Mee/Knowles Canyon Loop, Grand Junction Colorado


Mar 11, 2022
Hello everyone,
This 38 mile mostly trailless loop route is located in the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness area. You can access it via the Mee or Knowles canyon trailheads, which are maybe a 30 minute drive west of Grand Junction. The area is covered in good detail in the Trails Illustrated #502 'Grand Junction Fruita' map, and there is a very short route description in Kelsey's 'Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau' (2006).

The Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness is beautiful and remote - often times it felt more like hiking in Arizona or Utah, than in Colorado. However, lots of bushwacking, route finding, exposed class 2 scrambling, and a class 3 exit out of Mee canyon all make this a very difficult and strenuous canyon hike; a difficulty unfortunately belied by the Kelsey route description. Starting from the Knowles trailhead, I completed the loop clockwise (down Knowles and up Mee) in 4.5 days, generally hiking 8 hrs a day and camping near water sources. Another party I ran into completed the loop in the opposite direction (down Mee up Knowles) in 3.5 days, hiking 10 hrs a day and camped at least 1 night without water. In hindsight, I think doing the loop counter-clockwise would be easier, quicker, and safer than the clockwise route described by Kelsey. With Knowles having less brush, it would definitely be easier to hike down Mee and up Knowles. Plus, hiking down Mee means you can easily lower packs down the class 3 ramp and do the waterless cross-country route between Knowles and Mee with full jugs of water. Anyway, here are some photos from my longer, clockwise loop:

The entrance into upper Knowles. As you can see, there is a pretty good footpath leading down to the creek bed. The creek bed was dry, but if you follow it up canyon through the cottonwoods for about 500 ft, you'll hit a spring and some good camp sites. The colors of the lower Wingate sandstone and upper Entrada were awesome in the late afternoon sun.

Upper Knowles, down canyon from the exit ravine. This part of the canyon was pretty brushy - if you stay downcanyon right you can pick up a fairly good footpath that will take you several miles down canyon. The next reliable water for me was a spring in the creek bed about 2 miles down canyon from the exit ravine, just past a side canyon coming in from the left. After this, there wasn't any reliable water until I hit the Colorado river 7 miles away.

Lower Knowles. At this point the canyon opens up a bit, with the Chinle formation beginning to appear in earnest under the Wingate sandstone. Also, the granite basement rock often appears under the creek bed, making for sections of smooth, brush free walking. It's pretty much cross-country hiking here, alternating between the creek bed and the grassy benches on either side.

Knowles entrance at the Colorado river at sunset. The hoodoo on the right side makes a great landmark if doing the loop from Mee. A mile or two up canyon from the Colorado river, look for a trail that leaves the creek bed to the right. This trail will provide a quick path through all of the brush and lead you to water and the campsites at the river.

The next day saw me hiking along the Colorado river up to the camps at Mee canyon 7 or 8 miles away. This would be a difficult day. Initially the route travels close the the river, then climbs to the top of this 300 ft cliff rising up from the river via two class 2 gullies (hidden behind the grassy hill in the above picture). Thankfully, the route is well cairned through the gullies, but it is still easy to get lost here and get cliffed out. Basically if you are on anything that looks harder than class 2, you are off route. The route ultimately traverses right along the base of the upper cliff band (visible on the right side of the above picture) on this 30+ ft wide sloping brushy ledge system. Class 2 with solid footing (when it is dry), but very airy - I always felt the cliff below me tugging at my heels! Eventually the angle below me relented, allowing me to walk down a grassy hill towards the Moore canyon area.

Desert bighorn sheep in the Moore canyon area

Interesting geology on the way to Mee canyon. Possibly a monocline?

Along the Colorado. The entrance to Mee canyon is visible in the sun, left side of the above picture. You are closer to the river here than the cliffs near Knowles, but this part of the route will burn more calories. I made decent time hiking in the more grassy areas 50 - 100 ft above the river to the unnamed drainage visible in the center of the picture. After the unnamed drainage though, you have to drop lower so that you don't get cliffed out, which means more brush. Also, there are countless rock slides and gullies to navigate through in that area - making for slow, difficult bushwacking. It took me 2+ hrs to get to Mee from the last camps in the Moore area.

Day 4: Lower Mee canyon area. Geology is on full display again here, with the Wingate being carved into some beautiful towers. Apparently, Mee canyon is more popular with the boaters along the river - there was a pretty good trail leading from the Colorado river all the way up to near the 'Y' junction area several miles up. This was a welcome reprieve, after all of that heinous bushwacking yesterday. Unfortunately, I didn't encounter any water until maybe a mile or so below the Y junction.

Unfortunately, the upper part of Mee was much more brushy, trailless, and more difficult to navigate than the lower part. Satellite phones don't work well obviously - also my compass was giving me some strange readings, presumably due to all of the iron in the surrounding walls? There are a lot more side canyons to account for in Mee than in Knowles and it is easy to get disorientated here. I spent close to an hour at the Y junction area, making sure I took the correct branch to the exit ravine and not to somewhere in never never land. I ended up camping about a mile down canyon from the exit ravine (center of above picture) where there was decent water.

The entrance to the exit ravine was not well cairned - I had to do some exploring to find it. But once I found it, the route up was well cairned. There is this exciting class 3 traverse you have to complete near the top of the Wingate sandstone to get to the mesa above. Initially, there are no handholds to speak of and the wall is fairly close to vertical. You have to make some balancey moves, while the exposure gradually increases from 4 to about 30 ft across this traverse. Thankfully, the difficulty eases to class 2 after a few moves - still a very exciting finish! Especially traveling solo, it would have been much easier to lower packs and downclimb this traverse without a pack or rope attached.

Once you reach Mee canyon trailhead, you have another 4-5 miles of cross-country travel to get back to your car at Knowles. There is no established trail between Mee and Knowles trailhead - at this point I had 'had it' with all the bushwacking and had about a quart of water left. So, I waked down to the Rattlesnake road and looked for a ride back to Knowles. Two hitches later, I was back at my car at Knowles, thanks to the incredibly kind and giving locals of the Grand Junction area!
Nice cottonwoods too! Was the worst of the bushwhacking in Mee or along the Colorado?
Probably along the Colorado, between Moore and Mee canyons. In addition to the brush, you were traversing across scree and rocks, with poor footing - very slow going!
Nice report! Do you think it was worth doing the loop, or would an in-and-out up Knowles be better?
My first trip to this area several years ago was an in-and-out up Knowles. That was nice because it gave me time to explore some of those side canyons - something that you won't have time to do when doing the loop. This trip was an excellent primer for some of the more difficult cross-country loops I've been interested in doing at the Grand Canyon (a.k.a. the Steck loops). Despite the bushwacking, it was fun hiking along the Colorado, although I won't be revisiting that part of the trail anytime soon!
Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
IntrepidXJ Mee Canyon Alcove Hiking & Camping 6
gnwatts Stillwater Canyon 4-1-24 On The Water 12
T Dark canyon loop water General Discussion 1
L Stevens Canyon - Baker Trail water availability Trip Planning 9
J Reflection Canyon Trip Planning 4
fossana Found: prescription glasses near the top of the Flipoff Canyon approach General Discussion 5
Spud Salt Creek Canyon question Trip Planning 11
B Buckskin gulch/Pariah canyon Carpool Trip Planning 1
TractorDoc Paintbrush Canyon / Cascade Canyon Loop -- Grand Teton NP September 11, 2023 Hiking & Camping 9
Kullaberg63 15 day canyon route Backpacking 13
Titans Tricked in the canyon! Hiking & Camping 5
TrailScot Dayhiking the Under-the-Rim Trail - Bryce Canyon NP - October 2023 Hiking & Camping 4
Janice Such a GRAND Canyon - Deer Creek / Tapeats / Thunder River Backpacking 21
OldBill Short hike at the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania Hiking & Camping 1
S Paria Canyon- Whitehouse to Lees Ferry, Oct 18 to 21, 2023 Trip Reports 0
scatman Yellowstone's Thorofare, Headwaters of Thorofare Creek, Majo Pass, Younts Peak, Bob's Canyon, and Cub Creek - August 9, 2023 - Days 7 through 10 Backpacking 34
scatman Yellowstone's Thorofare, Headwaters of Thorofare Creek, Majo Pass, Younts Peak, Bob's Canyon, and Cub Creek - August 9, 2023 - Days 1 through 6 Backpacking 56
A Bowdie Canyon Trip Planning 10
TheMountainRabbit Silas Canyon (Popo Agie Wilderness) - August 2023 Backpacking 3
J Paria Canyon - One Day Trail Trip Planning 10
Bob The New Grand Canyon Trip Planning 1
WhozWutz Invite Horse Canyon Needles Meet Up (Members Only) 1
BJett Part 3 - Tour de Canyon Country. Lower Escalante Loop Hiking & Camping 0
BJett Part 2 - Tour de Canyon Country. Swell Times Hiking & Camping 0
BJett Part 1 - Tour de Canyon Country. Cedar Mesa. Hiking & Camping 8
Gretchen Millward Trachyte Creek via Woodruff Canyon, April 2023 Backpacking 9
F Grand Canyon hermits rest to granite rapids to bright angel Trip Planning 10
gnwatts Stillwater Canyon On The Water 11
shredhiker Kings Canyon July 2022 Kearsarge, Rae, & Sixty Lakes Backpacking 8
J Info needed: Bown's Canyon, Long Canyon Trip Planning 8
Gretchen Millward Cheesebox Canyon, Oct. 2022 Backpacking 14
Stickerbumper Fold Canyon Middle Exit Trip Planning 9
Janice Professor Creek / Mary Jane Canyon - mid April? Trip Planning 0
D Horseshoe Canyon or San Rafael Swell? Trip Planning 9
scatman North Ridge of City Creek Canyon - February 4, 2023 Hiking & Camping 17
scatman South Ridge of City Creek Canyon - January 28, 2023 Hiking & Camping 4
NorthwestWanderer 8 Day High Sierra trek : Humphreys Basin, Star Col, Granite Park, Lake Italy & Piute Canyon 6/25-7/2/22 Backpacking 7
T Amazing Discovery in Utah-Glen Canyon Trip Planning 65
Titans What’s your unfinished business? Hard canyon access, mtn peak, you name it! General Discussion 54
SteveR Big Spring-Elephant Canyon dayhike. With free bonus vacation pix! Hiking & Camping 13
Stephanie B Dirty Devil River Impassible at Poison Springs Canyon Off Road 0
LarryBoy Is there anything technical in White Canyon above the Black Hole? Trip Planning 16
dennisrodman A week in the Grand Canyon / Boucher / Hermit / Tonto Trail Trip Planning 4
XID_AZ Kanab Creek Wilderness - Sowats Canyon - Mountain Sheep Spring Trip Planning 6
travel2walk Yellowstone: Bechler Canyon, Aug 12-15 2022 Backpacking 21
balzaccom Mok Canyon Solitude for my birthday Backpacking 0
XID_AZ FiftyMile Canyon Sand slide Trip Planning 8
chandlerwest Hells Canyon - Jet Boat On The Water 0
futurafree Grand Canyon norovirus General Discussion 6
H location of thirteen faces-horse canyon Utah Hiking & Camping 4

Similar threads