Juanita Arch

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 4.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4658 - 5121 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Highway 141 MM 101
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, natural bridge




Juanita Arch is located in Maverick Canyon near the town of Gateway, Colorado. The scenic arch is actually a large natural bridge that spans a branch of the canyon. Getting to the arch from Highway 141 requires crossing the Dolores River either by wading or with a canoe or raft. Near the midpoint of the trail hikers must also deal with a narrow section of trail that has a drop off of 50-100 feet. Other than that Maverick Canyon is a beautiful place to hike among the towering redrock cliffs that draw visitors to the Gateway area.


What passes as a trailhead for Juanita Arch is a pullout along Highway 141 at mile marker 101 about 10 miles south of Gateway.


After crossing a berm of dirt there is a faint trail the heads south between the highway and the river.


Someone has left a red canoe at the crossing. We have been here in the past and found that someone had already taken it across the river so the use of it isn't something that you can count on. We brought a raft with us on this trip but used the canoe instead.


Anyone that wants to wade across will need to go down where the rocks are. The mud is 4 or 5 feet deep where the canoe crosses and it is more or less nothing but quicksand. Rather than going straight across you need to aim for the sandbar downstream where the wash from Maverick Canyon runs into the Dolores River. That way you can avoid fighting your way through the thick growth of willows along the opposite bank.


The wash makes a good enough trail until it begins getting rocky at which point it is easier to climb out on the left side and find the old pack trail.


For the most part the pack trail is much easier to hike than crawling around the boulders and rocks in the wash. We have found that if you stick to it as much as possible you can cut off a good hour from the round trip time. There are a few places where the trail climbs along the hill where there are loose rocks and dirt but it is still faster and easier than the wash.


The crux of the hike for some people is going to be a 50 foot stretch where the trail gets very narrow as it climbs around the shoulder of the canyon. We kicked the trail out with our boots and made it a little wider in one spot that was the narrowest. If a person really wanted to it wouldn't take much to shovel it out and make it a foot wider. After you pass the narrowest spot the trail is much more comfortable in width.


The trail keeps climbing around the shoulder of the mountain and into the main branch of the canyon on the left. The branch on the right becomes Little Maverick Canyon and that is not the way to go to get to Juanita Arch. From this point on the pack trail gets a lot harder to follow as it crisscrosses the wash from time to time. If you don't mind scrambling over a few boulders then you can stay in the wash. Since horses and mules can't scramble over boulders the pack trail works its way around them. There are a couple of places where the old pack trail is overgrown with brush that make it harder than staying in the wash.


Right before reaching the arch there is a spot where there is a lot of poison ivy some of which is 6 or 7 feet tall. It is easy enough to get around on the right side of the canyon where the trail climbs up and around a large pool of water that is at least partially fed by a seep. At this point you can't actually see Juanita Arch but it is just over your right shoulder about 50 feet away. To get to it you have to continue around the spring where within 20 feet or so it comes into full view.


As soon as you see Juanita Arch it becomes apparent that it is really a natural bridge that was cut out of a fin of rock that is probably at least 15-20 feet thick. You have to pass through the opening to continue up the canyon where we are told the pack trail eventually climbs all the way out of the canyon providing an alternate route to Juanita Arch.


We have crossed the Dolores River using the canoe but we have also crossed it in hip waders using trekking poles for balance. The rocks can be very slippery and the current can be much too strong at times to safely wade across. Even when the water is low it will likely come almost up to your knees in places. That said we have seen people that just took their shoes and socks off to make the crossing.


Juanita Arch is well worth seeing and if you don't mind the unusual approach required by crossing the Dolores River it is quite adventuresome. We cleared away a lot of rocks that had fallen onto the trail but it would be real nice for someone that had the time to take a shovel and widen the narrow spot and a pair of clippers to trim away some of the brush that is overgrowing the trial in a few places. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.