I remember first seeing a picture of the House on Fire ruins in an old National Geography book years ago, when I was still just a kid in Illinois. I had no idea where it was, but it looked cool. Really cool. Years later, I found myself living in Utah, only a couple of hours from House on Fire ruins! It instantly became a bucket list item for me, and should be on yours. House on Fire ruins will not disappoint!
Now, why is it called “House on Fire?” As you may see in the feature photo, the ruins are under a rock overhang which appears to be on fire during a certain time of day. Besides the impressive color, the hike through the canyon takes hikers through time to see how the Anasazi would have lived 800 years ago.
House on Fire Hike Details
Distance – 2.2 miles roundtrip to House on Fire, 10 miles up and back to see all the ruins in the canyon
Approximate hiking time – 2 to 2.5 hours for House on Fire, 8 hours for the entire canyon
Elevation at Trailhead – 5961 feet
Elevation at House on Fire – 5993 feet
Difficulty – Easy. There are a couple of shallow stream crossings.
Trail – Dirt, slickrock
Amount of water recommended – 2 liters
Bathrooms – None
Season to hike – March to November, Spring and Fall are best
Pets Allowed? – Not recommended, but must be on leash
Prone to flash floods? – No
How to get there:
House of Fire is in a fairly remote location, yet a paved road takes you within a quarter of a mile of the trailhead.
From Moab: Head south on Hwy 191 south for nearly 80 miles. Along the way, you’ll pass through the small town of Monticello, UT and Blanding, UT. In “downtown” Blanding, you’ll follow the signs and turn left to continue on Hwy 191. After turning left, you’ll go 4 miles and will take a sharp right onto Hwy 95. There should be a sign for UT 95, shortly before the right turn. It should take a little under and hour and a half to get to this point from Moab.
Head west on UT 95 for a little over 19 miles. At 19 miles on UT 95, and right after you pass mile post 102, there will be a dirt on your right. Take it. If you pass a brown sign that says “Mule Canyon Indian Ruins” you’ve gone too far. Turn around and take the first dirt road you come to on your left. Once on the dirt road, you’ll go about a quarter of a mile, and then park on the side of the road. The shallow canyon on your left in Mule Canyon. This is where you’ll start the hike to House on Fire.
Hitting the trail:
The trail is a very pleasant hike along a well-marked dirt trail. Mule Canyon is full of Anasazi ruins, and House of Fire is the first of those ruins. It’s a relatively short hike to the House on Fire ruins. After just a mile or so of easy walking along the trail, keep an eye on the north side of the canyon.
The House on Fire is easy to see, and is about twenty feet above the canyon wash bottom. It is an easy scramble up some slickrock to arrive at the dwellings. This area is not a national monument or park which means that all hikers still need to abide by the rule of not taking any objects, etc, from any of the sites. Please, only take pictures.
This area is loaded with Anasazi ruins, with the House on Fire ruins being the most impressive. The Anasazi settled here around 750 A.D. to 1300 A.D. The ruins that you see here have not been restored nor rebuilt. What you see in Mule Canyon and the surrounding canyons are between 700 to nearly 1000 years old. The trail parallels a small, clear stream and with wide grassy parts of Mule Canyon, it’s very easy to see why the Anasazi built their dwelling here.
For your safety, don’t crawl into the dwellings. Most of the openings are too small for the averaged sized person. Keep children from entering the dwellings as well. I say this not only for the sake of the preservation of the dwellings, but these ruins are now home to some rodents. Hantavirus is transmitted by infected rodents through droppings or saliva. Hantavirus is most commonly spread to humans by breathing air contaminated with the virus. In other words, don’t go into the dwellings, your immune system will thank you!
The trail continues up the canyon for a couple of more miles. If you venture farther up the canyon and explore all the side canyons on the north side of the Mule Canyon, you’ll find at least seven more ruins, all on the north side of Mule Canyon. To visit all ruins in the Mule Canyon, you’re looking at an out and back hike of around ten miles.
Archaeologists have determined that there was an extended drought in the area from 1276 A.D. to 1299 A.D. which caused the Anasazi to abandon the canyons. Other experts contend that the Anasazi are still here today, with their descendants being the Pueblo and Hopi Indians.
If you just have one day in the area, what I would recommend is hike to House of Fire ruins for the ideal mid-morning photo, and then head back to either explore other canyons, or make your way to Natural Bridges National Monument which is just a 20 minute drive from Mule Canyon.
This was the hike that finally got me hooked on ruins, petrogylphs, and pictographs. For a long time I just wasn’t interested in them as much as others. House on Fire changed all that.
Photo Tip for House on Fire:
Get the most impressive photos of the House on Fire in the late morning. The glowing color comes from indirect light as the sun reflects off the opposite canyon wall. Later in the afternoon, the direct light and harsh shadows make it very difficult to get a good shot.