Mule Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 2-8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 5910 - 6194 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2-6 hrs.
Trailhead: Texas Flat Road MM 0.3
Fee: $2/person
Attractions: Cliff dwellings

Mule Canyon is located in the Cedar Mesa area west of Blanding, Utah. The easy hiking canyon is home to a handful of Anasazi cliff dwellings chief among which is the famous House on Fire ruin. The trailhead is situated close to Highway 95 making it one of the easier canyons to gain access to in the Cedar Mesa area. This post explores the first 4 miles of the canyon and the equivalent number of ruins enroute.

To get to the trailhead drive south out of Blanding for 4 miles and turn west onto Highway 95. Continue for 19.4 miles and turn right onto the Texas Flat Road. There is a fee station after turning off of the highway for anyone that is hiking in either fork of Mule Canyon.

About a quarter mile from the fee station the road crosses Mule Canyon on an earthen bridge. Parking is wherever you can find room along the side of the road. The trail begins on the left side of the road after crossing the earthen bridge.

From the roadway the trail descends into the canyon where there is a registration box and some general information.

The route is easy to follow as the trail heads up the canyon traveling at times in the seasonal streambed and at other times off to the side.

Near the 1 mile point of the hike the trail comes to the House on Fire ruin that sets under an overhang on the right side of the canyon about 20-30 feet above the wash. The ruin gets its name from the pattern in the overhang that resembles flames emitting from the structures. The ruins are very fragile so be sure not to enter any of them or lean on the walls.

Most visitors to Mule Canyon turn around at the House on Fire but if you choose to go further the trail continues in like fashion as before. There are spots where the trail gets overgrown by brush but if you stay on the main route the hiking continues to be pretty easy. We are saying this as we compare Mule Canyon to other canyons in the Cedar Mesa area that have no defined trails, very thick brush to hike through, spillovers to scale, and boulder jams to work around. In comparison Mule Canyon couldn't be much more pleasant.

It is almost a mile and a half past the House on Fire before the next ruin can be spotted. It sits under an overhang on the east side of the canyon. This photo was taken with a zoom lens while standing in the wash. We did hike up to this one on the way back down the canyon and get a closer look at it though.

The next ruin is only a little further down the canyon. It occupies a double alcove with granaries in the left alcove and other rooms in the right. It isn't too difficult to scramble up the cliff to a bench below the ruins. It would be much more difficult to climb all the way up to them though. They are pretty easy to see from this point of view anyway.

The next significant ruin is a kiva that sits high in the canyon. Getting there requires a little scramble up the mountain side. When you reach the bench below the level the kiva is on there is some rubble where there were once a few rooms. To get up to the next level requires climbing up a small tree that is growing at the perfect spot next to the cliff. Care must be taken not to leverage the tree too much and cause it to snap off at the trunk.

Portions of the kivas walls are still standing and there is a surprising amount of wood from what was once the roof.

It is almost worth climbing up to the ruin just to see the view of the canyon below. Scrambling up the tree was kinda fun also.

The canyon gets narrower if you continue any further. We ended up turning around at a pool of water that would have been a little difficult to climb around. As it turned out it was a good thing that we did because a severe thunderstorm rolled into the area and dumped several inches of rain rather quickly.

This picture is of some rock art that is under an overhanging boulder in the wash below the House on Fire Ruin. We had heard mention of some rock art near the ruin but hadn't been able to find it on past trips. It turns out that you have to walk right by it to get to House on Fire. The tendency is to be looking up toward the ruin at this point and not noticing what is in the wash below it.

As we reached the last half mile before the trailhead the skies opened up and it began raining bucket loads of rain. The first drop that we saw left a splat mark on a rock the size of a baseball. Water was flowing off the canyon walls forming waterfalls. This picture was taken about 10 minutes after we got out of the canyon. The streambed at this spot is about 6 feet deep. Remember that a good bit of the trails route is in the wash itself and right before the trail climbs out of the canyon it crosses the wash.

With no official parking area or signs at the road some visitors get confused and keep driving right past it. Others park at the fee station and hike over the rim into the canyon thinking that they don't need to pay the $2 fee that way. We marked the locations of the ruins in Mule Canyon on the map to the right. They are only approximate locations made from the distance from the trailhead that the GPS was showing and not from the actual coordinates. They should be close enough to give you a good idea as you hike. Mule Canyon is a very popular destination in the Cedar Mesa Area. It has very little elevation change and more of a defined trail than most of the other canyons. Add to that the draw that the House on Fire ruin has and it can become a busy place. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.