The official name of the destination for this route is Rattlesnake Canyon Arches. But when I was first informed by friends that this was our destination, they just called it the Rattlesnake Arches. Trying to find information on this area without the middle word of “Canyon” was difficult, so I’ve used the abbreviated, informal version in the title of this write-up to make it easy to find.
Getting from the Colorado River to the Rattlesnake Arches trail is no easy task. Route-finding is challenging due to the social trails that wander off-target in some areas. There are places where you need a hand-hold. In other spots the trail crosses over steep rock outcrops that can be slick after rain. But the reward is worth it! The canyon contains 9 natural arches, the second highest concentration of such arches in the United States.
The route described here only includes the portion from the Colorado River to the junction of the Rattlesnake Arches trail.
Length = 4.4 miles round trip, to the junction with the Rattlesnake Arches trail
Elevation gain = 1000’
Allow about 5 hours to go up the trail, see the arches, and return to the river.
Refer to the Colorado River Access section of the Black Ridge Area/Range
From the Colorado River, find the trail that leads uphill. It starts to the east of the Rattlesnake Canyon drainage outlet and ascends through some thick willows. As you head south up the canyon, the trail crosses back and forth across the drainage several times. At some points you can use either the trail or drainage, whichever is easier. There is one point, termed “the narrows” by some, where it may be difficult to keep your feet dry.
At 1.45 miles, leave the drainage by turning left (east) on to a climber’s trail. Instead of steep canyon walls, there is an earth slope at this point, so even without a GPS it appears to be a logical place to leave the canyon. Follow this trail uphill another .2 mile. At this point the trail fades. Social trails go off to the right (SE). Do NOT follow those. Look across the drainage and you will see an area that looks like an old rockslide. Head in that direction and you will once again find the trail. As you ascend through the loose rocks and small cliff bands, there are trails that lead off to the left. These would eventually get you to your destination but that is the long way. Instead, continue up the steep hill, watching for cairns and signs of the trail. You may need to duck under some dense scrubby trees to find the route. The trail will become obvious again at the top of the rocky area, where the slope is not as steep. Continue uphill and slightly to your right after you reach the top of the rocky area.
Follow the trail up the hill, and you will reach a bedrock drainage. Walk on the rock for a brief time until you can see where the trail resumes off the rock.
After 2 miles on the trail, at about 5213 feet elevation, the trail turns sharply to the right (SW). Follow this trail for another .2 mile and 200’ elevation gain until it joins with the Rattlesnake Arches trail. Now enjoy the arches!
Upon returning to the river, as a final treat, look for some petroglyphs that can be easily spotted at the east end of the landing site!
A GPS can be helpful, especially if loaded with this route
Best map of arches trail is here
A good general map of the river and canyons
Map of the route
The weather was not ideal on the way up to the arches so I did not get a lot of photos. If you have photos of this route, feel free to add them or send me the ID and I will add them to the route description.