Take a Hike: Rattlesnake Arches
Just west of Grand Junction, tucked away in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, lies Rattlesnake Arches. This secluded spot boasts nine arches – the country's second largest concentration outside of Arches National Park. Most of these are clustered in a one-mile section of trail that hugs the canyon wall, providing an intimate experience with outstanding opportunities for solitude, photography and primitive recreation.
Rattlesnake Arches offers two trailhead options, making this hidden gem a good choice for both day hikers and serious backpackers. Both trails feature wildflowers, bighorn sheep, spires, alcoves, sandstone canyons in a palette of desert hues, and tree-covered mesas sloping down to the Colorado River. Just don’t let the breathtaking views distract you from the arches themselves – keep your eyes up or you'll miss these expansive natural skylights.
This easy-to-moderate trail is 4.4 miles out and back. To get to the trailhead, enter the west end of the Colorado National Monument. (Let them know your destination, and there will be no fee.) After traveling 11 miles on Rim Rock Drive, turn right at the Glade Park turnoff, and right again in 1/4 mile onto Black Ridge Road. The next 12 miles are unpaved and rough, with high clearance and four-wheel drive required for the last two miles before the trailhead. Black Ridge Road may be closed due to rain or snow, so be sure to check conditions first.
The most difficult section of the hike is the first .2 miles, where you’ll encounter loose rock and a steep grade from the top of the plateau to the trail bordering the arches. Beyond this section the trail is clear and fairly flat. This dog-friendly hike is a great option for those with canine companions.
This moderate-to-difficult trail is 15.5 miles out and back. To get there, exit I-70 at Fruita, go south 1-1/2 miles on Hwy 340, and turn right into Kings View Estates. Travel two miles to the Pollock Bench parking lot. Pay close attention to signs and cairns (rock stacks marking the trail), as you can easily follow false trails. There are a few scrambles and very little shade. Come prepared with snacks and plenty of water! Backpackers will find an abundance of great camp spots but should check with the BLM for camping and fire restrictions. Dogs are allowed, but without reliable water or shade they will be safer at home.
Whichever trail you choose, autumn’s mild and dry weather make it the perfect time to get out and experience Rattlesnake Arches.
Photo credit to Devon Balet.