The Best Things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (South & North Rim)

Looking for the best things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know before visiting this gorgeous park, including the best hikes, itinerary options, where to stay, tips for the area, and more!

Before we visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park we had read that it was one of the least visited US national parks, especially in Colorado where it is overshadowed in visitation by Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Great Sand Dunes National Park. 

Knowing this made us extra excited to visit, as we have found that some of our favorite places in the United States are the more underrated, less busy spots. And Black Canyon of the Gunnison definitely did not disappoint! 

Gunnison Route Trail Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The scenery at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was unlike anywhere we have ever been, with steep and narrow canyon walls and a beautiful river rushing between them. And unlike the San Juan Mountains just an hour away, which rise high into the sky and are easy to spot for miles, Black Canyon of the Gunnison feels like a hidden gem, as it is only viewable by driving right up to it. 

Watch our experience at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park’s South and North Rims!

We spent one very jam packed day exploring both the South Rim and North Rim of this park and were able to experience so much, from the easy to access overlooks to the intense inner canyon routes.

And in this guide we’re sharing all of the best things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, all of our tips from our own experience at both rims, and some itinerary options to help you plan your own adventure.

Note: this guide contains affiliate links, which means that if you use the links provided and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. We will only ever recommend products we truly love, actually use during our adventures, and think you can benefit from too!

About Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in Western Colorado, near Montrose and gets its name because some parts of the canyon receive only 33 total minutes of sunlight per day because of how steep and narrow the canyon is.

But long before it became a national park in 1999, this area was referred to by the Ute Native Americans as “much rocks, big water” and was avoided. And in 1853, when explorer John Williams Gunnison went through the area he echoed their statement, calling it “the roughest, most hilly and most cut up” land he had traversed.

The canyon is 48 miles long, with 14 miles of it in the national park, and at its deepest point, Warner Point, it reaches 2,722 feet. In comparison, the deepest part of the Grand Canyon is about 6,000 feet deep and Hell’s Canyon in Idaho is 8,043 feet! If you compare it to man made structures such as the Great Pyramids (449 ft) and the Empire State Building (1,250 ft), it would tower above them and would even beat the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (2,717 ft), by 5 feet!

While there are canyons that are deeper and longer, none combine the depth, sheerness, darkness, and narrowness of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The canyon has some of the steepest and oldest exposed rock in North America and at its narrowest point is only 40 feet wide. 

Beyond the canyon, the park is also home to the Gunnison River, which drops an average of 43 feet per mile through the canyon, which is six times more than how much the Colorado River drops through the Grand Canyon. 

Please Leave No Trace
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!

These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.

Regions of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is made up primarily of two regions, the North Rim and the South Rim, as well as the Inner Canyon area, which can be accessed from both rims, and East Portal, which is technically in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, but is accessed from the South Rim. 

For the sake of this guide, we’ll mostly be breaking things down by the South and North Rims. While they look close on the map, there is no bridge to get from one rim to another and to go between the two requires a 1 hour, 45 minute drive.

The South Rim is located in Montrose, Colorado and is more developed, has more overlooks, and is much more popular than the North Rim. If you want the more traditional national park experience, with a gift shop and facilities, this is a great rim to visit.

The North Rim, which is located close to the small town of Crawford and also Paonia, Colorado, has gravel roads, less overlooks, and no visitor center, but offers better views of the narrowest part of the canyon and is also WAY less busy! When we visited the North Rim we only saw 5 people or so, compared to the South Rim where we saw at least 100. 

In our opinion, both rims are worth a visit, as they offer different experiences. And we will share more below about both areas, including how to get to them, where to stay, and things to do, as well as some itinerary options to help you maximize your time in both.

Getting to + around Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

As we mentioned above, there are two main regions of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the North Rim and the South Rim, which are located 1 hour, 45 minutes apart. This means that your journey to get to the park may vary depending on which rim you’re visiting. But since we assume most visitors will visit the South Rim at some point during their trip, here is how to get to the South Rim of the park by plane and/or car!

WARNING: There is construction happening on US 50 that impacts getting to the South Rim if coming from the east. To see the latest updates, including the days of the week and times that the road closes, please check this website.

Flying to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

If you plan to fly to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the best airport would be Denver (DEN), but Salt Lake City (SLC) or Albuquerque (ABQ) could also be decent options depending on where else you plan to go. All major airlines fly into these airports, so getting a flight should be pretty easy and affordable. 

Depending on which city you fly into, here’s how long you can expect to drive to the South Rim:

Denver, Colorado: 5 hours 24 minutes, 276 miles
Salt Lake City, Utah: 5 hours 44 minutes, 359 miles
Albuquerque, New Mexico: 6 hours 25 minutes, 337 miles

You also have the option of flying into a smaller airport that is closer to the park, such as the Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ), which offers multiple flights a week from Denver through United and Southwest. Two other options are the Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY) in Moab, Utah or the Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) in Grand Junction, Colorado, which has flights from Denver and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Here’s how long you can expect to drive if you were to fly into one of these cities:

Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ): 28 minutes, 16 miles
Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT): 1 hour 31 minutes, 78 miles
Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY): 2 hours 43 minutes, 165 miles

Driving to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

If you plan to drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, here’s how long you can expect to drive from other popular destinations nearby.

Ouray, Colorado: 1 hour, 50 miles
Grand Junction, Colorado: 1 hour 40 minutes, 80 miles
Durango, Colorado: 2 hours 48 minutes, 119 miles
Arches National Park: 2 hours 59 minutes, 179 miles
Great Sand Dunes National Park: 3 hours 29 minutes, 190 miles
Denver, Colorado: 4 hours 55 minutes, 252 miles
Rocky Mountain National Park: 5 hours 17 minutes, 238 miles

Getting around Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park does not have a park shuttle, so you will need to either rent a car or drive your own to get around, or hire a tour to show you the top sites.

We visited the park in our 170 WB Mercedes Sprinter van and had no issues parking in the park, so for any small sized RVs or vans, you should be totally fine. There are even a few longer parking spots at the Visitor Center. But for trailers or large RVs, while you can technically park at many overlooks, which are just pull offs, it could be hard to find a spot if it is busy.

However, the park does have RV friendly campgrounds, which could be a good place to leave your RV while exploring via a smaller vehicle.

When to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is from late-April to mid-November, when the North and South Rim drives are open for the season and the hikes are more accessible and snow free.

We’d suggest visiting on the earlier end (April or May) or later end (late September-November) of this timeframe, when the weather is more bearable. We visited in mid to late June and got stuck in a heat wave with 100 degree weather, which made the very exposed, dry climate of the canyon extremely brutal. So we can’t even imagine what later in the summer feels like!

This timeframe will also be more ideal for crowds, as the summer brings more families to the park who are on summer vacation. We visited the park on a summer weekend and it definitely wasn’t empty (although the North Rim was!), which brought more competition for inner canyon routes and caused parking lots to fill up pretty quickly.

While you can visit in the winter, you will be much more limited and will not be able to complete the majority of the items on this guide. The North Rim Road and East Portal Road are closed in the winter and the South Rim Road is only open to Gunnison Point. From there, you can continue on the road by cross country skiing or snowshoeing, but it will be a different and more limiting experience.

Where to stay at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Schoolhouse Campground

There are a variety of options of where to stay when visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, including the actual location to stay in and type of accommodation.

If you plan to spend most of your time in the South Rim, Montrose is the best place to stay, as it is the closest and offers anything you would need. For the North Rim, Crawford or Paonia are the closest choices and if you want a good spot in between, we recommend Delta, which is where we stayed.

Below are options in and around these areas, including campgrounds, boondocking, Airbnbs, and hotels!

Camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

When it comes to camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, you have a few options, ranging from more developed campgrounds, reservable and non reservable sites, and wilderness camping.

Campgrounds inside the park

There are two campgrounds in the national park, one at the South Rim and one at the North Rim

The South Rim campground is very close to the visitor center and has 88 sites, 23 of which have electric hookups for RVs and range from $16-$22 per night. Between mid May to mid September you can make reservations to stay here, but after that it’s first come, first served. During the months that water is shut off in the park (spring and fall), there is no camping fee.

The North Rim Campground has 13 sites, none of which have hookups, and is first come, first served year round. These sites cost $16 per night (but only $8 in the spring and fall) and can fill up quickly on weekends in the summer, so arrive early! It’s also worth noting that the maximum vehicle length is 22 feet, so it’s not the best campground option for RVs.

East Portal Campground

There is also a campground at the bottom of the canyon at East Portal, which is accessed from the South Rim, but is technically in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. This campground is typically open from mid May to mid October and is first come, first served, with a nightly fee of $16. This campground does not have hookups and 10 of the 15 total sites require you to hike into them.

Wilderness Camping

If you’d like to backpack to a campsite, you will need a Wilderness Use Permit. How to get a permit varies depending on which rim you’d like to visit, but all access to inner canyon wilderness campsites requires hiking down strenuous routes, which we will cover more below. 

Campgrounds outside the park

Schoolhouse with mountain views
This schoolhouse campground run by Heath and Alyssa of RV Entrepreneur is located in Montrose and is not completed quite yet, but is currently operational and is allowing boondocking.

While this RV park caters more to working nomads, it is open to all travelers. They have renovated an old schoolhouse on site with a working space (super fast fiber internet), showers, and unlimited free local coffee. If this was open when we were there, we most definitely would have stayed here at least a few nights!

Montrose / Black Canyon NP KOA Journey
This KOA offers campsites, pull-through RV sites, and cabins. Other amenities include a dog park, laundry, and a pool in the warmer months. 

Some other typical RV parks in the area:

Boondocking

These boondocking areas are located just outside of Montrose and are good free options if you want to explore the park on a budget.

  • Flat Top OHV Recreation Area
  • Uncompahgre Valley View– we stayed here a couple nights. It was easy to access, mostly quiet, and had cell service. You have great views of the valley below as well! The only drawback is it seemed to be a popular hangout for the young folks. We didn’t experience it, but there was lots of broken glass, remnants of large fires, and some trash. 
  • Black Canyon BLM

Airbnbs

Montrose
Charming Blue Bungalow (2 bedrooms, 2 baths): A Victorian home built in 1905 is one block off of Main Street. It has all the basic amenities you would need, plus a fenced in backyard with a deck and gas grill.

Private Guest House with Mountain Views (1 bedroom, 1.5 baths): This is a modern, updated looking guest house that includes a patio to view the gorgeous Colorado sunsets!

Delta
The Casita (1 bedroom, 1 bath): This is where we stayed during our time at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was a perfect, quiet spot to relax after a long day at the park and has everything you need. Plus, dogs are allowed!

Private Bungalow on a 70 acre ranch (2 bedrooms, 1 bath): This bungalow has been recently renovated and updated and includes a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and sits on a working farm! Many guests have commented about the friendly goats on the property that were the highlight of their stay!

Crawford
Hayloft (2 bedrooms, 1 bath): This barn sleeps 6 people total and has a huge kitchen, pool table, super nice shower, and amazing views!

Smith Fork Ranch: This ranch offers a variety of vacation rental properties to choose from, as well as activities, in an incredible setting!

Paonia (coming SOON!)
Our friends Jessie and Stu own a garage Airbnb on their property in Paonia and it is AMAZING! With super nice finishes and design, plus some vintage charm, as well as epic views out the garage door, this would be the perfect place to stay if exploring the North Rim or if in the Paonia area.

How much time do you need at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

Depending on what you’d like to see and experience at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we’d suggest spending between 1-3 days in the park.

We spent about 1.5 days, which gave us enough time to get a permit for the Gunnison Route, visit some of the South Rim overlooks, and go to the North Rim. This was a VERY busy day though and may not be for everyone.

We’re including a bunch of itinerary options at the end of this guide to help you plan out your time at the park, including options for both rims, plus time for permits and going into the canyon!

Things to know before visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Before visiting the park, there are a few more things you should know to ensure you have a fun and safe visit.

Cost to enter

It costs $30 per vehicle ($25 for motorcycles) to enter Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, which covers 7 days. This fee does not cover you at any of the other Colorado National Parks, so you will have to pay for each park, even if you visit them within 7 days.

If you’re visiting more than one National Park on your trip, we highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful pass which is $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, monument, or forest for free.

Pets

There are a few areas where pets are allowed in the park. Pets on leash can be walked on the park roads, visit the overlooks, and can hike on the Cedar Point Nature Trail, North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail, and Rim Rock Trail. 

They are also allowed in the campgrounds, but there are some restrictions in the summer months due to aggressive deer protecting their fawns. During these restrictions, dogs are allowed in the park, but there are limitations on where they can be walked (including in the campground) to protect both the deer, as well as the dogs and their humans.

Learn what we do with Kona when she cannot join us. For this park, she stayed at the Airbnb we rented in Delta, Colorado since it was 100 degrees out and we couldn’t safely leave her in the van while we hiked or did non dog friendly activities.

Shuttle

Unlike some national parks, there is no shuttle at Black Canyon National Park, so you’ll need your own vehicle to visit the overlooks, as well as visit both rims.

Cell phone reception

There is very little cell reception in the park, so make sure to download offline Google Maps of the area and any trails you wish to hike on AllTrails.

Permits for entering the inner canyon

If you plan on entering the inner canyon for the day or for overnight use, you will need a Wilderness Use Permit. You can learn everything about the permit process on the park website and we will share more about the process below.

Altitude

The park sits at a higher elevation, with the canyon rim at over 8,000 feet. If you recently came from lower altitude, consider doing less strenuous activities your first day in the park and drink lots of water, as the air can be very dry.

Overlook Etiquette

Never throw any objects including rocks or stones over the edge of the canyon, as there could be hikers or climbers below. Keep an eye on children as well because many overlooks do not have guard rails and the ground could be weathered or fragile close to the edges.

What to Bring to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Gunnison Route Trail

As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing anything out in the wild, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you!

HIKING SHOES

The trails at Black Canyon of the Gunnison are a mix of dirt, sand, and rock, so you’ll want to have a sturdy shoe for lots of terrain types, especially if hiking into the canyon. We love our Lowa Renegades (Kathryn) and Altra Superiors (Adam) and they both worked well at the park.

LAYERS

Make sure to pack warmer clothes! Due to the elevation, the mornings can often be a lot cooler than the afternoons. During our visit, it was pretty warm the entire time, but it’s always a good idea to have options!

SUNSCREEN

It is very sunny in Colorado and sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are a must! We have been using Bare Republic, which is a “better for you” sunscreen, although it may give you a nice white, vampire-esque sheen. 

WATER

No matter what you’re doing and what time of year, be sure to bring and drink plenty of water. The elevation and dry climate really dried out our throats and made us a lot thirstier! And if you plan to do one of the inner canyon routes, the ranger recommended 3-4 L of water per person. 

We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. We also suggest bringing a water filter if you go down into the canyon, as you can fill up water at the river.

ALLTRAILS MAP

We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While most of the trails in the park are easy to follow, we like to use the map to track our progress along the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!

GEAR FOR AN INNER CANYON ROUTE

If you plan to go into the canyon, we suggest bringing gloves to protect your hands, a long sleeve shirt and pants (if cool enough out) to protect your skin, and hiking poles, which we heard mixed reviews on if they really help with these routes or not. 

The BEST Things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

With two rims to explore, overlooks, the river, and a mix of easier and challenging trails, there are many things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. For the list below, we’re listing the things to do by type of activity and then under each item we’re breaking it down by the South and North Rim.

Conquer the Inner Canyon Routes

There are six inner canyon routes at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which take you down into the canyon. These are technically NOT trails, but rather unmaintained and unmarked routes with steep and rugged terrain and should ONLY be attempted by experienced hikers! But if you have the ability to do it, it’s the BEST thing to do in the park, in our opinion.

During our visit we chose to follow the Gunnison Route on the South Rim into the canyon because it is the recommended route for first timers, as it is technically the “easiest” (it was still VERY hard). 

You can watch our experience here. And to learn more, check out our guide to the Gunnison Route, which explains everything you need to know for this route, as well as has some helpful tips that apply to any of the routes.

To do these inner canyon routes you are required to have a permit. How to get a permit varies on the rim you’re choosing to start the route from, but here’s a quick rundown of how to get one: 

  • All permits are first come, first served and FREE!
  • Permits are limited. During our visit, they only gave out 15 permits per route.
  • For the North Rim, you can get your permit the day of, either at the ranger station or a self service station.
  • For the South Rim, you will need to get your permit the day before you plan to do the route during the PEAK season (late April-mid October). They give out permits 1.5 hours before the visitor center closes, but plan to get there MUCH earlier (we got there 4 hours before). They also run through a safety briefing at this time. During the off season (late October- mid April), you can self register for the route the day of.

For more info on permits, visit the park website and also read our guide to the Gunnison Route, where we break down how to get one (plus our tips) in more detail! 

South Rim Routes

Gunnison Route

Miles: 1.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,781 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This is the most popular route of the routes into the canyon, as it is said to be the easiest one, but don’t let that fool you, it’s a grind!

About ⅓ of the way down on the route, you’ll come across an 80 foot chain, which you’ll use to get down a steep section, before navigating lots of scree and large rocks the rest of the way down to the river. But the views on the way down and at the river are INCREDIBLE and worth the steep struggle!

To read our entire recap + tips for the Gunnison Route, check out our Gunnison Route Trail Guide!

Tomichi Route

Miles: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,788 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This is the steepest of the South Rim routes and hikers on AllTrails have called it a “control fall,” as the majority of the trail is traveling down scree filled drainage. This is one of the parts of the canyon that receives full sun exposure, so make sure to start VERY early!

Warner Route

Miles: 4.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,051 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The Warner Route is the longest of the inner canyon routes and it is recommended to camp overnight at one of the 5 campsites along the river. Similar to the other routes, there are tons of loose rocks to navigate. 

Gunnison Route Trail Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

North Rim Routes

S.O.B. Draw

Miles: 2.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,866 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The S.O.B. Draw route is the recommended route for first timers entering the inner canyon from the north. This route is famous for its abundant poison ivy, so be sure to wear long pants. 

Long Draw

Miles: 1.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,604 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The Long Draw will take you to one of the narrowest parts of the inner canyon and along the way you’ll encounter a few 8-12 foot ledges you will have to navigate, plus lots of scree. 

Slide Draw

Miles: 1.2 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,053 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

Slide Draw is possibly the least popular route because it might be the most dangerous. It is extremely steep, loaded with scree, which means loose footing, and even requires a 30-foot near vertical scramble just to begin the route. But one advantage it has going for it is it will be in the shade for most of the day due to how narrow it is!

WARNING: wading and swimming in the Gunnison River is hazardous and not recommended. The combination of high, swift water and cold temperatures increase the danger and the rocks along the shore can be covered in moss and very slick. Many people have been swept to their death in the river. 

Poison ivy is abundant in the inner canyon, especially on the North Rim routes. It is recommended to wear long pants to limit exposure.

Take a Scenic drive

Both the South and North Rims offer scenic drives with overlooks and if you’re short on time or are unable to do much hiking, these drives are the best and easiest way to see the park!

South Rim

The South Rim’s scenic drive goes 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point and has 12 overlooks. Most of these overlooks are reached by short walking trails, but some do offer views right from the side of the road.

Some of our favorite viewpoints from our visit were Gunnison Point (right by the visitor center), Pulpit Rock, Cross Fissures View, Chasm View, and Painted Wall, which is the tallest cliff in all of Colorado at 2,250 feet!

North Rim

The North Rim is also home to a scenic drive, which is a maintained gravel road and is a bit shorter, at 5 miles and only 6 stops. However, all of the stops are basically directly off the road and are worth stopping at! 

While you’re directly across the canyon from the South Rim, you get a different perspective from the South Rim’s scenic drive and it’s just as beautiful. And our favorite part? We saw hardly anyone on the North Rim…it’s WAY less busy over there!

Hike along the canyon rim

While Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has intense inner canyon routes, there are also many easier hikes along both sides of the canyon’s rim. Here are a few of the top rim hikes to consider!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park North Rim

South Rim

Rim Rock Nature Trail

Miles: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 187 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions
Dogs are allowed

This out and back trail begins at the visitor center and travels south to the South Rim Campground where you’ll turn back and retrace your steps (or vice versa). Along this route you’ll encounter many different types of plant life and have many excellent views of the Gunnison River and walls of the Black Canyon.

Oak Flat Loop Trail

Miles: 1.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 311 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The Oak Flat Loop Trail gives you the opportunity to go below the rim, but without the rough challenge of going all the way to the bottom. You’ll descend about 300-400 feet and get fantastic views of the canyon below. There are lots of stairs and several steep switchbacks on this route. 

Warner Point Nature Trail

Miles: 1.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 406 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This hike begins at the High Point Overlook, which is at the end of the South Rim Scenic Drive, and takes you out to Warner Point, which will provide you with great views into the Black Canyon, the San Juan Mountain Range, Uncompahgre Valley, and Bostwick Park.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Exclamation Point

North Rim

North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point

Miles: 2.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 406 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

The North Vista Trail starts from the North Rim Visitor Center and gives you occasional views of the canyon below. You’ll follow this trail until you reach a T about 1.2 miles in and go to the left. This trail will turn into a loop and at the far end of the loop you’ll have a view into a straight and narrow portion of the canyon, with the river rushing through it, that will likely make you exclaim with joy!

This was our final activity during our marathon of a day in the park and due to the lighting, it was a bit shadowy, so we recommend doing this hike midday to get a less shadowy view of the river and the canyon.

North Vista Trail to Green Mountain

Miles: 6.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,230 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

This hike shares the North Vista Trail with Exclamation Point, so once you’re done at Exclamation Point, go back to the main trail and go to the left to continue another 1.9 miles until you reach the summit of Green Mountain.

Chasm View Nature Trail

Miles: 0.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 108 feet
Trail Map & Current Conditions

Not to be confused with the Chasm View overlook on the South Rim, the Chasm View Nature Trail is on the North Rim and is a quick loop trail that gives you incredible views of the canyon!

Visit the East Portal Area

As we mentioned above, there is another area you can explore in the park called East Portal,  which technically is in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, NOT the national park, but since you have to access it from the South Rim inside the park, we’re including it anyway!

And this area is a great place to visit if you want to get up close to the Gunnison River without having to “hike” to it. To access East Portal, you have to drive the East Portal Road down into the canyon, which is right after the South Rim entrance station. 

The road is a paved, two way road and is very windy and steep. One important thing to note, especially for those in a van like us, is that vehicles longer than 22 feet are prohibited on the road. It is also closed during the winter.

As you drive down the road, you can view exhibits that tell the story of the people who lived at East Portal during the construction of the Gunnison Tunnel, which was built in the early 20th century to divert water from the Gunnison River to farms and people in the Uncompahgre Valley to the west. And at the bottom, you can see what is left of the community that sprouted there during the construction of the tunnel.

Fishing

If you’re an angler you might already know that the Gunnison River has the honor of being designated as Gold Metal Water & Wild Trout Water, which is an honor that only 168 miles (out of 9,000 miles of rivers) in Colorado have achieved. 

So for all of the fisherman out there, don’t forget your tackle to Black Canyon of the Gunnison! But make sure to learn the regulations for fishing in the park beforehand, as there are special rules to ensure it maintains its high status.

Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing in the Winter

The park is open 365 days a year and one unique, beautiful, and less crowded way to experience the park would be to see it in the winter.

In the winter, the South Rim Drive is closed beyond Gunnison Point (near the visitor center) and groomed for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. You can use the 6 mile (one way) road to access all of the overlooks and see the canyon with a nice dusting of snow.

While it isn’t recommended to go into the inner canyon during winter, you can snowshoe the Oak Flat Loop and Rim Rock Nature Trail to get below the canyon rim.

Lastly, if you’re itching to camp in the park in the winter, you can camp along the rim anywhere past the Pulpit Rock Overlook, just make sure you pick up a wilderness use permit. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Itinerary Options

As we mentioned earlier, there are many ways you could spend your time at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, depending on how many days you have to spend. The park can be experienced in as little as a day or up to three days (or more if you’d like)!

Below are some sample itineraries for 1-3 days, with easier and more strenuous options.

1 Day 

Option #1: South Rim

Spend the day driving along the South Rim, stopping at the different overlooks along the way and going for some of the rim hikes, like the Oak Flat Loop Trail, Rim Rock Nature Trail, and Warner Point Nature Trail. Depending on how early you start, this could take a half day or a full day!

Option #2: North Rim

If you’re looking for solitude, spend your day exploring the North Rim! Similar to the South Rim, we suggest spending the day checking out the overlooks and also hiking the shorter trails, like Exclamation Point and the Chasm View Nature Trail!

Option #3: North Rim (Strenuous)

Since the North Rim inner canyon routes are MUCH easier to get permits for, start your day bright and early by getting a permit to go down into the canyon on either the S.O.B. Draw, Long Draw, or Slide Draw.

After finishing the route, you can spend the rest of the day checking out the scenic drive. This option gives you a lot of bang for your buck in one day!

2 Days

Option #1: South Rim + North Rim 

Day 1
For your first day, drive along the South Rim, stopping at the different overlooks along the way and going for some of the rim hikes, like the Oak Flat Loop Trail, Rim Rock Nature Trail, and Warner Point Nature Trail. Depending on how early you start, this could take a half day or a full day!

Day 2
For the second day, check out the overlooks and hike the shorter trails on the North Rim, like Exclamation Point and the Chasm View Nature Trail!

Option #2: South Rim + East Portal

Day 1
For your first day, drive along the South Rim, stopping at the different overlooks along the way and going for some of the rim hikes, like the Oak Flat Loop Trail, Rim Rock Nature Trail, and Warner Point Nature Trail. Depending on how early you start, this could take a half day or a full day!

Day 2
Spend the day going down the East Portal Road and enjoying time down by the water! 

Option #3: South Rim + Inner Canyon (Strenuous)

Day 1
For the first half of the day, enjoy the South Rim Scenic Drive, stopping at as many overlooks as you have time for until about 3-4 hours before the visitor center closes for the day.

For the second part of the day, hang out at the visitor center to get your wilderness use permit to hike into the inner canyon on day 2.

Day 2
Get up early and head to the trailhead to begin your route into the canyon. You’ll want to give yourself at least half a day to do the route, as it’s very challenging and you’ll want to have time to enjoy the river at the bottom!

If you weren’t able to fully explore the South Rim on day 1, spend the rest of the day seeing the rest of the overlooks. Or REST…we were pooped after doing the Gunnison Route!

Option #4: South Rim, Inner Canyon, + North Rim (Strenuous)

Day 1
For the first half of the day, enjoy the South Rim Scenic Drive, stopping at as many overlooks as you have time for until about 3-4 hours before the visitor center closes for the day.

For the second part of the day, hang out at the visitor center to get your wilderness use permit to hike into the inner canyon on day 2.

Day 2
Get up early and head to the trailhead to begin your route into the canyon. You’ll want to give yourself at least half a day to do the route, as it’s very challenging and you’ll want to have time to enjoy the river at the bottom!

If you’ve still got some time and energy left, head to the North Rim for the rest of the day to see some of the overlooks. This would be a really long day, but worth it if you want to see the majority of the park in 2 days!

3 Days

Option #1: South Rim, East Portal, + North Rim

Day 1
For your first day, drive along the South Rim, stopping at the different overlooks along the way and going for some of the rim hikes, like the Oak Flat Loop Trail, Rim Rock Nature Trail, and Warner Point Nature Trail. Depending on how early you start, this could take a half day or a full day!

Day 2
Spend the day going down the East Portal Road and enjoying time down by the water! 

Day 3
Visit the North Rim and check out the overlooks and trails, like Exclamation Point and the Chasm View Nature Trail!

Option #2: South Rim, Inner Canyon, + North Rim (Strenuous)

Day 1
For the first half of the day, enjoy the South Rim Scenic Drive, stopping at as many overlooks as you have time for until about 3-4 hours before the visitor center closes for the day.

For the second part of the day, hang out at the visitor center to get your wilderness use permit to hike into the inner canyon on day 2.

Day 2
Get up early and head to the trailhead to begin your route into the canyon. You’ll want to give yourself at least half a day to do the route, as it’s very challenging and you’ll want to have time to enjoy the river at the bottom!

You can spend the rest of the day exploring more of the South Rim or resting after a challenging hike into the canyon.

Day 3
For your final day, drive to the North Rim and check out the overlooks and trails, like Exclamation Point and the Chasm View Nature Trail!

Ready to explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

Pin this Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park guide to help plan your trip!

about us

Hi y’all! We’re Adam, Kathryn, and Kona, an adventurous married couple (+ pup!) living on the road in our self-converted sprinter van! You can often find us driving all around the US and Canada, scoping out the best coffee shops, eating tacos and ice cream (we’re a 5+ taco and 2+ scoop household), and enjoying nature.

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