Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, on the northwest flank of the Uncompahgre Plateau, is characterized by the high, east-west trending Black Ridge which is dissected by seven major red rock canyon systems that drain into the Colorado River. Canyons vary in length from several miles to twelve miles in length and may contain interesting side canyons. Elevations range form 4,700 to 6,800 feet. Geological features in these canyons include spires, windows, giant alcoves and desert patina. Canyons may reach a depth of almost 1,000 feet, forming spectacular redrock cliffs. Spring runoff and summer thunderstorms create glistening waterfalls and plunge pools. The area contains the second largest concentration of natural arches in the world. Vegetation in the meandering canyon bottoms include pinyon-juniper, grasses, and cottonwoods, willow and box elder. The upland mesas contain a dense stands of pinyon-juniper with some sagebrush parks. Cryptobiotic soils are well developed in the upland area. Wildlife viewing may include deer, mountain lion, desert bighorn sheep, along with golden and bald eagles.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness.
Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness is located approximately 15 miles west of Grand Junction, Colorado within the 123,430 acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. It is bordered by the Colorado National Monument to the east and the Colorado/Utah boundary to the west, with a small portion crossing into Utah.
DIRECTIONS TO DEVILS, FLUME, POLLOCK BENCH, AND RATTLESNAKE CANYON TRAILS: From Grand Junction, take I-70 west to the Fruita exit (#19), turn left and cross back over I-70 and go 1.5 miles to the Kings View Estates subdivision. Turn right, in to the subdivision and stay on the main road. It's approximately .5 miles to the Devils Canyon trail turnoff, on your left - look for the yellow gate. Continuing down the main road a little farther, approximately 1.5 miles, will bring you to the Pollock Bench, Flume and Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead.
DIRECTIONS TO KNOWLES AND JONES CANYON TRAILS: From Grand Junction, travel west on Grand Avenue, cross over two bridges, at the next stop light turn left on to Monument Road, turn left at "D" Road. Follow D road until you come to a fork in the road, go left on to Little Park Road. Follow Little Park Road until it meets up with DS Road, take a left on to DS Road to the Glade Park Store. At the Glade Park Store take a right on to 16.5 Road go .5 miles to BS Road, turn left, it's another 12 miles to the Knowles Canyon trailhead. Continuing on BS Road another 2.5 miles you will come to a locked gate at the end of the public road, this is the trailhead into Jones Canyon.
DIRECTIONS TO RATTLESNAKE ARCHES AND MEE CANYON TRAILS: There are two roads that parallel the southern boundary that are seasonally opened to motorized travel. These roads provide access to Rattlesnake Canyon/Arches and Mee Canyon trailheads. The Upper Road is open from April 15 - August 15, with the Lower Road being open from August 15 - February 15. Both roads are closed to motorized travel from February 15 - April 15. Biking, hiking and horseback are allowed on both access roads throughout the year. CAUTION: A high clearance 4X4 vehicle is required for the last 1.5 miles. Do not drive on either road when wet. From Grand Junction, take I-70 west to the Fruita Exit (#19) turn left at off ramp and cross back over I-70, follow signs to Colorado National Monument (CNM). Enter the CNM. Travel 11 miles from CNM entrance station, turn right at sign for "Glade Park Store". Travel .2 miles to Black Ridge Access Roads (Upper and Lower). At this point you are adjacent to the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness. The Rattlesnake Arches trailhead is approximately 13 miles ahead. NOTE: There is no charge for traveling through the Colorado National Monument to access the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness. Inform the attendant at the entrance gate that your destination is the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness and you will be permitted to pass through the monument at no cost.
COLORADO RIVER ACCESS: The most spectacular access into the canyon mouths is by floating the Colorado River from the Loma boat launch through Horsethief and Ruby Canyons. Rattlesnake Canyon has a hidden mouth 3.3 miles below the Loma put-in. Mee and Knowles Canyons are the two longest canyon systems and their river entrances are popular campsites for the river trips and hiking. Private land blocks river access to Jones Canyon in Utah. The Loma boat launch is reached via I-70 west of Grand Junction to the Loma exit. Go south on the overpass and follow the signs to the launch.
The Colorado River forms the northern boundary of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness and BLM manages more than 30 designated campsites within the river corridor. Permits for day and overnight use will be required for all boaters in Ruby-Horsethief in 2012.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area and Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Act of 2000 - Public Law 106-353 (10/24/2000) To establish the Colorado Canyons National Conservation Area and the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, and for other purposes
Access into the BRCW generally begins from Grand Junction, CO. Visitors can drive to the upper elevations or float along the Colorado River to begin a trip.
The Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness offers outstanding opportunities for solitude or primative and unconfined recreation.
The Rattlesnake Arches area is home to the second largest concentration of natural arches in the world. Spring and Fall weekends can be somewhat crowded at this destination, and visitors seeking solitude are encouraged to visit during the week to avoid crowds.
The Colorado River, which serves as the north boundary of the wilderness, offers rafting, canoeing and kayaking opportunities. Visitors floating the river have access to Rattlesnake, Mee, and Knowles Canyons. Permits for day and overnight use of the Ruby-Horsethief river corridor will be required in 2012.
Located only a few minutes from the Town of Fruita, the Urban-Wilderness interface offers a chance for people to "get away from it all" without having to travel more than a few minutes. Devils Canyon is a popular destination and visitors looking for a wilderness experience are encourage to start their hike at the Pollock Bench Trailhead to avoid the crowds. Both trailheads offer easy access for equestrian users with large areas of trailer parking available. Both of these areas receive heavy use during spring and fall weekends and the opportunity for solitude is somewhat reduced.
The Western portion of the Wilderness, accessible from the community of Glade Park, offers outstanding opportunities for solitude and a primitive or unconfined type of recreation. Visitors to the upper reaches of Knowles Canyon are treated to great views and access to the rolling uplands of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, while the Jones Canyon trailhead offers access to rims of Jones Canyon and open expanses of the mesa tops with beautiful views of the canyons below.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
The elevation ranges from 4,300 feet at the river to a high point of 7,130 feet. Summers are hot and there are very few sources of potable water in the Wilderness. Due to the heat and lack of shade on most BRCW trails, visitors should be sure to carry plenty of water as well as a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. Summer thunderstorms can make the dirt roads that access the Wilderness impassible - several vehicles were stranded by sudden storms in 2008. Be prepared for rapidly changing conditions!
Winters are cold, with temperatures are usually below freezing. Warm clothing is important. In general, the area does not get into extreme temperatures in either direction. The higher elevation access points are not usually accessible during wet weather, as the roads become muddy and slick and include several steep sections. A visitor must plan ahead because a sudden storm can strand them for days.
Fire pans (or the equivalent) and portable toilets are required for the river corridor. These items are available for rental from many permittees in the Fruita and Grand Junction area.
Safety and Current Conditions
*** FOR CURRENT CONDITIONS CALL THE GRAND JUNCTION FIELD OFFICE AT (970) 244-3000 ***
Conditions as of January 10, 2013:
Winter has arrived. Most of the wilderness is covered with snow, and temperatures are cold. Access to the lower portions of the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness is available via the Devils Canyon and Pollock Canyon Trailheads. The upper portions of the wilderness are not typically accessible during the winter. The roads to Rattlesnake Arches open on April 15th (weather permitting).
During the summer, the B.S. Road usually offers 2WD access to Knowles Canyon Trailhead. The next four miles to Jones Canyon Trailhead typically requires high clearance but may be passable by 2WD vehicle. The Rattlesnake Arches lower access road is open for the season and is suitable for high clearance vehicles. The last two miles of the road are rough and rocky and require high clearance 4WD vehicles. The Rattlesnake Arches road is impassible when wet. If the road is wet 4WD will not allow you to leave the area. Carry extra supplies (food, water, warm clothing) at all time. This road may be closed at any time depending on weather and road conditions. Contact the BLM office for current status.
* Be prepared for hunting season in Western Colorado - make yourself visible while hiking and be alert for hunters in the area.
* Cryptobiotic soils are common in the higher elevations. These delicate crusts are formed by living organisms and their by-products, creating a surface crust of soil particles bound together by organic materials. Soil crusts are important members of desert ecosystems and contribute to the well-being of other plants by stabilizing sand and dirt, promoting moisture retention, and fixing atmospheric nitrogen. Please avoid disturbing it by using existing trails when available.
* During wet weather, the dirt roads that access the higher elevation trails may not be driveable and may be gated. Use caution when traveling wet roads and be sure to carry extra food, water, and warm clothing in case you get stuck.
* Canyon country is not conducive to cell phone service and it is spotty in most portions of the Wilderness. Do not count on being able to use your cell phone to call for help - be prepared to help yourself!
* Summer temperatures may approach triple digits, so be sure to carry extra water. There are few natural water sources available in the higher elevations.
* For current conditions (i.e. extreme temperatures, fire danger and possible restrictions, road closures, etc.), call the Grand Junction Field Office at (970) 244-3000.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.