Knowles Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 16-28 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5024 - 6407 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 9 hrs.
Trailhead: Knowles Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, backpacking




The Knowles Canyon trail is located in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness Area near Grand Junction, Colorado. The trail begins near the end of B South Road where for the first 1.1 miles it travels around the foot of some small cliffs to a spot where it makes a short climb that takes it to higher ground and an old double track road. The trail follows the double track route for about 2.5 miles as it crosses the mesa and drops down a series of switchbacks. At the 3.6 mile point from the trailhead the trail leaves the double track, crosses a shallow wash and then climbs over higher ground to get to the point where the trail makes its steep descent into the main canyon. For this post we worked our way down the canyon for about 3 more miles from the drop in point before turning around. Backpackers have the option to continue all the way to the Colorado River for an epic 28 mile round trip journey.


To get to the trailhead find your way to Glade Park and turn north at the store onto 16 1/2 Road. After 1/2 mile turn west onto B South Road. Follow BS Road for a little over 11 miles to the trailhead. The first 3 miles are paved followed by 4 miles of gravel road and 4 more miles of dirt road. During optimal conditions the road is passable by passenger vehicles with a moderate amount of ground clearance. The road should be avoided when it is wet and muddy.


As the trail starts out it wraps around the east side of the cliffs crawling in and out of several small washes along the way.


Around the 3/4 mile point the trail climbs a mound of white sandstone where it scrambles up the left side of a small wash.


After scrambling out of the wash the trail makes an easy trek across the mesa for about a quarter mile until it runs into an old double track road that it follows to the left.


Views of the Knowles Canyon drainage begin appearing around the 2 mile point. Near the 3 mile point the trail begins descending off of the mesa. The descent is gradual at first but some switchbacks come up that quicken the pace. Just before the 3.5 mile point a spur trail that is becoming more and more popular joins in on the left. The spur climbs over a ridge where it connects up with the old BS Road. Many backpackers find it to be a more favorable route than the main trail with its switchbacks. The trail junction is marked by an abundance of cairns.


As the trail continues along the double track it comes to a spot where some logs and branches have been laid across the road and several cairns mark the point where a single track trail branches off on the right. The single track goes in and out of a wash and then climbs around the end of the cliffs on the opposite side heading toward the drop in point for the main canyon.


The edge of the canyon is reached around the 5 mile point. For the next half mile the trail will descend multiple switchbacks of talus and loose dirt that will likely make a lasting impression on hikers and backpackers alike.


Very few people ever see the stunning views in this truly wild wilderness. Civilization seems to slip into distant memories as the canyon swallows your presence while you work your way down the talus slope.


Tall cottonwood trees provide some cool shady relief while a thick growth of willows and other brush make finding a suitable trail challenging.


As you head down the canyon a small arch can be seen on the right and several interesting spires up ahead. As the trail makes a bend it comes to the rubble pile of what may have been an ancient pithouse. Someone has taken some of the stones to make a blind. They may not have realized that they were disturbing an archeological site in doing so. With all the thick undergrowth progress in this part of the canyon is slow and hard earned at times. Eventually though the undergrowth thins out and in places an actual trail appears.


There are several large overhanging boulders with just enough flat ground to pitch a tent.


We hiked about 3 miles down canyon before turning around. This was in the middle of August and there wasn't any water in the canyon with which to replenish our dwindling supplies. We did see some fresh bighorn tracks and scat near the spot where we turned around so there may have been some potholes somewhere with a little water. When it is this dry it is best to leave what small amounts of water there might be for the wildlife. We had originally planned on hiking 2 miles or so but each bend up ahead beckoned us further down the canyon.


The hiking is tough enough in Knowles Canyon that even with more water it would have been hard for a day hike to go much more than another mile or so before turning around. Where we turned around at it was still another 6 miles to the Colorado River. By the time we made it back to the trailhead we had logged almost 3,800 feet of total elevation gain. Knowles Canyon is a rugged hike that requires advanced preparation and good backcountry hiking experience. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.