RATTLESNAKE CANYON ARCHES COLORADO HIKE GUIDE
Rattlesnake Canyon Arches is a beautiful out and back hike located in western Colorado. While many people associate natural arches with Utah, Rattlesnake Canyon is a unique opportunity to hike to and on an arch right here in Colorado. This hike itself is not difficult at all but be prepared for the drive to the TH as the road can be very tricky depending on the road conditions and your vehicle. Rattlesnake Canyon Arches is not a destination hike, but is a must visit if you are planning a trip to the Colorado National Monument or Western Colorado in general.
Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Quick Facts
Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Rating: ★★★ (3/5 Stars)
Distance: Various-Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Trail 6.2 miles RT; Via Pollock Bench Trail 13.6 Miles RT
Elevation Start: 5,400 ft
Summit: 5,850 ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 1-2 Hours (via Rattlesnake Arches Trail)
Difficulty: Easy What does this mean?
Season: Year Round
Getting Here: Rattlesnake Canyon Arches can be a bit tricky to get to.
Option 1 (shorter hike, longer drive): Head to the Fruita exit off I-70 and enter into the Colorado National Monument. Once in the monument, drive until you see “Glade Park Store” turn off and then turn right onto Black Ridge Access Road. Once you are on this “road” you will reach a fork that directs you to the upper road and the lower road. The upper road is open from August 15th – February 14th and the lower road is open February 15th – April 15th. If taking the lower road, if you reach the radio tower, you’ve missed your turn so head back and take the next right you can. Either road you take requires a high clearance vehicle. AWD or 4WD may not be necessary, but it can certainly help depending on road conditions from recent weather. Drive 13 miles down this single lane road until you reach the trailhead parking lot. The last ½ – ¾ miles of the road can be extremely tough to clear if you do not have a vehicle with at least all wheel drive and very high clearance. Be prepared to pull off to the side and walk if necessary.
Option 2 (shorter drive, longer hike): The other option for access to rattlesnake arches is to park at the Pollock Bench TH (located off road 1 ½ in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area) and hike in that way. This adds another 7.4 RT but eliminates the long drive in from Black Ridge Access. This site is a great resource if you are looking to go that route.
Fee: $25 to enter the Colorado National Monument
Parking: Free parking is available at the start of the TH. You will need to pay a fee to enter into the Colorado National Monument if taking the Black Ridge Access Road.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on the hike to Rattlesnake Canyon arches, but keep in mind it is usually very hot and there are 0 water sources along the way. The terrain is mostly dirt and sandstone so the heat would be the biggest concern on your dog’s paws.
Camping: There are several spots to camp along Black Ridge Access road and near the trailhead. Alternatively, you can camp inside Colorado National Monument which is located nearby. You do need a free permit to do that, which you can read more about here.
Make it a Loop: Although this trail is somewhat of a loop already, you can hook up with neighboring trails to extend this hike. Both the Pollock Bench and Pollock Canyon trails provide access to many neighboring trail systems.
Mountain X Factors: Route
Without question the Rattlesnake Arches is a must visit for outdoor enthusiasts. However, when I planned my trip here, the biggest X factor was how I would access the arches. For my trip, I decided to roll the dice and take the access road. I drove a Subaru Forester and it made the trip without any problems until the last ½ mile where I was forced to pull off and park. I should say I am very comfortable driving off road and have lots of experience with less than ideal “roads.” Having said that, the conditions of the Black Ridge Access Road will certainly play a large factor in the success of your trip.
Hike Tip(s): If you are looking to camp in the area, head into the National Monument (camping with free permit required) and spend the night in this unique location before heading off to Rattlesnake Arches the next day.
Best Views: The huge arches here provide fantastic opportunities for beautiful landscape pictures while letting you use your creativity for optical illusion pictures. Be careful if you choose to climb out onto the arch, the access points are extremely narrow and have poor foot holds. Bring a tripod and remote or use the self timer for some great group shots.
Our Trip to Rattlesnake Canyon Arches: October 2015
My first visit to Rattlesnake Arches was the last leg of the “Coloroadtrip” my girlfriend and I took which I have eluded to in previous posts. This was the most anticipated stop of the trip as I was feeling a lot of anxiety around the unknowns of this particular hike. The information I found online was not solid and had many holes in it. After spending the night in the middle of the National Monument, we were back at the car and driving into the arches around 7AM. While driving through the park, we interrupted a group of mountain goats who were chowing down on their breakfast.
Once we found the access road, we did have some trouble finding the correct turnoff. We ended up at the radio towers and knew we had missed the turn. After we navigated to the correct road, the drive was not terrible. Looking out for oncoming traffic and keeping our eyes out for huge potholes and large rocks was the theme of the 13 mile drive. Toward the end I bottomed out on a large rock and gully in the road and knew it was time to park and walk the rest of the way. We reached the trailhead 15 minutes later and began descending down into the valley. Personally, I was still skeptical about these so called arches because it honestly looked like we were walking into the middle of a desert valley with no arches in sight.
After walking for another 15 minutes or so, the arches quite literally appeared out of nowhere and boy were they a site to see. The two massive red arches where the centerpiece of the beautiful landscape that sat in front of us. We both climbed out on the prominent arch and snapped some pictures before moving on to the lower part of the trail.
This part of the trail was quite boring with few opportunities for views or photos. I was actually hoping to run into a rattlesnake to spice things up a bit. Essentially the trail made a giant 2 mile loop back to where we started at the first two arches. The views here were okay and provided a different perspective to the arches we saw earlier in the day. Honestly though, the other arches along the lower trail were not as impressive as the first two. If we had not spent the better part of an hour driving to the trailhead, we probably would have skipped the lower part of the trail altogether.
Maybe it was because we knew what to expect, but the drive back was far less painful and took about half the time as the hour drive in. Even with the disappointing lower trail, Rattlesnake Canyon Arches is a must see landmark in western Colorado.