easy access ones are so popular. We should all be happy and excepting of the fact that there is far more than any one person can see in a lifetime. I'm just glad to know there are places I'll never get to see but just knowing they're there is enough for me. This is why I really urge everyone to educate themselves before coming here and come prepared. I saw a Honda fit on the road to moonhouse a couple weeks ago. It used to be gnarly 4x4 and is still high clearance only but these people had no clue what they were doing. It's becoming a regular occurance. Preservation through education. It's the only way. I could go on and on on this subject. Perhaps I should start my own blog..

Kelby said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Girl on a Hike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Hello, my family and I want to do the Citadel ruin hike this summer, but we're traveling from the EAst coast in our honda minivan. I'm wondering if we could park the van on the side of Cigarette Springs Road where the rough road goes to the trail head and walk to the trail head. do you think that makes sense? added distance?


Girl on a Hike said...

Absolutely you could park your car then hike the rest of the way. We saw about 4 cars doing that same thing. I think it would add on about 1 mile each way.