Go Play: Rifle Arch, trail offers views and more
If You GO ...
What: Rifle Arch Hiking Trail
Open: Year round, free of charge.
Where: The trail head is north of Rifle, Colo., just past Mile Marker No. 7 on Highway 13. A parking area marks the entrance to the beginning of the trail, which extends 1.4 miles to the Rifle Arch.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trail climbs from 5,820 feet above sea level at its start to 6,350 to the Rifle Arch. A boulder field covers the terrain at the base of the arch. The round-trip distance from the start of the trail to the arch and back is 2.8 miles.
Wildlife: Bull snakes are common in the area along with cottontail rabbits, wild turkey, red fox, bobcats, marmots, elk and the occasional moose, among others.
Source: Colorado Bureau of Land Management and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, offers a lot of iconic rock formations that have drawn attention from geologists and tourists around the globe. But almost a three-hour drive east of those iconic arches, there’s seemingly a piece of Moab just north of Rifle.
The Rifle Arch Hiking Trail, just north of Rifle, is one of the easier and more accessible hiking trails in the area. It’s a 2.8-mile round trip from the beginning of the trail to the arch and back, covering a gamut of terrain that includes steep and flat hiking trails along with boulders at the base of the arch.
Then there’s the Rifle Arch itself, which stands 60 feet high and 150 feet wide and by itself in the Grand Hogback sandstone formation across Colorado Highway 13 from the Roan Cliffs. It is believed to have been formed during the Laramide orogeny, a geologic period of mountain building in North America which, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, took place 50 to 70 million years ago. Wind and water erosion from the rising of the Grand Hogbacks helped form the arch, a sandstone structure that has stood the test of time.
Hikers have made the trek to the arch to take in the scenic views of the surrounding area while catching a glimpse of the ever-present wildlife, and rock climbers have used terrain adjacent to the arch to enhance their ascension skills. Sometimes the climbing and wildlife aspect of the area have paralleled each other — climbers were steered away from routes as recently as 2010 for fear that eagle nests would be disturbed, according to mountainproject.com.
The hike to the arch itself, however, could be deemed easy to intermediate, depending on a person’s fitness level.
The trail head itself is easy to find, just past mile marker 7 on Highway 13 north of Rifle, with a side-road parking area at the trail head. From there, the trail to the arch is well marked by metal stakes with arrows, though a steep climb of about 300 feet greets hikers in the first half-mile.
Rifle Arch itself is protected by a field of boulders at the end of the trail. A bench also sits at the end of the trail, marking a good place to either rest or unload bulky bags before ascending into the arch.
The inside of the arch is filled with holes dug out and used by birds as shelter spaces. Snail shells dot the ground — evidence of meals long past for the inhabitants of the sandstone walls.
Views of the Roan Cliffs and the Grand Mesa — the world’s largest flattop mountain — can be seen from inside the arch. In the far distance to the south of the arch, East Rife and the residential area there can be seen from where it overlooks Rifle’s main downtown district.
Wildlife is prevalent, too. Lizards and non-poisonous bull snakes, along with cottontail rabbits, chipmunks and coyotes can be seen frequently along the trail, with reptiles and small rodents appearing more frequently. Seen less frequently on the trail but still in the area, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department, are deer, wild turkey, elk, bears and the occasional moose.
More information on the trail can be found at riflechamber.com or blm.gov.
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More trails will open for the season on Sunday for mountain bikers in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs.