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Weird place Wednesday: Rattlesnake Canyon Colorado

Inside of Cedar Arch looking down to the end of the Lower Rattlesnake Canyon Arches trail.


Inside of Cedar Arch looking down to the end of the Lower Rattlesnake Canyon Arches trail.

This week’s weird place Wednesday boasts the second largest concentration of natural arches outside Arches National Park and yet you rarely hear it mentioned. It is Rattlesnake Canyon southwest of Grand Junction, Colorado!

Rattlesnake Canyon has a lot going for it: it’s remote, the deep canyon views are fantastic, and it receives few visitors. The canyon is just one of a list of amazing features that surround the Grand Junction area. In terms of photography, it really is a target rich environment. Like many of the locations I have covered, Rattlesnake Canyon is not far from civilization as the crow flies, but unless you can fly, it will take at least a couple of hours to get to.

There are a couple of options to get to Rattlesnake Canyon, one for the backpacker and one for the off-roader. The first option involves packing into the McInnis Canyon conservation area from the Colorado River for a long, rugged roundtrip hike. I cannot speak with much detail backpacking in as I have not done it, but make sure to take a detailed map and plenty of water; the Colorado river is most likely the last you will see until your return.

What I can speak of in more detail is taking Black Ridge road just south of the Colorado National Monument. Unless you are coming from the south, you will need to drive from I-70 through either downtown Grand Junction or Fuita to the west then pay to go through Colorado National Monument (it’s worth it!) to get to Black Ridge road. From the I-70 exit to Fruita, it is about 13.7 miles to the pull off from Rimrock drive, which is the road that takes you on top of the monument. Once you hit the dirt road, the parking area and gate are a short distance to the west. Be aware that the gate may be closed depending on the time of year and conditions when you get there. If the gate is open and you continue on, it is about 10.5 miles of dirt road to the Rattlesnake Arches trailhead, you will want a high clearance 4WD for the last couple of miles. The road has some rough spots at the end with tight corners and branches that will leave their mark, so if you care about your paint job, you might take that into consideration.

It is easy to get turned around while trying to stay on Black Ridge road and there is sometimes more than one option, so I will give you GPS points of where to turn below. If you didn’t know, your vehicle GPS will most likely receive GPS points and although it will not provide way points, you’ll be able to see when you’re getting close. Hopefully I have gotten lost enough, so you don’t have to. Now that I have been down Black Ridge road a few times, it seems to make perfect sense, but if it is your first time, it might be a little more directionally daunting. As with backpacking in, make sure to take plenty of water, there is none close and it can get 100+ degrees out there in the dead of summer.

Useful GPS points. (feel free to use them as waypoints, they are in order)

Black Ridge Rd. entrance: 39˚3’18.28″N 108˚44’41.42″W

Left at: 39˚3’39.34″N 108˚45’40.54″W

Right at: 39˚3’20.77″N 108˚46’5.77″W

Straight to: 39˚3’34.76″N 108˚46’30.20″W

Right to: 39˚5’51.20″N 108˚50’12.28″W

Right at: 39˚6’38.88″N 108˚50’20.25″W

Right to: 39˚6’57.36″N 108˚50’18.50″W

Trailhead: 39˚8’13.53″N 108˚50’33.26″W

Once you’ve made it to the parking area at the end, you will see signs at the trailhead with a vague map, so bring your own detailed map for the roughly 6.4 mile out and back Lower Rattlesnake Arches trail. The trail descends quickly from the trailhead and as it winds to the east and then south, you will eventually come across a sign that says “first arch.” If you are up for it, make your way down the trail towards the first arch, which has been called Cedar Arch, Rainbow Arch, or Trail Arch by some. As you get closer you begin to get an overlooking view of Cedar Arch, and if you continue on, you can actually scramble down to the arch, but it does get tricky and will require some scrambling. If you are able to get down into Cedar Arch, you will see that the trail that you took a side trip from actually loops around for 3.2 miles and ends at the bottom of this arch. If you are comfortable with even steeper terrain and some minor rock climbing, you could actually come back up through Cedar Arch at the end of the loop and knock off a couple of miles instead of returning the way you came. I will tell you that even though I am comfortable with climbing down to the arch, I was not comfortable with climbing up through it; it was too steep for me and too remote for a potential injury since I was alone.

Lower-Rattlesnake-Arches-trail.Back at the main trail, you will continue descending some, eventually paralleling a rock wall for the remainder of the distance. You won’t see arches for a while, then all of a sudden they will be in fairly quick succession on the east side of the mesa including Bridge Arch, which is an odd double arch, my favorite East Rim Arch, and then at the end of course Cedar Arch, which looks completely different from the bottom than it does from above. All in all, it is an easy hike for 6.4 miles with the only difficult parts being some short steep ascents on the return trip. Including the drive, getting to and hiking Rattlesnake Canyon can take some time, so make sure to plan a full day for it.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me or leave a comment below.

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