Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in western Colorado, near the city of Montrose. While this park is one of the smaller, and less visited, of all the national parks, it is by no means lacking in immense beauty and magnificence. The sharp cliffs, roaring Gunnison River and vast skies are spectacular. With steep cliffs that soar over 2,000 feet into the air, and canyon walls that near 40 feet at the bottom and 1000 feet at the top, it is truly an impressive sight! Besides the astonishing overlooks, the park also provides opportunity to hike, rock climb, fish, star gaze, and horseback ride! Below is a 2-Day Itinerary that will take you to every corner of the park. Please reach out if you have any questions😊
Entrance Fee: $30 for a 7-Day Vehicle Pass. Passes can be purchased at the South Rim Entrance Station or online, prior to arrival, at Recreation.gov.
Lodging: There are 3 campgrounds within the park, one in each area- North Rim, South Rim, and East Portal Road. Reservations for the South Rim Campground can be made at Recreation.gov during the summer months. The North Rim and East Portal Campgrounds do not except reservations. Montrose, CO has the largest selection of hotel options and is approximately 20 min from the South Rim Entrance and 90 minutes from the North Rim Entrance.
Dining: There is no food inside the park. There are picnic areas at Pulpit Rock Overlook, Sunset View and High Point- all on South Rim Road. On a hot day, High Point tables are shaded, the other two are not. The Sunset View picnic area is our favorite with its stunning views, however, it provides no shade like most of the park! There is also a picnic area near the dam on East Portal Road.
Must Know Before You Go:
1. The drive time between the North and South Rim is approximately 2 hours with very limited services at the North Rim or even between the two rims.
2. The North Rim Road, East Portal Road and South Rim Road past the Visitor Center are all closed during the winter months. If you want to visit all three areas, summer is the best time to visit. Our visit was during peak summer vacation season and the park was still fairly peaceful in all three locations. We ran into only 6 people our entire day on the North Rim!
3. While rare, mountain lions and bears are present within the park. Please review the park’s wildlife safety.
4. Please follow the Leave No Trace Seven Principles.
5. All overlooks and trails on both the North and South Rims follow along the cliff edge. There are railings but they often do not extend the entire space so please keep little ones close.
6. There are often those with special permits hiking or climbing within the canyon. Please do not throw anything over the cliff’s ledge as it would be very dangerous for those below.
7. Rock climbing information and permits can be found here- Rock Climbing.
8. Fishing information within the park can be found here- Fishing.
Cell Service: There is no cell service within any area of the park.
2 Day Itinerary
Day 1 (North Rim)
The North Rim of this park is significantly less crowded and more secluded than the South Rim, but you will not regret the journey! Something to note: There are only two restrooms available- one just outside the ranger station and the other is at the end of the scenic drive just past Kneeling Camel View at the turn around point. Also, the roads on this side of the canyon are all unpaved.
North Rim Ranger Station– Make this your first stop into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It will be just to the right when the main road in splits. They have maps, a restroom and a Ranger there to answer any questions you may have. Even after hours, I would stop for a map because even with a map, we almost missed a few overlooks! It is also where you can pick up your first trail of the day.
North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point– If you do not continue to Green Mountain and make Exclamation Point your turn around, this trail is approximately 3 miles roundtrip. The trail was well marked, had very little elevation change, starts right at the North Ranger Station and ends at an absolutely stunning overlook. Two things to note: There are a few spots that hug the cliff ledge so keep little ones close, and when the trail splits, head south to Exclamation Point (heading north will take you to Green Mountain).
Chasm View Nature Trail– For this trail, parking is near the campground, southwest of the ranger station. Follow the one-way road through the campground, to arrive at the trailhead. This trail is an easy 0.5-mile loop with a guide to pick up at the trailhead. To follow the markers in order, head right at the trailhead. This trail is both lovely and informative and has two stunning overlooks of the canyon. You will not want to miss it!
The Narrows View– After the Chasm View Nature Trail, head back towards Black Canyon Road and veer right onto North Rim Road to begin the scenic drive. This first overlook is the easiest to miss! In the summer the brush is taller than the sign, so we coasted past it the first time and had to catch it on the way back. It is a short walk (0.2 miles roundtrip) to the viewpoint, highlighting the narrowest part of the canyon.
Balanced Rock View– This stop is almost immediately after The Narrows View. It is 0.2 miles roundtrip to a wonderful overlook of the canyon.
Big Island View– This view is one of my North Rim favorites😊 It is also the only viewpoint on the North Rim that is wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly. It is just a few steps from the road to the impressive overlook.
Island Peaks View– At this stop, there will be a 0.25-mile loop trail to the stunning overlook. This is a large overlook, and if you don’t mind sitting on the ground, would be a great place to sit and have lunch or a snack so you can enjoy the view a little longer!
Kneeling Camel View– Kneeling Camel View is located just before the turn around loop and restrooms. It’s also where you would pick up the Deadhorse Trail if you were planning to do some extra hiking. It’s a short walk out to another lovely overlook of the canyon and water below. Shortly after Kneeling Camel View is the turnaround loop and restrooms. Then it’s time to make the 3-mile drive back to Black Canyon Road and head out or make the 4-mile drive back to the campground depending on where you are staying for the night!
Day 2 (South Rim/East Portal Road)
Scenic Drive– The South Rim Scenic Drive begins the second you pass through the South Rim Entrance Station. The road is 7 miles one way with 12 overlooks. Most overlooks will require some hiking so I would bring your boots, if you have them! Like the North Rim, there is not any food options inside the park so I would plan on bringing in your meals for the day.
Tomichi Point– After you pass through the entrance station and head left(north), the first stop is Tomichi Point. The overlook is right off the parking lot and is both wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly. This stop also has restrooms.
Visitor Center/ Gunnison Point– The second stop on the South Rim scenic drive is the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is small but definitely worth checking out to learn all about what makes this canyon unique. After checking out the Visitor Center, head out the back doors of the Visitor Center to take the short walk out to Gunnison Point. This 0.2-mile roundtrip trail is unpaved and does include several small sets of stairs but rewards you with stunning canyon views!
Pulpit Rock Overlook– The third overlook is Pulpit Rock. This stop has two overlooks, both just a short walk from the parking lot. There is also often a ranger at the picnic tables here for educational opportunities.
Cross Fissures View– The fourth stop on the scenic drive is Cross Fissures View. The trail is 0.4 miles roundtrip and passes two overlooks before swinging you back around to the parking area.
Rock Point– The fifth stop on this scenic drive is Rock Point. This trail is 0.4 miles roundtrip, and a large portion of this trail is on the cliff ledge so you will want your kiddos close and on trail the entire time. Also, I felt like the views were very similar to the next stop, so if you needed to skip one, this is the one I would choose.
Devils Lookout– Almost immediately after Rock Point is Devils Lookout. You can actually see each trail as you are hiking the other! The Devils Lookout Trail is 0.6 miles roundtrip and takes you to another beautiful overlook of the canyon.
Chasm View– This trail is 0.2 miles roundtrip and is wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly. You can also look across to see where you were standing yesterday on the Chasm View Nature Trail! How cool is that?!
Painted Wall View– Next up is the Painted Wall View- my favorite south rim overlook! This 0.2-mile roundtrip trail leads to an overlook that is probably one of the most impressive views of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The cliff you are looking at, is an impressive 2,250 feet tall (the Empire State Building is 1400 feet for reference) and the pegmatite lines running through the canyon walls like veins in the rock, truly look like a work of art.
Cedar Point– Cedar Point is the ninth stop. A 0.4-mile roundtrip trail will take you to another two overlooks and spectacular views of the “painted” canyon walls in case you were missing them already!
Dragon Point– The tenth stop on the scenic drive is Dragon Point. The trail is 0.4 miles roundtrip.
Sunset View– Now I’m pretty sure I said this at every overlook so take it with a grain of salt, but this view was one of my favorites as well. There are also restrooms and a picnic area with unbelievable views. If you are visiting in the evening, this is where you MUST watch the sunset. 😊 The trail itself is a very short walk from the parking lot (0.1 miles roundtrip).
High Point/Warner Point Trail– The twelfth and final stop on the South Rim Road is High Point. This area has an overlook, picnic tables and restrooms. At the back of the parking lot is the Warner Point Trailhead. The Warner Point Trail is a moderate 1.5-mile trail with beautiful views throughout the entire hike. There are markers to follow throughout. We did not see a guide available at the trailhead, but you can download the pdf on your device beforehand- Warner Point Trail Guide.
East Portal Road/Primitive Trail– To get to East Portal Road, head back 7 miles to the entrance station and follow signs to East Portal Road just past the South Rim Campground. You will spend 5 miles switch backing down the canyon wall to reach the bottom. When you reach the bottom head right for more gorgeous views, before turning around at the dead end and heading back towards the Gunnison Diversion Dam. Just north of the dam begins the primitive trail that runs along the water. The primitive trail is 0.8 miles roundtrip. It is roughly marked and involves a little rock scrambling as it follows along the west side of the river, but the river and mountain views are spectacular and there were plenty of places for our kiddos to commence their rock skipping competitions😊 There are restrooms and a picnic area near the dam. And the gorgeous drive back up the canyon is a wonderful way to end this adventure!
Hope you have a wonderful adventure!
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