Rattlesnake Arches

Round Trip Distance: 15.5 miles
Difficulty: Very Strenuous
Elevation: 4492 - 5581 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Pollock Bench
Fee: none
Attractions: Arches, scenic canyons

The Rattlesnake Arches trail is located in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area near Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado. The trail leads to a cluster of natural arches that are all located within about 1 mile of each other. This post is for the longest of the two available routes to Rattlesnake Arches which begins from the Pollock Canyon trailhead. The shortest route is from the Upper Trailhead on Glade Park which requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to access it.

The Pollock Bench trailhead is the last trailhead you come to as you drive in on the Kings View/Horsethief Road. 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 using the route that this post follows though.

From the trailhead follow the signs for the Pollock Bench trail which is designated by a P1 marker. For the first mile and a half the trail follows an old jeep road that gains a little over 500 feet of elevation as it progresses.

At the 1.6 mile point the trail reaches the beginning of the Pollock Bench Loop where the sign will indicate following the right fork for Rattlesnake Arches. Another fork comes up at the 1.8 mile point. The left branch is the horse route and the right branch is the hiker route. The left branch is real pretty but it adds about a half mile to an already long trail. The two routes reconverge at the 2 mile point of the hiker route.

After all of the initial climbing the trail leaves the ridge and makes a hasty drop into the next canyon over which is a branch of Pollock Canyon. The trail will adhere to the theme of climbing and descending all the way to the arches and back as it ascends one ridge just to descend into the next drainage which it then has to climb back out of. Some minor scrambling is required to get down the slope at this point and into the canyon. The first bit involves scrambling down a couple of short rock ledges. That is followed by some slickrock that is pretty easy to get a friction grip on.

The trail gets relatively easy for the next half mile as it passes around the sandstone cliffs and turns up Pollock Canyon. As it continues it drops down a series of benches until it reaches the big cairn in this picture. Every time we come through here the cairn has morphed in one way or another. At this point the trail reaches its first real difficulty where more advanced hiking skills come in handy as you have to scoot down a couple of rocky ledges on your fanny. The big crux of this trail is this point where you drop into the bottom of Pollock Canyon and the point coming up where you climb back out on the other side.

At the 3 mile point the Rattlesnake Arches trail meets the Pollock Canyon trail. This spot is a little over 400 feet lower than where the Rattlesnake Arches trail began on the Pollock Bench.

The trail stays in the bottom of the canyon for almost a quarter mile before it gets to the spot where the climb out of the canyon begins. The first part of the climb is up a loose talus slope which is followed by a scramble across some exposed slickrock that is probably not passable when it is wet. Some hikers have been taking a lower all talus route just below the slickrock. Once the slickrock section is overcome there are some short 4 to 5 foot sections of cliff to be scaled. Mountaineers would probably give these a Class 3+ rating meaning it requires maintaining 3 points of contact with the cliff as you scramble up them.

After climbing out of the bottom of Pollock Canyon the trail passes around a point of cliffs and drops in and out of another small drainage.

High up above an interesting rock formation draws your attention. Several popular names for the structure are Window Rock Tower and Aztec Window.

Just past the 4 mile point the route comes to another junction where it meets the trail coming up from the old trailhead at the end of I or I 1/2 road. That trailhead is now closed and fenced off by private property. From that junction the trail heads south along the cliff and then begins doing some serious climbing to get up to the level of Aztec Window. During this climbing stretch the trail gains another 600 feet of elevation.

The trail levels off and turns west and near the 6 mile point it comes to the trail junction where the route from the upper trailhead meets up with the lower route.

The Hole in the Bridge arch is one of the first that comes into view as the trail nears the 6.7 mile point. It sits between a couple of other arches with unknown names.

The iconic arch of the group is Rattlesnake Arch itself although it sometimes shows up with a number of other names as well. Rattlesnake Arch is about a quarter mile further along the trail from Hole in the Bridge arch.

The last arch, which is about a mile past the Hole in the Bridge Arch, is Cedar Arch, a.k.a. Rainbow Arch, a.k.a First Arch. There are 5 or 6 other arches that we have left out but all of the arches taken together are collectively known as the 'Rattlesnake Arches'. Cedar Arch marks the end of the trail so from here it is all downhill, and uphill, and downhill, and uphill ... back to the trailhead.

The Rattlesnake Arches trail from Pollock Bench requires advanced preparation. The overall elevation gain is around 4,000 feet. It is a chore getting to the arches and once there you get to turn around and do it all again to get back to the trailhead. We advise taking at least twice as much water as you might think you need. We have a friend whose dog died of heat exhaustion on this trail and is buried in Pollock Canyon so you might consider leaving fido at home for this one. If you would like to see the Rattlesnake Arches and experience one of the most scenic trails in the area for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.