Rattlesnake Arches (April 20, 2019)

Several years ago, while visiting Colorado National Monument, our curiosity was piqued when we learned about a place in nearby McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area containing the second largest concentration of arches after Arches National Park in Utah.

As much as we love America’s Greatest Idea, the National Park System, finding solitude exploring out of the way places has become an increasing priority in our adventures. But until we got more serious about off-roading last year, Rattlesnake Arches, which is within the BLM's Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, was a bit out of our (and especially my) hiking range, at over 14 miles from the trailhead near Fruita.

Overlooking the Rattlesnake Arches area near Fruita, Colorado

Enter "Moby", our 2017 Toyota 4Runner. Purchased last spring very lightly used with only 7,500 miles, 3" lift, rock sliders, off-road truck tires, Mike has since wisely added a beefier skid plate and brighter headlights, and has collected an impressive assortment of off-road emergency and recovery gear.


Rattlesnake Arches was at the top of our off-road adventures list but it took us almost a year to get there due to planned seasonal road closures, impassable conditions and summer heat. But this year we marked the calendar to go out shortly after the Upper Road opened and had a Goldilocks day April 20, just 5 days after the road opened for the season. 

Starting the 4WD part of the road to the trailhead

Past the Upper Road is the high clearance 4WD Road that would take us right to the trailhead, cutting over 5 miles off the hike. The the road was easier than expected, always a relief for me, but perhaps a bit of a disappointment for Mike who enjoys the off-roading challenges. Still it was a fun ride with vistas across the Colorado River and Fruita and the mountains beyond. It took about and hour and a half to get to the trailhead from Grand Junction.

Our hike took us first on the upper trail where after about a mile we had a steep view down to First Arch and far across the canyon to a number of red rock alcoves.

Opting not to try the steep scramble down through First Arch, we instead backtracked to access the lower loop trail which started with a number of steep and rocky switchbacks leading to the canyon floor.

I started the descent alone while Mike hiked back to the car to get more water. At the bottom, the U-shaped trail hugged canyon wall, with magnificent views up at the massive rock walls and arches all the way.

Lots of little wildflowers along the trail

The trail ends looking up at First Arch, unless you feel comfortable with the class 3/4 scrambling required to climb up First Arch. I didn’t, so we traced our steps back, adding 2.2 miles to the hike and getting a second look at all the beauty on the canyon floor.

Looking up at First Arch before heading back

Looking back down on the trail we just ascended

On the way out we stopped at the Glade Park Store, which was quite a blast from the past, and had a nice visit with the proprietor.

Glad Park Store

Here's the GPS map/track with statistics on this hike.

As you can see, we enjoy a leisurely pace :-)