Round Trip Distance: 15.5 miles
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Usage: Hiking -Dogs - No bikes - No OHV
Time: 6 hrs. 30 min.
Facilities: Vault toilet at trailhead
Trailhead: Pollock Bench
Attractions: Sandstone canyons, adventuresome hike, solitude, bighorn sheep
View Rattlesnake Arches in a larger map
This is the second time this summer that I have hiked into Rattlesnake Arches from the Pollock Bench trailhead. There are several ways to access Rattlesnake Arches. Pollock Bench is the longest way as far as I know. The shortest way is from the Upper Trailhead on Glade Park. Another alternative is to float the river from the Loma boat launch to the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon and hike up from there.
The Pollock Bench trailhead is the last trailhead you come to as you drive in on Kings Row. There is plenty of parking for vehicles and horse trailers. The Pollock Bench area gets a lot of equestrian use. A horse could never make it to the arches from this trailhead though. There is a vault toilet at the trailhead. It seems to be kept pretty clean.
I left the trailhead around 0730. The sun had risen and the temperature was about 60 degrees. I would have left a little earlier to beat the afternoon heat but I need a certain amount of light for decent pictures.
The trail starts out climbing up the Pollock Bench trail. The trail is marked by signs with a P1. I followed these signs for the first 2 miles of the hike. The beginning elevation was right at an even 4500 feet. After hiking the first 1.9 miles the elevation had climbed to 5009 feet.
At this point the trail splits off from the Pollock Bench trail and starts dropping elevation as it works its way down into Pollock Canyon. There are several times on the trail where you gain a substantial amount of elevation as the trail climbs over ridges and up cliffs only to loose it again as the trail descends into gullies and canyons. While all this climbing up and down wears on the legs the changes in geology provide a pleasingly striking variety of landscape and rock formations. The ever changing terrain makes the hike a geological wonderland. I feel more like I am exploring the area rather than merely hiking.
The geological formations are sloped mostly to the north in a broad monocline from the upper area around Glade Park sloping down to the Colorado River. The top layer of earth is made up of the Morrison formation with its sandstone and colorful bands of green, grey and purple clays. As the trail descends into Pollock Canyon it passes down through the rosie Entrada sandstone and later to the Wingate formation with its high sheer walls.
Around 2.4 miles the trail descends a cliff that a rock climber would probably give a 3+ difficulty rating meaning that I had to use at least one hand along with my feet to scramble down the rocks. While that might sound hard to manage I wouldn't let it deter you from the hike. There is little or no exposure to make you feel like you are in peril. The scrambling adds to the pleasing character of the trail making you feel adventuress without feeling you are in danger of breaking your neck. This is my personal subjective point of view of course. But I tend to be a bit squeamish around highly exposed cliffs.
I reached the bottom of the cliff and followed the trail into Pollock Canyon. At 3 miles the trail bent to the south and headed up the drainage and across a seasonal stream bed. There were several varieties of flowers still in bloom with cottonwood trees and various bushes that hint that water might possibly be found not too far beneath the surface. The elevation here was back down to 4637 feet.
When I reached 3.25 miles I came to another cliff section this time requiring an upward scramble. There were two trails the met near the top of the cliff. The lower trail was partially blocked to encourage hikers to take the other path. The upper trail seemed like a funner climb. I could see a lot of scree and talus on the lower route and the upper route was mostly solid slick rock. If the ground was wet or snowy then I suppose I would have opted for the talus.
I reached the top of the cliff and the elevated ground above it around 3.5 miles at an elevation of 4936 feet. From here the trail heads around toward the north side of this prominent outcrop of rock. There were some fresh looking bighorn sheep tracks in the area but I couldn't locate their owner.
Once I rounded the outcrop the trail began heading mostly towards the west. Above the upper end of the canyon to the south the Window Rock Tower formation became increasingly noticeable. I zoomed in with my camera trying to get a worthy photo. The trail to Rattlesnake Arches actually passes about a quarter of a mile to the west of the tower. I made the trek over to it on the way back which I will mention at that point.
I had been hiking about 90 minutes at this point and was approaching the 4 mile mark. The trail was bending south again heading further up the canyon.
Towards the head of the canyon the trail turns west along a sheer high cliff of Wingate sandstone and after a few hundred yards begins to climb steeply upwards. Once I gained a few hundred feet of altitude the trail began climbing south up an even steeper section. There were a few switchbacks that made the climb a little easier. Once I gained the upper ground, around 5454 feet, I followed the trail as it began heading towards a cliff of Entrada sandstone.
Around 5.3 miles I came to the trail junction of the Rattlesnake Arches Trailhead. Rather than heading up the hill towards that trailhead I kept going west towards the arches. The trail was pretty easy from this point. As I hiked west the trail paralleled the cliffs. At the 6.3 mile point the trail wraps around the point of the Entrada sandstone cliff and heads south. At this point the trail is heading along the east rim of Rattlesnake Canyon. After a short bit of hiking the arches begin appearing in the cliffs to the left of the trail.
One interesting aspect of these arches is the close proximity of each arch to the others. It requires a bit of hunting to find all of the arches. If you see tracks branching off towards the cliff they might be leading to a view of an arch that can't be seen from the main trail. Each of the arches does have a name but none of them have a sign that indicates their identity.
This is 'Centennial Arch' a.k.a. 'Akita (Big) Arch' a.k.a. 'Castle Arch' a.k.a. 'Rattlesnake Arch' (I'm not done yet) a.k.a 'East Rim Arch'. Phew!
'Hole in the Bridge Arch'
The last arch that I hiked to was 'Cedar Arch' a.k.a. 'Rainbow Arch' (here we go again). There are a few other arches that I left out. All of the arches are collectively known as the 'Rattlesnake Arches'.
I turned around at this point about 7.5 miles into the hike. I logged the elevation at 5517 feet and the time at 1030 so I had been at it for about 3 hours. The sun wasn't in a good position for taking pictures the first time through so I took shots of all the arches once again on the return trip.
When I got just past the junction with the upper trailhead and before heading back down the steep grade I took a faint trail that led over to the 'Window Rock Tower'. After viewing this lithic portal from every direction I rejoined the main trail and began the descent back into Pollock Canyon.
I probably snapped as many photos on the hike back as I did coming in. With all the variety of scenery to see on this route I was hoping that my little camera would capture a few pictures capable of portraying the landscape in its natural splendor.
I arrived back at the Pollock Bench trailhead at 1400 hours. That made for a 6 1/2 hour hike. I'm sure that if I hiked in my normal fashion I could trim that time by 60-90 minutes.I took more fluids on this hike than most other hikes. I went through 120 ounces of water and 120 ounces of Gatorade, 2 bagels and 2 protein bars. Afterwards I threw nutrition aside and stopped by Smash Burgers.
I encourage anyone that takes this route to make plenty of preparation. I needed extra food and water to fuel the extra climbing that was required. I had an adequate cellphone signal except to the south of Centennial Arch where I was temporarily without service. The trail is well marked by signs and cairns but there are a few spots where the trail might turn in an unexpected direction which could cause you to wander off the trail before you notice the error. I had a friend who took his dog on this route and despite his every effort the dog died of heat exhaustion. Something to think about. If you do bring your dog you might consider getting it some booties to wear. The rock takes a big toll on their feet. The dog will also need help negotiating several of the cliff areas.
If you would like to see the Rattlesnake Arches and experience Pollock Canyon for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.