Half Day/ Auto Tour Itinerary

To explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in just half a day, travelers should plan on staying at the South Rim of the park. While the North Rim provides more scenic views of the entire canyon, the South Rim provides more overlook destinations and fantastic views of the Painted Wall, which is the national park’s most iconic symbol.

In a six-mile stretch at the South Rim, visitors should stop their vehicles at these overlooks:

  • Tomichi Point Overlook (South Rim)
  • Chasm View Overlook (South Rim)
  • Sunset View Overlook (South Rim)

Next, travelers should hike the easy, ⅔ mile (round trip) Cedar Point Nature Trail. This relatively flat walk offers two overlooks of the canyon and river over 2,000 feet below. Hikers are also afforded a spectacular view of the Painted Wall, which is considered Colorado’s tallest Cliff, as well as the beautiful and unique rock formations.

Lastly, if time allows, visitors should head back to the South Rim Visitor Center at the entrance of the park, to watch educational movie about the park and learn about how the canyon was created.

Full Day Itinerary

Travelers wishing to spend a full day at this national park may choose to visit the destinations listed in the Half Day Itinerary above, as well as explore a few more scenic areas of the South Rim of the park.

Depending on how much time is afforded, and the fitness levels of the group, consider hiking one or two of these trails, located on the South Rim:

  • Oak Flat Loop Trail: Located near the visitor center, this strenuous, 2 mile (round trip) hike treks across steep, narrow trails, through aspen, fir, and oak forests, and offers spectacular views of the canyon.
  • Rim Rock Nature Trail: Located near the visitor center, this moderate, 1 mile (round trip) hike guides explorers along a relatively flat path on the rim of the canyon. It offers plenty of views of the Gunnison River, the sheer cliff walls, and the flora surrounding, such as the sagebrush, pinyon pines, and junipers.
  • Warner Point Nature Trail: Located at the end of the South Rim Road, this moderate, 1 mile hike offers gorgeous views of the San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Valley, West Elk Mountains, Gunnison River, and the canyon. The trail is shaded by the native trees, such as mahogany, serviceberry, pines, and junipers.

Two Day Itinerary

Travelers spending two days at the park will have the best opportunity to visit both the south and north rims of the park. It is recommended that travelers visit the South Rim the first day and the North Rim the second day, due to more strenous trails on the North Rim and the opportunity to stop by the South Rim Visitor Center to learn about the canyon and area before you begin exploring.

Listed below is a two day itinerary:

Day One

  • Visit the South Rim Visitor Center, near the entrance to the park, where travelers can watch a movie, learn about the formation of Black Canyon, and pick up maps and brochures on different destinations in the area.
  • Visit the three overlook points located on the South Rim Road:
    • Tomichi Point Overlook (South Rim)
    • Chasm View Overlook (South Rim)
    • Sunset View Overlook (South Rim)
  • Visit the easy, ⅔ mile (round trip) Cedar Point Nature Trail.
    • This relatively flat walk offers two overlooks of the canyon and river over 2,000 feet below. Hikers are also afforded a spectacular view of the Painted Wall, which is considered Colorado’s tallest Cliff, as well as the beautiful and unique rock formations.

Day Two

  • Drive 2.5 hours from the South Rim to the North Rim.
  • Visit the moderate, ⅓ mile (round trip) Chasm View Nature Trail.
    • This trail is a loop that features two excellent lookout points, one that towers 1800 feet above the gunnison river, and one with a view of Painted Wall and the people directly across the canyon at the Chasm View overlook - 1,100 feet away.
  • Visit the North Vista Trail, either a moderate, 3 mile hike (round trip) to Exclamation Point, or beyond that point, a strenuous 7 mile (total round trip) to Green Mountain.
    • This hike begins at the North Rim Ranger Station and goes through the forest along the canyon rim. It features several overlooks and great views of the canyon. Those who continue to Green Mountain will see far-reaching sights of the surrounding mountain ranges and an aerial view of Black Canyon.

If you have time:

  • Drive south down the road on the North Rim, and stop at any of the overlooks, The Narrows View, Balanced Rock View, Big Island View, Island Peaks View, or Kneeling Camel View.
  • Additionally, if there is remaining time on the itinerary, consider hiking the moderately easy, 5 mile (round trip) Deadhorse Trail.
    • This hike provides views of Deadhorse Gulch and the East Portal area. Travelers can see a variety of birds and other wildlife on this trek.

Backcountry Itinerary

Any hiking off established trails, including hiking the inner canyon, rock climbing, and using the river require a backcountry permit. Limited numbers of permits are issued each day on a first come, first served basis. Permits are available at the South Rim Visitor Center, North Rim Ranger Station, and the East Portal registration board, located west of the campground.

Only anglers and hikers entering the national park from the East Portal do not require a permit, unless boating or staying overnight.

The most popular backcountry experience in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is hiking the inner canyon. There are several different routes and places to begin the descent into the inner canyon, most average about a mile (one way) down to the canyon floor, or about 1.5-2 hours. Talk with a ranger while obtaining your permit to decide which descent is best for you or your group. While hiking in this backcountry, remember:

  • There are no maintained trails or markers to guide the path into the inner canyon.
  • The terrain is difficult at times, and only fit individuals should attempt this hike.
  • Not all ravines and drains lead all the way down to the water, be prepared to backtrack and rescue yourselves out of sticky situations.