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Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness

Knowles Canyon
Knowles Canyon                                             Photo by Matt McGrath

The BLM manages wilderness areas so that their "wilderness character is preserved for future use and enjoyment as wilderness" in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964. The components of wilderness character are:

  • Untrammeled- essentially free of human control and manipulation
  • Natural- substantially free from the effects of modern civilization
  • Undeveloped- retains its primeval character, essentially without permanent improvements
  • Outstanding opportunities for solitude and unconfined recreation
  • Unique/supplemental values

The Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness consists of 75,580 acres on the northwest flank of the Uncompahgre Plateau. It is located 2 miles southwest of Fruita in Mesa County, Colorado with approximately 5,200 acres of the Wilderness extending into Grand County, Utah. The high, east-west trending Black Ridge is dissected by seven major red rock canyon systems that drain into the Colorado River. It was designated as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System on October 24, 2000, and makes up about 61 percent of the 122,300-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area

The Wilderness provides outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation based on outstanding scenery, landscape variety, geologic features, and cultural and paleontological resources. The area’s topographic diversity appeals mainly to hikers, but unique phenomena, such as the vast alcove in Mee Canyon and arches in Rattlesnake Canyon enhance all recreational experiences. Other popular activities in the Wilderness include horseback riding, hunting, nature study, photography, wildlife viewing and backpacking.


Vegetation along the canyon floors consists of a combination of grassy parks and sparse stands of pinyon-juniper woodland. Isolated stands of cottonwood trees and other riparian species, such as willow and box elder, can also be found along the drainages. Fauna found within the Wilderness is characteristic of the Colorado Plateau and includes desert bighorn sheep, mule deer and elk, golden and bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and the collared lizard.

Fossils are frequently found in the Wilderness, specifically within the Morrison Formation, and include over 12 varieties of small to large dinosaurs, well preserved varieties of early mammals, eggs, crocodilians, turtles, fish, numerous invertebrates, as well as a variety of fossil wood, pollen and other plant remains. Many of these are scientifically significant, including a 115-120 million year old sycamore, which may be among the world’s oldest known plants, found within the Burro Canyon Formation. Please see the MCNCA Natural History page for more information.