Grand Junction Is Home to World’s Second Largest Cluster of Arches
Among western Colorado's dozens of hiking trails is one that leads to Rattlesnake Arches, the Grand Valley's best-kept secret.
Not that it's a secret, nor is truly hidden, but the Rattlesnake Canyon Arches are not easy to reach, which means it remains undiscovered territory for most Grand Valley residents. For the ambitious hikers who successfully navigate the trek to the Rattlesnake Arches trailhead, the payoff is an incredibly unique and rewarding experience.
Moab, Utah welcomes thousands of visitors from around the world every year who come to enjoy the scenic beauty of Arches National Park. It's a fascinating place, to be sure, but western Colorado is home to the world's second-largest collection of natural arches and they are nothing short of amazing. For those that make the journey, it is a first-hand look at 35 natural arches including eight "major" arches that have been in the works for over 175 million years.
There's more than one way to get to the Rattlesnake Arches in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. Consequently, there may be some confusion on exactly what it takes to get there. One option is a challenging 15-roundtrip hike from the Pollock Bench Trailhead, which certainly is no cakewalk. Another option is a 4-8 mile roundtrip trek from the Rattlesnake Arches Trailhead.
The real challenge of this entire thing is getting to the Rattlesnake Arches Trailhead. Reaching the trailhead means navigating a 10-mile dirt road, at least 2 miles of which requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, ATV, or mountain bike. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to travel the 10 miles, and you can't do it when it's wet.
Once you reach the trailhead, the hike begins. An easy half-mile hike takes you to a fork giving you the option of the upper loop or the lower loop. The upper loop trail is just over 2 miles round trip and is not difficult. The lower loop is twice as long and extremely challenging. The upper loop gives you the chance to look down over the arches, while the lower loop will give you a completely different perspective of the arches from down below.
When walking along the upper loop, you have to get off the trail in order to see the arches because they are tucked away over the edge of the canyon wall. You need to get to the canyon wall in order to look down at the arches, which is why I would not recommend taking children on this hike.
We did the upper loop first and then headed back to the trail intersection to hop on the lower loop trail. We were taking lots of photos so it was pretty slow going. We started from the main trailhead at about 7:30 and returned to the trailhead at about 1:00 before the real heat of the day kicked in. If you're going to do this hike, be sure you pack in plenty of water - more than you think you might need - especially if you're doing it in the middle of the summer.
This is a hike that my brother, Doug, and I have talked about doing for years, and finally the stars and planets aligned perfectly so that we were able to make the trip. I can tell you, we were not even slightly disappointed. The arches are absolutely amazing and are truly a western Colorado treasure.
[VISIT GRAND JUNCTION]