Hikes to two uniquely stunning ruins on Utah’s Cedar Mesa
Distance: 2.5 miles round trip to Fallen Roof Ruins, 5.7 miles to Citadel Ruins (about 1.5 miles of that was road walking)
Type: both out and back
Difficulty: exposed slickrock hiking, especially at Citadel
Best season: spring and fall
Despite all the obstacles we’d encountered while planning our fall 2013 vacation (see previous post), our “hiking around the government shutdown” vacation had been going splendidly. We had already enjoyed three days of beautiful weather and great hikes in SE Utah. Two days were spent on Moab area trails with our good friend Lisa, hiking the Amasa Back trail and a loop hike around Dead Horse Point State Park followed by a day hiking down into Grand Gulch.
Next up were a couple of hikes to ruins on Cedar Mesa that had been high on my bucket list for a few years. It was another beautiful morning and we enjoyed the drive from our hotel in Bluff out to Cedar Mesa.
We pulled into the Fallen Roof Ruin trailhead just before 9:00 and were the only ones there. The first part of the trail followed a canyon rim through pinyon pine and juniper forest. Then the trail made a short, but moderately steep descent before leveling out for the remainder of the hike. The trail alternated between sandy track and cairned slickrock in a beautiful canyon with sandstone walls on both sides.
Fallen Roof Ruin was located on the left side of the canyon up a ways. We climbed our way up through several layers of canyon wall and slickrock to access the ruin. It was small, but very pretty and in excellent shape. I was very pleased to finally see this ruin that had been on my list for some time.
We returned to the car and made the relatively short drive to near the trailhead for Citadel Ruins. The road got pretty rutted near the end and we weren’t exactly sure if our Pilot would have enough clearance, so we ended up hiking the last bit of road—not wanting to risk damaging our stock SUV so far from home.
The Citadel is a nice set of ruins, but what makes them so special is their location at the tip of a long peninsula jutting out into a Cedar Mesa side canyon. The fortress like setting surely made the location easy to defend, hence the name.
The trail followed along the rim of a large Cedar Mesa canyon with spectacular views. This part of the trail was well cairned and easy to follow.
About 45 minutes into our hike, we spotted a couple hiking toward us with a dog. We exchanged friendly greetings then the woman asked if this was the trail to a different area ruin. I explained that I was pretty sure that trailhead had taken off from the opposite side of the parking lot. She said she had thought that was the case so they had turned around. I asked if they knew where this trail lead and they did not. I explained where we were headed and invited them to join us. They quickly accepted our offer and we continued our hike. This was the beginning of what would turn out to be a wonderful friendship with Larry, Shermane, and their poodle Sosi.
We quickly hit it off with our new friends. They explained that Sosi had been named after an Anasazi pottery pattern “Sosi black on white”. It was quite the cute name considering Sosi was a white poodle with black patches. I confess, I’ve never been a standard poodle fan. My great-grandma had one when I was small and despite being a huge animal lover, I never cared for that dog. Sosi, however, is no average dog and she quickly won me over with her trail etiquette, intelligence, and fearlessness on the trail. As for Larry and Shermane, they were adventure seeking retirees from Sedona, Arizona—the planned destination for our 22nd anniversary less than six months away.
Shortly after meeting up with our new friends, the rim trail crossed over an area of slickrock that had a bunch of water filled tanks. This was great fun for Sosi who splashed around and had a good time for a moment before we continued on.
And then it came into view. I had seen many photos looking down on the Citadel, but to stand there was almost overwhelming. The massiveness of the area and the peninsula that juts out into the canyon was impressive. The Anasazi had chosen this position well. I could picture a native family looking down on the same scene nearly 800 years ago.
As we neared the nose of the canyon rim above the peninsula, we immediately started looking for ways down onto the peninsula. I had read that the left side was the way to go. We found cairns and worked our way down over drop offs and large boulders. We dropped one level and then quickly realized we couldn’t go down the left side any more. We probed to the right and Jason found a route that graded down the moderately steep slickrock pretty well.
Once down onto the peninsula neck, it was easy going until the final climb to the ruins. I had read that the neck was narrow with lots of exposure, but it was no problem at all. We passed the defensive wall that the ancient ones had built across the narrow neck and then we were on the peninsula.
We worked our way out over to the right side looking for the ruins. As we neared the end of the peninsula, we saw two men up near them. We had seen these gentleman on our way out of Fallen Roof earlier in the day. They kindly helped us (me) up over a large boulder which was the only way any of us could find up to the ruins.
And there we were. The ruins were in excellent condition and were very nice, but certainly the impressive part of the Citadel was its location—and the views were also pretty spectacular.
We continued to get to know Shermane and Larry on our return hike. They seemed excited about our upcoming trip to Sedona and the first of many invitations to stay with them, hike with them, and/or join them for happy hour began to flow.
Back at the trailhead, they shared their cold drinks with us and then graciously offered to give us a ride back to our car. We exchanged email addresses and promises to meet up in Sedona the following spring.
We did meet up with our new friends the following spring in Sedona. They overwhelmed us with their hospitality and took us on some of their favorite hikes. Since then, they have transplanted to the Pacific Northwest where we have met up a couple of times, including a fun trip to the Columbia River Gorge where we were able to repay some of their hospitality by guiding them on several of our favorite waterfall hikes.
After saying goodbye to our new friends, we drove back to Bluff and headed straight for one of our favorite restaurants anywhere—the Cottonwood Steak House. We sat outside and enjoyed the fun Western themed decorations and the beautiful evening. I had their brisket and Jason had the rib/brisket combo. Everything was great and it was the perfect end to an incredible day. I was able to check two big bucket list items off, we met some wonderful new friends, and we had a great dinner. All on a perfect weather day with full sun and temps in the upper 60s. Life is good!
Directions to TH: Both of these trails lead to sensitive ruins that are not well publicized. They have become increasingly better known over the past decade.
6 Replies to “SE Utah’s Cedar Mesa: Fallen Roof & Citadel Ruins, Oct 2013”
Thanks for the write up. We are thinking of going there.. your pictures and descriptions are helpful. Just curious, if there was snow, would you walk out on the rocks? 🙂
Hi Jennifer- thanks for visiting! Fallen Roof and Citadel Ruins are both spectacular. I hope you can visit them. There are a couple of places on both hikes where you need to be pretty careful due to some exposure. Good footing in those sections would be a must and I wouldn’t try it unless I could see that those sections were clear of snow and ice. Happy trails! Lusha
Nice trail review. Thank you. Question: Citadel is 5.7 miles one-way, correct? I’m headed to the Four Corners in three weeks from the PNW.
Thanks for visiting us. We are headed to Utah from the PNW in three weeks ourselves! We’ll be over Zion and Escalante way doing some backpacking. Nothing like spring in the desert after a long winter, eh?!
To answer your question, 5.7 miles was our roundtrip mileage to Citadel. It would have been 1.5 miles shorter had we driven all the way to the trailhead (which we would have made just fine, but the road got a little iffy and we decided to just walk the remaining section). I learned later that we could have made a big loop that included Fallen Roof, Citadel, and Seven Kivas. That would be my first choice option if we ever fortunate enough to return.
Thanks for sharing your blog site. I took a quick look and it looks very nice – I see we share a love of the same beautiful places. I bookmarked it so I can see some of your beautiful photos!
Happy trails and enjoy your upcoming trip,
This was incredibly helpful. I’m planning on surprising my husband by taking him to the Citadel for his birthday. You spoke of steep and exposed routes on it. My husband might as well be a mountian goat, I am less so, so I just want to prepare myself. In particular regarding the peninsula, how wide is it at its narrowest?
Hello Samantha – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Citadel is a special place and a great hike! I was a bit intimidated to do it, but it was well worth the effort and not as hard as I imagined it would be. The hardest part was up and down over a couple boulders, but it sounds like your husband will be a good helper. If things start seeming ‘too sketch’, just look around a little more and you’ll likely find a better way. As for the narrowest part of the peninsula, it wasn’t bad at all. I can’t recall specific enough to give you a width, but I can tell you I was nervous for that part and it ended up being of absolutely no concern when I reached it. I hope you go and that you enjoy it as much as we did!