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Trail of the Week: Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Trail, Colorado

The second-highest concentration of natural arches in the U.S.

Our Trail of the Week feature is made possible through a partnership with Trail Run Project.

This route links up some of the best canyon country wilderness in the Grand Valley. The second greatest concentration of arches outside of Arches National Park in Utah, Rattlesnake Arches has singletrack that weaves along the cliff edge for miles and an abundance of solitude. You might see some horses on the lower trail sections, but the trail is generally wide enough for you to allow them to pass safely.

Starting from the Pollock Bench Trailhead, follow signage for the trail Pollock Bench Trail – P1 as it climbs up out of the parking lot. At around 1.6 miles there will be a junction, head left to enjoy the P1 – Pollock Bench Trail while cruising downhill. At the top of the next climb you’ll reach a junction with the Flume Canyon Trail network. Stay right to reach the spectacular section along the edge of the canyon’s rim. After a couple of miles on the edge you’ll reach a junction heading uphill to the right for horses, stay to the left along the canyon edge until you reach the next junction which should have signs directing you to go left onto the Rattlesnake Canyon Arches Trail – R1.

Once on the main trail, it is well marked with signposts, cairns and a well-worn track as it weaves in and out of washes, and over sandstone slick rock. After a long and loose climb up to the beginning of the long traverse, around mile 6 you’ll come to a junction with the Upper Rattlesnake Arches Trail. Go right, cruising over flat ground as you reach the final sandstone cliff formation. When you round the final corner, start looking up and left to see the arches. You’ll pass by a number of smaller arches, finally arriving at Rattlesnake Arch (the main event). Continue another quarter of a mile to the final arch (Cedar Arch). Here there will be a sign indicating you have reached the end of the trail. You can either turn around here, or scramble through the arch via some steep chopped steps (Class 3/4) and join the Upper Rattlesnake Arches Trail.

If you choose to scramble, go through the arch and head right to get on a doubletrack trail. At the first junction you reach, head left and down off the top of the mesa back to the trail you came up earlier. Retrace your steps all the way back to the junction with the P1 – Pollock Bench Trail.

RELATED: Trail Running at Lake Tahoe

The Data

Miles: 16.4

Runnable: 88 percent

Average Grade: 7 percent

Max Grade: 59 percent

Total Ascent: 2,926 feet

Total Descent: -2,923 feet

Highest Elevation: 5,717  feet

For a closer look, check out the interactive map, data, photos and virtual run simulator courtesy of Trail Run Project: