Cedar Mesa Mule Canyon

Cave Canyon or Mule Canyon Towers

The Cave Canyon Towers Ruin goes by many names including; Cave Tower Ruins, Mule Canyon Towers, Seven Tower Ruins, and the Five Tower Site. The ruin features the remains of towers perched on both sides of the head of Cave Canyon. Cave Canyon is a short steep side canyon on the west side of Mule canyon. The site is easily accessed from Hwy 95 and is a great place to observe a tower constructed by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi).

Directions to Cave Canyon Towers

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The access to the Cave Canyon Towers is on the south side of Hwy 95 at about mile 102.5. There is a gate to a spur road that you can open and drive through. Always close this gate behind you when you pass through it! The spur road should be considered 4wd only but the road is short and it’s easy to park near the gate and walk to the towers.

Photo of Cave Canyon leading toward Mule Canyon
Cave Tower Ruin sits at the head of a short tributary of Mule Canyon. There are towers on the canyon rim and groups of structures tucked into the cliff overhangs on both sides of the canyon.

The road ends in an open, unstructured parking area. There is no specific trail to the towers which are just north/east of the parking area. It’s easy to find a trail heading to the east and you’ll quickly spot the Towers. They are located on both sides of the head of Cave Canyon with one significant tower still standing on each side of the canyon.

The Tower Ruins

There is no way of knowing the exact purpose of these towers. While they seem defensive in nature we shouldn’t be too quick to assign that role. They are not closely associated with a village so there is no logical place for them to be protecting. There is a water source at the head of Cave Canyon and it is possible that this had some bearing on the use of the towers. Maybe they were used for communication and observation or perhaps for religious reasons.

The towers were multi-storied and their height undoubtedly provided great observation opportunities. The ruined tower at the Mule Canyon Ruin is a mile north of here and the towers would have been within the line of sight of each other.

Photo of a tower ruin standing at Cave Canyon
The towers at Cave Canyon have not been stabilized and are gradually succumbing to wind, weather and gravity.

Although I’ve visited this site several times I’ve never noted how many towers I count and I’ve read a number of different accounts of how many towers there are. I have seen it reported as 5, 6, or 7 towers. When you visit you can decide for yourself how many there are. While towers are common at Hovenweep, there are few on Cedar Mesa and this is a great place to see them.

Ruins in Cave Canyon

Although there is no substantial village associated with the towers, there are a number of small sites and structures tucked into the alcoves on both sides of the canyon. As the canyon drops steeply from the towers, the exposed rock layers provide a lot of good building sites. With binoculars, you can spot a few sites below the south/west rim and a number of structures and small building groups on the north/east side of the canyon. Access to the sites on the south/west wall is impractical and access to the sites on the north/east side requires a pretty good scramble and the ability to pick a route.

If you are determined to try to reach the cliff dwellings on the north/east wall of the canyon, there is a place to drop over the rim of the canyon at the end of a faint trail heading toward the canyon edge from the main tower ruin on the same side of the canyon. Following this route requires a step down as your first move into the canyon. Usually there are rocks piled on the ledge below to help with this step. Once you’ve reached the ledge you can pick your way down and along the canyon wall.

cliff dwelling ruins in Cave Canyon
There are small ruins in the alcoves below the rim on both sides of Cave Canyon. Some of these are inaccessible while others can be reached by off-trail scrambling. Always take special care to avoid doing any damage to ruins.

None of the cliff dwellings in the canyon, or the towers on the rim, have been stabilized or restored in any fashion. These are delicate ruins and it’s critical to enjoy them from enough distance that you don’t disturb them in any fashion. Stay out of them and off of them – do what you can to keep them preserved for many years into the future.

Hiking in Cave Canyon

Cave Canyon is a short steep canyon that joins Mule Canyon a bit south of where it crosses under Hwy 95. Mule Canyon is interesting as it has two upper forks, each of which is deep and steep-walled canyons. Typically canyons get deeper as they approach their lower ends but Mule Canyon gets shallow in the middle. From the highway crossing up-canyon past the junction of the two forks, Mule Canyon is very flat and shallow until each fork climbs into its own canyon

South of UT 95, the canyon gets deep quickly and Cave Canyon drops just as quickly. Cave Canyon reaches the bottom of Mule Canyon less than a mile south of UT 95. It’s the only practical (but not easy) access point for hiking into this section of Mule Canyon. Many people hike a mile or two into Mule Canyon from the lower end but few visit the middle sections of the canyon.

Although Cave Canyon provides excellent hiking, most people visit to explore the towers on the rim. While not as elaborate or well preserved as some ruins, this is the best place to see tower ruins on Cedar Mesa. The access is easy and exploring the Cave Canyon Towers Ruin is a short trip that can be combined with one or more other short hikes to make a full day.

These Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites are nearby: