La Quemada was inhabited between about AD 300 and 1200, and it is estimated to have peaked between 500 and 900 with as many as 3000 inhabitants. From around 400 it was part of a regional trade network linked to Teotihuacán, but fortifications suggest that La Quemada later tried to dominate trade in this region. The impressive ruins stand on a hill overlooking a broad valley 45km south of Zacatecas, 2.5km east of the Zacatecas–Guadalajara road.

Of the main structures, the nearest to the site entrance is the Salón de las Columnas (Hall of the Columns), probably a ceremonial hall. Slightly further up the hill are a ball court, a steep offerings pyramid and an equally steep staircase leading toward the site's upper levels. From the upper levels of the main hill, a path leads westward for about 800m to a spur hilltop (the highest point) with the remains of a cluster of buildings called La Ciudadela (the Citadel). To return, follow the defensive wall and path back around to the museum. Take water and a hat; it's mighty exposed out there.