Colorado is a state that keeps on giving. Right when you feel you’ve discovered everything she has to offer, she slaps you across the face and says, “I’m not that easy.” This past weekend I uncovered another Colorado gem. Did you know that Colorado is home to the second largest concentration of arches in the entire nation and possibly the world?
Located in the Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness the Rattlesnake Arches will take your breath away. The Rattlesnake Arches are a part of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area and offer nine natural arches that can all be seen within a one mile span, tucked away in a desert landscape.
Carved out from millions of years of wind erosion, the serene beauty of Rattlesnake Arches is complimented by the plethora of wildlife that you may encounter on your excursion. Herds of elk, deer, big horn sheep and mountain lions have all been spotted on this slice of BLM land.
Cedar Tree Arch, also known as Rainbow Arch, is the largest arch in the group, spanning 76 feet. There are multiple names for the majority of the arches here and many are still unnamed. The Rattlesnake Arches can be accessed by two different trailheads. Selecting your access point is vital and will determine your experience getting to the Rattlesnake Arches.
Insider Tip: Rattlesnake Arches trail is made up of slick rock and loose gravel. Check the weather before attempting this hike or drive. Water is a major hazard for this trail. If you do get caught in a storm, wait it out and allow time for the earth to dry before continuing the excursion.
Rattlesnake Arches Upper trail head: 4X4 enthusiast
3 Miles – Moderate to Strenuous Hiking
+437 feet elevation gain
If you own a four wheel drive truck or jeep and love coming back down I-70 covered in mud, wearing it as a badge of honor that your weekend was truly rugged, then head this way. The Upper Trailhead is the shortest trail to access the mile long span of natural arches. Arriving at this trailhead can be tricky and you feel like you are driving to nowhere, a 4X4 clearance vehicle is required to make it all the way to the trailhead, but the views and the arches are worth the off road adventure. From Fruita drive up 16 5/10 road until you hit Black Ridge Road.
There is a BLM kiosk at the turnoff to Black Ridge Road. Grab a map of the roads leading to Mee Canyon and the Rattlesnake Arches Trailhead. Once on Black Ridge Road drive roughly 11 miles till you reach Rattlesnake Arches Trailhead at the top of the ridge. Here you can meander around the 3 mile loop while you gaze and enjoy all the vistas and arches.
Insider Tip: The Pollock Bench trail is not recommended for dogs, take the Upper Trailhead access point. Horses are welcome on sections of this trail but they will not be able to make it all the way to the Rattlesnake Arches from this access point.
Rattlesnake Arches Pollock Bench: All Day Adventure
15.5 Miles – Strenuous Hiking
+1089 feet elevation gain
The Pollock Bench Trailhead is not to be taken lightly. This trail is strenuous and is the longest way in to the cluster of arches. The Pollock Bench trailhead is the last stop on the drive up Kings View/Horsethief Road. Follow the signs for the Pollock Bench trail towards the Rattle Snake Arches. This trail ascends and descends the canyon walls and riverbeds. You will scramble up rocks and scoot down giant rock steps staggered across the path.
The biggest challenge of this trail is dropping into Pollock Canyon and then reversely climbing back out on your way home. The trail is well marked so you can stay on target and offers a rustic approach to the arches surround by classic western desert backdrops. This trailhead is a true day long hike so pack more water and snacks than you think you may need, it is hot and sparsely shaded the entire trek.