Hiking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
All trails can be hot in summer and most don't receive much shade, so bring water, a hat, and plenty of sunscreen. Dogs are permitted, on leash, on Rim Rock, Cedar Point Nature, and Chasm View Nature trails. Hiking into the inner canyon, while doable, is not for the faint of heart—or step. Six named routes lead down to the river, but they are not maintained or marked. In fact, the park staff won't even call them trails; they refer to them as "controlled slides." These super-steep, rocky routes vary in one-way distance from 1 to 2¾ mi, and the descent can be anywhere from 1,800 to 2,702 feet. Your reward, of course, is a rare look at the bottom of the canyon and the fast-flowing Gunnison. Don't attempt an inner-canyon hike without plenty of water (the park's recommendation is one gallon per person, per day). For descriptions of the routes, and the necessary permit to hike them, stop at the visitor center at the South Rim or North Rim ranger station. Dogs are not permitted in the inner canyon.
Cedar Point Nature Trail. This 0.4-mile round-trip interpretive trail leads out from South Rim Road to two overlooks. It's an easy stroll, and signs along the way detail the surrounding plants. Easy. Trailhead off South Rim Rd., 4.2 miles from South Rim Visitor Center, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
Deadhorse Trail. Despite its name, the 5-mile Deadhorse Trail is actually a pleasant hike, starting on an old service road from the Kneeling Camel View on the North Rim Road. The trail's farthest point provides the park's easternmost viewpoint. From this overlook, the canyon is much more open, with pinnacles and spires rising along its sides. Easy. Trailhead at the southernmost end of North Rim Rd., Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
Chasm View Nature Trail. The park's shortest trail (0.3 mile round-trip) starts at North Rim Campground and offers an impressive 50-yard walk right along the canyon rim as well as an eye-popping view of Painted Wall and Serpent Point. This also an excellent place to spot raptors, swifts, and other birds. Moderate. Trailhead at North Rim Campground, 11¼ miles from Rte. 92, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
Rim Rock Nature Trail. The terrain on this 1-mile round-trip trail is primarily flat and exposed to the sun, with a bird's-eye view into the canyon. An interpretative pamphlet, which corresponds to markers along the route, is available at the visitor center and the campground trailhead. Moderate. Trail begins at Tomichi Point overlook or the trailhead near Loop C in South Rim Campground, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
North Vista Trail. The round-trip hike to Exclamation Point is 3 miles; a more difficult foray to the top of 8,563-foot Green Mountain (a mesa, really) is 7 miles. The trail leads you along the North Rim; keep an eye out for especially gnarled pinyon pines—the North Rim is the site of some of the oldest groves of pinyons in North America, between 400 and 700 years old. Moderate. Trailhead at North Rim ranger station, off North Rim Rd., 11 miles from Rte. 92 turnoff, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
Warner Point Nature Trail. The 1½-mile round-trip hike starts from High Point. It provides fabulous vistas of the San Juan and West Elk Mountains and Uncompahgre Valley. Warner Point, at trail's end, has the steepest drop-off from rim to river: a dizzying 2,722 feet. Moderate. Trailhead at the end of South Rim Rd., Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
Oak Flat Loop Trail. This 2-mile loop is the most demanding of the South Rim hikes, as it brings you about 400 feet below the canyon rim. In places, the trail is narrow and crosses some steep slopes, but you won't have to navigate any steep drop-offs. Oak Flat is the shadiest of all the South Rim trails; small groves of aspen and thick stands of Douglas fir along the loop offer some respite from the sun. Difficult. Trailhead just west of the South Rim Visitor Center, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO, 81230.
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