Hovenweep Cutthroat Castle

Round Trip Distance: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5805 - 6025 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 1 hr.
Trailhead: Upper Cutthroat Castle
Fee: none
Attractions: Ancestral Puebloan Ruins

The Cutthroat Castle Group of ruins are located within Hovenweep National Monument in southwestern Colorado. Hovenweep National Monument is comprised of 6 discontiguous acreages that protect groups of ancestral Puebloan ruins. Each group of ruins are ensconced near canyon rims where remarkable masonry skills were used to contour the structures to the irregular shapes of boulders and recesses in the rocks. Hovenweep is a Ute word that means 'deserted valley' which aptly describes the surrounding area with all the ghost villages of ruins.

Before attempting to visit Cutthroat Castle it is best to begin at either the Hovenweep Visitor Center or the Anasazi Heritage Center and pick up a map and brochures. A map can also be printed from the Hovenweep website before leaving home. The trailhead is about a half mile past the Painted Hand trailhead. There are enough rocks poking up in the road that it would be difficult for a passenger car. Four wheel drive isn't necessary but a little bit of clearance is. If you end up hiking in from the turnoff on CO 10 then add about 3 miles to the round trip distance or 1 mile if you hike from the Painted Hand trailhead.

The upper trailhead sits on the edge of the hill. The trail descends through a few boulders as it makes its way over the crest of the hill.

From there it pretty much makes a bee line straight toward the ruins. The trail crosses the access road to the lower trailhead and continues into a drainage that feeds the canyon.

The scenery changes a bit once the trail enters the wash with a few cottonwood trees lusher looking pinyons.

As the trail nears the ruins the wash comes to a cliff that is clogged with dead trees. From here the trail follows the slickrock along the rim above the canyon.

The ruins of Cutthroat Castle come into view as the trail rounds the canyon rim. It is surprising how high some of the walls still stand. Judging from the holes in the walls that once held the logs that separated each level the structure was at least 3 stories high. The criteria for finding a building site for a dwelling sure has changed over the years.

Another interesting structure is what looks almost like a tower within a tower.

Yet another room takes advantage of the space beneath the outcrop the double tower is sitting on.

Several types of pottery shards can be spotted in the area. These were laying beneath a tree along the trail. It is illegal to remove artifacts or to dig for them. Judging from all the warning signs and NPS patrols they take the job of guarding them very serious. Please leave what you find because it is so cool to see this stuff when you visit.

The Cutthroat Castle Group is well worth the effort to find. We made it in without any trouble in our little 2-wheel drive pickup. It would have been too abusive to bring our car all the way in but it probably wouldn't have been too bad going as far as the Painted Hand trailhead. When planning your trip you should be able to start at the Anasazi Heritage Center, where the Escalante Ruins, are located and work your way down to the Hovenweep Visitor Center and campground with stops at Lowry Pueblo, Painted Hand Pueblo, Cutthroat Castle, Horseshoe/Hackberry ruins, the Holly Group and the Square Tower Ruins all in one long day. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.