Tower Ruin

Round Trip Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation: 4915 - 5084 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Salt Creek
Fee: $30/vehicle
Attractions: Ruins, pictographs, natural bridges


Tower Ruin is located in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park near Monticello, Utah. The attractive cliff dwelling type ruin can be found in a deep alcove in a side branch of Horse Canyon. Along the way to the ruin visitors are also treated to a couple of natural bridges, one aptly named Paul Bunyan's Potty that has another small ruins tucked away beneath an overhang, as well as a good number of painted hand pictographs that are also nearby. (During the winter months when the pay stations is closed the $30/vehicle fee is waved and admission is free.)

To get to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park drive south out of Moab on Highway 191 for 40 miles, or north out of Monticello for 14 miles, turn west onto Utah 211 and follow the paved road for 35 miles. From the Visitors Center follow the signs for Cave Spring and Salt Creek to get to the Salt Creek trailhead. A permit is required to drive beyond the locked gate at the trailhead.

For the most part the wash and the trail are one in the same. There are places where a hiking trail travels above the wash to avoid water hazards. The wash is sandy but we had little trouble picking out the firmer parts of the wash that required the least amount of effort and were able to make good time even with all our constant stopping to take photos.

A sign warns would be 4wd vehicles of deep water and quicksand. This photo is of a stretch of the wash that is well over a quarter mile in length that was all under water. The photo was taken in the month of December when water levels would typically be the shallowest. A trail that is well up on top of the bank provides dry passage for hikers.

Right at 2.5 miles from the trailhead the route splits at the mouth of Horse Canyon. After a few hundred feet into Horse Canyon the road improves quite a bit. Water is no longer much of an issue but the sand does get deeper in places. There are hiking trails that cut across many of the meanders in the wash making the hiking route a good bit shorter than the driving route.

An attractive natural bridge is easily spotted high up above the wash less than a half mile into Horse Canyon. All of our maps simply say 'Natural Bridge' with none of them giving it a name. 

Another natural bridge that is known as Paul Bunyan's Potty can be spotted about 1 mile further into the canyon.

There is a nice structure hidden behind some trees and bushes at the bend in the wash almost directly below Paul Bunyan's Potty. It is easy to walk or drive right by the site when traveling into the canyon and if you take the shortcut hiking trail that cuts across the bend you will miss it entirely. 

Some pictographs can be found at the south end of the same wash a few hundred yards after passing Paul Bunyan's Potty where a number of very faded painted hands decorate the cliff as though someone was taking a census by having everyone leave their mark.

After another half mile there is a road that leaves the wash that heads into a wide side canyon. 

It is right at a half mile into the side canyon to where Tower Ruin can be spotted high up in an alcove above the end of the road. The total one-way distance from the trailhead to Tower Ruin is right at 5 miles.

Our maps show another site that is named the Keyhole Ruin that is right before Tower Ruin. We could spot an alcove that looked like a keyhole but even with our binoculars we were unable to make out any ruins and we didn't venture off the trail for a closer look. If you have the means or energy to venture all the way to the end of Horse Canyon you will be treated to another handful of arches and a pictograph panel named Thirteen Faces. The map shows a round trip distance of 17 miles from the trailhead to the end of Horse Canyon but by the time you add in the extra distance to explore each site it will probably be in the range of 18-19 miles. It didn't appear to us that anyone had driven a vehicle past the locked gate in at least the last year. We did notice a couple sets of mountain bike tracks that didn't look more than a week old. Even at 10 miles round trip we would have to say the hike to Tower Ruin and back is one of the easier trails in the Needles District. We would urge caution or advanced preparation trying this one during the hot summer months. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.