Hike to 3 Top Backcountry Ruins

Three backcountry ruins cool enough to make Indiana Jones reach for his boots. But remember: Look, don’t touch.
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Three backcountry ruins cool enough to make Indiana Jones reach for his boots. But remember: Look, don’t touch.

Towel Creek
Coconino NF, AZ

Hike past stately buttes, fields of Indian paintbrush (blooming all summer) and gold lichen splashed across red volcanic rock on this 13.5-mile out-and-back to 700-year-old Verde Hohokam cliff dwellings. A dozen rock-and-mud rooms in near-perfect condition nestle under tuff-rock ceilings. Begin at the Towel Creek trailhead, 65 miles south of Flagstaff, and climb the faint trail for .2 mile to an old Jeep track. At mile 6.2, just past an old electric fence, bushwhack north .3 mile to the ruins. Watch out for guano—hundreds of bats live in these dark alcoves. Infobit.ly/TowelCreek

Painted Cave
Bandelier National Monument, NM

Reach some of the ancient Pueblo tribe’s most vivid pictographs on this 21-mile out-and-back through steep-walled canyons. From the Frijoles Canyon Visitor Center, 45 miles from Santa Fe, hike up the west edge of Frijoles to Alamo then Capulin Canyons. Camp at mile 8 in Capulin (a creek provides water). Then continue 2.5 miles south to the Painted Cave, 50 feet above the canyon floor, to see paintings of churches, horses, suns, and geometric patterns, plus a 600-year-old, stone-carved dwelling below the cave. Infonps.gov/band

Mule Canyon,
Cedar Mesa, UT

This part of Utah is teeming with ancestral Puebloan remnants, including the famous House on Fire, named for the patterned sandstone that creates an illusion of flames shooting through its ceiling. Grab your photo, then push past the highlight at mile 1.3 for more solitude at the secluded kivas, homes, and granaries that litter the canyon. From the trailhead off of UT 95, about 20 miles west of Blanding, hike northwest. You can go as far as 4 miles in, keeping your eyes open for ruins all the way; find seasonal water along the canyon bottom. Infobit.ly/CedarMesa