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Rattlesnake Canyon Arches

McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area

Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado

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Rattlesnake Canyon Arches

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  • Interpretive sign at the trailhead. The sign shows wildlife that inhabit the area. It is so hot in the summer, though, that wildlife are hard to spot during the day.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • The section of the trail descending from the top mesa to the lower bench is very steep and rocky.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • As you get to the lower bench, the eroded sides of the mesa create interesting formations.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • The Lower Rattlesnake Arches Trail is about 2.5 miles long from this point (2.2 miles to Rainbow Arch or Cedar Tree Arch).- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Eroded side of the mountain.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • The tip of the mesa looks like a giant ship from the air.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Top view of the tip of the mesa.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Hole in the Bridge Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Hole in the Bridge Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of Hole in the Bridge Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of Hole in the Bridge Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • View of the valley looking southwest from near Hole in the Bridge Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of Rim Arch (notice the person on the bottom right for scale).- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Rim Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Rim Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of Rim Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of Rim Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Rainbow Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Rainbow Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Rainbow Arch (notice the person in the middle for scale).- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of Rainbow Arch.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Sound view from the end of the trail.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • Aerial view of the mesa and arches, and the Colorado River in the distance, looking northwest from near the end of the trail.- Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
  • - Rattlesnake Canyon Arches
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Wonderful views. Several arches.
Cons: 
Remote and isolated. Very hot in the summer.
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Region:
Uncompahgre Plateau, CO
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Fall
Total Distance: 
7.00 mi (11.27 km)
Total elevation gain: 
450.00 ft (137.16 m)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
5,866.00 ft (1,787.96 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Contributor

The Rattlesnake Canyon Arches area of the McInnis Canyon National Conservation Area is truly a hidden gem in the high desert country. It is a bit difficult to get to it; the roads require four-wheel drive, and they can be impassable when wet. The views of the several mesas and bench levels are fantastic, however. This site has the second highest concentration of arches in North America, second only to Arches National Park, but without the crowds or the paved roads right up to the arches.

Starting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the drive to the trailhead passes through the Colorado National Monument, which is a great, more accessible site. The dirt road passes through private property, so please be respectful and stay on the road. After some rocky and steep areas that require a high clearance vehicle, the views of the mesas and of the mighty Colorado River open up as the road winds down the high desert.  There is space to park at the trailhead, but camping and overnight parking are prohibited.

The first two thirds of a mile are a descent of almost 200 feet, getting down to the top of the mesa where the arches are. At that point, descending to the bench below can be a bit tricky, so make sure to follow the trail (located at 39.141621, -108.838135). Other spots can be very steep and dangerous. The trail descends another 250 feet over 0.25 miles on very rocky terrain, so make sure to bring sturdy shoes. Further, it can be very hot in the summer, so make sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. The hike up to the trailhead can be very difficult at midday if you do not have enough water.

Once down at the lower bench, the trail is mostly flat and goes around the mesa for about 2.5 miles, where you can see various arches and great views of the piñon juniper covered mesas, proof of ancient shallow seas, and millions of years of erosion. Note that, while it is possible to climb back up to the top of the mesa at the end of the 2.5 miles, the route is truly a climb (not just a steep hike), which would require ropes and technical skills. Unless you are prepared for that, plan on walking around the mesa and back (5 miles roundtrip from that point).

The turn point around the tip of the mesa (around 39.147633, -108.852828) offers a view of the rock, which seems like a giant, red and white ship. Shortly afterwards, at about 2 miles from the trailhead, is the first arch: Hole in the Bridge. The hole on the alcove makes for an excellent photo subject. Just under half a mile later is the huge and beautiful Rim Arch. Three-quarters of a mile later is Rainbow Arch. Note that some of the arches appear to have different names, depending on what material you read. On the way back, after hiking to the top of the mesa, it is worth it to explore the arches on the top level.

There are other trails in the McInnins Canyon area, including Rabbit's Ear Trail, Wild Horse Mesa, McDonald Creek, and the over 140-mile-long Kokopelli Trail, which is suitable for mountain biking, and reaches as far West as Moab, Utah. The 123,430-acre national conservation area does not generally experience heavy transit, thus is a great setting to experience solitude and enjoy nature. Please do not remove rocks or petrogyphs, so future visitors and generations can continue to enjoy this wonderful place.

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Nearby Camping + Lodging

(2 within a 30 mile radius)

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(21 within a 30 mile radius)

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