Hiking to the Citadel – Bluff, UT

Bluff, UT

We’ve hiked to many ancient pueblo ruins in the area around Bluff (southeastern Utah) during our four previous visits.  But after a bit of research the nimble hiker found a site up on nearby Cedar Mesa that turned out to be one of our favorites – The Citadel.   To get to the trailhead leading to the ruins we first drove south of Bluff on US-163 for 20 miles.  At that point we turned right (west) on to UT-261.  UT-261 is a nice paved road except for a three mile segment called the Moki Dugway.  The Moki Dugway consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11% grade), which wind 1,200 feet up on to Cedar Mesa from the valley floor.

Look real closely and you can see a car traveling above us

The road has no guard rails, but it is wide enough that it will not bother most people.  The view from the top is quite impressive.

Looking east from the top of the Moki Dugway

We continued north on UT-261 to just before mile marker 20.  A sign there points to a right turn (east) on to Cigarette Springs Road, a well-maintained dirt road.  Just under a mile from the pavement there is a self pay station with envelopes for you to deposit $2/person and tear off a day pass.  We continued on Cigarette Springs Road for a total of 6.1 miles from the pavement.  At that point we made a left turn and headed north on an unnamed dirt road that is not well-maintained.  This spur ends at a small parking area by the trailhead (6.9 miles from the pavement).

Part of the un-maintained road

Any vehicle can do the 6.1 miles of maintained road.  The last portion is a bit rough, but it can be driven by most vehicles.  But if you are uncomfortable on this road you can find a place to park and hike to the trailhead.

Parking area at the end of the road

Trailhead next to the parking area

The trail begins by heading east on a packed sand trail along the south side of a canyon for about a mile and a half.

It then crosses an area of flat slickrock well marked with cairns. The trail then cuts down between boulders and follows a slickrock shelf around a rock outcropping.

A small cairn marks where to climb down

Shelf area across the slickrock

Rounding the rock outcropping we came to a beautiful view of the Citadel in front of us connected to the mesa by a land bridge.

We scrambled down some more slickrock and headed across the land bridge to our destination.

The bridge is very wide and posed no danger, but you wouldn’t want to get too near the edge as it is a long way down!

We scrambled back up the rocks (right side) on the other side of the bridge and looked up to see the well-preserved dwellings above us.  One more scramble and we would be there.

Cool free standing boulder by the dwellings

These dwellings are nicely preserved and show a high level of sophistication by the builders.

Interior of one of the rooms

Note the use of cornerstones for support

Lunch with a view

After checking out the ruins and enjoying the views we headed back down to the land bridge.

See the nimble hiker?

Climbing back up the slickrock

The Cedar Mesa area around the Citadel has been eliminated in the newly restructured  Bears Ears National Monument.  As we hiked back along the edge of the canyon we could see the two mesas that give the monument its name.

The Bears Ears

Even if there were no ruins, the hike out to the Citadel would be worth the effort just for the vistas.  The well-preserved ruins make the hike all the more interesting.

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47 Responses to Hiking to the Citadel – Bluff, UT

  1. Truly a fabulous location! Love the variety and scenery on this hike and the runs are the icing on the cake!

    • placestheygo says:

      There are so many fabulous hikes here that we always have something new waiting to be discovered. This is our fifth visit and we still have new hikes on the list.

  2. Jeff Pierce says:

    That appears to be one of the better hikes for its variety of terrain and views. And a WOW-some finale.

  3. Richard Savage says:

    What was the round trip length?

  4. Sherry says:

    Looking at the “cars” in the parking area, I can see this is no place poor Ruby the little accord that could can probably go. Looks like a great trail since I love slick rock shelves and land bridge to the Citadel is fantastic. What a view looking down and out from those great dwellings. Lunch with a view made me say WOW! Does the elimination mean this area is not protected? I sure hope not.

    • placestheygo says:

      Sherry, this area will still be BLM land as it was prior to the creation of Bears Ears National Monument. But it will not have the extra protection of being a National Monument.

      • Sherry says:

        I didn’t realize BLM land had much protection at all. I thought it was grazing and drilling and some boondocking and ORV.

  5. exploRVistas says:

    That is stunning, John and Pam! Love those views!

  6. What a spectacular hike–love the ruins! Seems as if there is a ruin around every corner in the Bluff area!

  7. georgeyates says:

    What an interesting fun hike and some wonderful pictures.

  8. Nancy says:

    Wow! Those views! Glad to see the ruins are still preserved somewhat.
    I am amazed with both of your climbing skills! I am dealing with planters fasciitis and am swooning over your hiking! I hope to get back to it soon!

  9. pmbweaver says:

    Oh well, I will have to love this hike through this post. There is no way ever never again that you will get me on that Moki Dugway! I was petrified the entire time we drove it. Paul kept saying look, take photos, look. I yelled at him and kept my head down. I just stuck my hand up with the camera and took whatever the camera took. He finally pulled over and yanked the camera out of the hand. He said that no day I would regret not looking. That day hasn’t come yet….lol
    It looks like the cairns would really help on that hike. The dwellings are fantastic. I just can’t image how they built those dwellings. Pretty amazing people. Amazing hike. Gorgeous scenery. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Jim and Barb says:

    What an awesome hike, we never get tired of visiting ruins like those. Amazing that they hold up after all these years.

    • placestheygo says:

      It is amazing that there are so many ruins in decent shape. The dry weather really helps and it seems the people who visit this area are very respectful. I still get excited about each new ruin we see even after five visits to Bluff.

  11. Box Canyon Blogger Mark says:

    You chose a great location to buy a home…smack in the middle of a recreational/hiking paradise…a day’s drive or less to so much glory!!!

  12. Awesome views and it looks like you didn’t have to share the trail with all that many people. Love that free standing boulder too. Super cool.

  13. Alicia Baker says:

    Haven’t heard of this one! Looks cool.
    Alicia @ GironaHike.com

  14. Thank you so much for the detailed direction to get there, your blog was our GPS! We both enjoyed the hike and the hurdle to get down over to the bridge tested our canyoneering skills 🙂 not to mention the canyon views!

  15. Laurel says:

    Oh goodie! A new hike for when we return to Cedar Mesa (and we will definitely return!). Like you, it’s one of our favorite areas. Thanks so much for always sharing with us what you discover—you know we’ll put the information to good use. It will be even better if we can hike those trails with you!

    • placestheygo says:

      We can keep you very busy if you get back to this area. We still have two other great hikes to share that I know you will enjoy! The four of us would have a wonderful time exploring here together.

      • Laurel says:

        We would have a blast together exploring Cedar Mesa! And we can add Fallen Roof Ruins to the list, unless you’ve already hiked it. It’s a sweet hike.

      • placestheygo says:

        Laurel, I had every intention of doing Fallen Roof on this hike. It has been on my list ever since you told us about it. Fallen Roof is on the same road as the Citadel, as is Seven Kivas. My plan was to do The Citadel, then do Fallen Roof on the way out. The two hikes combined would only be around seven miles. But when we finished The Citadel it was too late to get in another 2.5 miles and drive almost an hour home before dark. Next time for sure!!

  16. Southern Utah had so much to offer. Fortunately the slick rock grips. Great photos once again.

  17. Jodee Gravel says:

    Most people….uh, huh. And then a land bridge!! So glad I have friends who make these wonderful hikes for me 🙂 Such a gorgeous hike. The free standing rock is wonderful It looks like you’re enjoying much cooler weather than Southern Nevada – jealous!!

    • placestheygo says:

      I’m glad we can take you to these off road places, Jodee! This was such a unique rock formation. We had a few cooler days early in the week but soon heated up here in Bluff to the high 70’s and got to 86 today!

  18. Erin says:

    Having the nimble hiker on the landbridge provides a perspective on how wide it is … that was missing from the first photo. Nice hike and good to read that the road is doable by most vehicles.

  19. LuAnn says:

    What an amazing looking hike, with ruins at the end. With every post you have me convinced that we need to have a Jeep.

  20. geogypsy2u says:

    The Moki Dugway is So on my list. Looks like I could get to the trail head if it hadn’t rained recently but don’t think I’d want to be climbing those rocks alone. An outstanding ruin.

    • placestheygo says:

      The Moki Dugway is a great road. You can stop part way on a large pull over area on one of the curves and climb up to see for miles in all directions.
      You would be able to drive the Cigarette Springs Road. It would definitely be a hike to have someone with you.

  21. Absolutely loved Moki Dugway, although we did it on our quads including Valley of the Gods when we were camping at Goose Neck SP. The old ruins are always interesting to explore.

    • placestheygo says:

      There is so much to explore in area. We’ve been to Bluff four times and I still have places to visit on our list. You’ll have to visit Arch Canyon on your quads the next time!

  22. Pingback: Bluff, Utah the second time around, Part 2 | The Lowe's RV adventures

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