Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Park Overview

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is situated in far western Colorado about 15 minutes outside of the small town of Montrose. This park is one of the least visited in the contiguous United States, but don’t let that deter you, it is absolutely stunning! From rim lookouts, short hikes, secluded trails, and intense mountaineering adventures there is something for everybody here. The canyon reaches a depth of 2,722 feet while only being 1,300 feet wide at the top and 40 feet wide at the bottom in its skinniest section. Because the canyon is so deep and skinny there are some parts that only see direct sunlight for 33 minutes of the day. That is where the name Black Canyon comes from, the rock in the canyon is shaded most of the day causing it to look black. Black Canyon of the Gunnison also qualifies as a National Dark Skies Park which means if you are passing through during a new moon you'll be in for a beautiful night sky! If you are looking for a unique experience with smaller than normal National Park crowds this is the place to go!

For a guide to hiking the famous Gunnison route go here. If you want ideas on what to do in the park read below for our 6 best adventures in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!

6 Best Adventures in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

1. South rim drive

The south rim drive is by far the most popular activity in the park. Once you pass through the gate on the south rim side you are immediately on the drive and within minutes you will be at your first viewpoint, Tomichi Point. In total, there are 12 viewpoints over the course of the 6-mile drive. You might be thinking that sounds like a lot of stops but trust me it is worth it! Every viewpoint has its own unique experience. Some of stops have a short trail through wildflowers and bushes to reach a view of the black cliffs, while others the view is just a few steps off of the road. That being said we highly recommend stopping at all of the viewpoints! Each one takes 15 - 20 minutes to get out, walk around and enjoy the view so plan on spending at least 2 - 3 hours driving the south rim road. Below are a few pictures and a short description of our favorite viewpoints.

Pulpit Rock Overlook

This overlook is your first stop after the vistor center and it offers incredible views. There is a small parking area off to the side of the road which provides more parking than most of the view points which is nice on a busy day (aka weekends in the summer). There is a short walk from your car before you can see the canyon. From this point you can see the river down below and a large section of the canyon. Be careful if you are travelling with kids though because this overlook doesn't have as many fences around the cliff areas as some of the other ones do.

Cedar Point

Cedar Point is right next to the most famous stop in the park, Painted wall viewpoint, but arguably has a better view of the Painted wall because you are head on with the magnificent cliff. The Painted Wall gets its name from the the stripes in the cliff wall of lighter rock that looks like a work of art. The dark rock (Gneiss) provides a beatiful back drop for the lighter rock (Pegmatite) to create amazing patterns that you could look at forever. There are only a few parking spots at Cedar Point but if it is full you can easily park at the Painted Wall Viewpoint and walk over. 

Fun fact: The Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park is the tallest continous cliff in Colorado and one of the tallest cliffs in the United States. It is 2,250 feet tall, that makes it almost twice as tall as the empire state building!

Rock Point

Rock point is the 2nd viewpoint in a series of 3 stops in row but make sure you don't skip this one! The short hike to the edge of the canyon is lined with wildflowers and bushes (top left photo). Honestly the best park of this stop is the hike because of how beautiful the flora is on the edge of the canyon. However, that is not to say the views of the canyon from here are not great.

2. Oak flat loop

The Oak Flat loop trail is a great way to experience the canyon closer up without doing a full inner canyon route. This trail takes you a few hundred feet down into the canyon so you can get a feel of what it is like inside the canyon itself.  The hike is about 1.4 miles long and it took us 48 minutes to complete (that includes time sitting and enjoying the view). This hike is moderately difficult, it is suitable for kids but be aware the hike back up may take awhile due to the elevation gain. If you are traveling in the summer make sure to bring plenty of water, it can get up to 5 to 10 degrees warmer in the canyon!

3. Warner point trail

The Warner Point trail was our favorite trail on the south rim side of the park. In order to get to the Warner Point Trailhead you must drive to the end of the south rim road and park in the High Point parking lot. From the parking lot the trailhead is just a few seconds walk west. There is a bathroom available here as well so make sure to take a break there if needed before starting your hike! This trail follows the ridge and provides views of both the canyon and the small town of Montrose. Much of the trail passes through a Piñon-juniper woodland which is beautiful and adds some nice shade for your hike. At the end of the trail you get a wonderful view looking over the canyon as you are at a high point on the ridge and it provides a great opportunity for some pictures! This hike took us 43 minutes to complete, including resting and viewing time.

4. Exclamation Point

Exclamation point is a secluded canyon view off of the North Vista Trail on the north rim of the park. Since there is no road in the park connecting the rims, in order to get to the north rim you have to leave the park and drive 1.5 to 2 hours. While that may seem like a long detour it is 100% worth the trip! The north rim is much more isolated and therefore it is not crowded at all. The roads on the north rim are all dirt but they are very well kept and any vehicle should be able to drive them (we did it in a Volkswagen Jetta). Once at the north rim park at the ranger station to find the North Vista Trail trailhead. The hike starts off through a field full of wildflowers and sagebrush with a backdrop of the famous Painted Wall. Once the trail gets to the canyon rim it follows it the rest of the way to exclamation point. 

It is a little easy to miss the turn for exclamation point since it is not the end of the trail so look for the sign on the left. Once you get to the sign there is a little loop that leads back to the canyon edge for a straight on view of the Gunnison river. Exclamation point in our opinion is the best view in the park and we highly recommend it! Once you are done at exclamation point you can head back to your car or continue on the North Vista trail for more views.

Trail Facts:

  • 3 miles out and back to exclamation point
  • About a 1 hour hike depending on how long you stay at the overlook
  • Total distance to the end of the trail is 6.8 miles and it takes you to the top of Green Mountain

Wildflower field by the ranger station

View along the rim

Exclamation Point!

5. North rim drive

The North Rim drive is only accessed from the north rim of the park. In order to get to this side you need to leave the park and drive around the canyon as we mentioned above. This drive is similar to the south rim drive however the road is not paved and is less busy. Even though the road is not paved it is a very nice road that is very well kept. We did not have time to do this drive on our visit to the park because we unfortunately ran out of time but we have heard great things about it!

6. Inner Canyon Routes

If you are looking for a more intense experience that is off the beaten path and you are up for some serious elevation change, an inner canyon route is the best option for you. When we say route that means it is NOT a trail. What's the difference? A route is not maintained whatsoever. All of the inner canyon adventures are routes because the inside of the canyon is designated as wilderness. In order to do one of these hikes you MUST obtain a wilderness permit from the visitor center or ranger station the day before your hike at 3:30 pm, the permits are free but unfortunately they can't be reserved online you have to be there to listen to a permit talk. The park service only allows a certain amount of hikers on each route every day in order to reduce erosion, preserve the wilderness, and make it an intimate experience for all hikers who embark on these routes. If you want to guarantee getting a permit for the specific route you'd like to do we recommend arriving to the visitor center at least 30 minutes early. 

Each canyon rim offers 3 routes with a specified amount of people allowed on the route each day:

North Rim

  • Pinyon Draw (SOB Route): 23 people
  • Long Draw: 8 people
  • Slide Draw: 11 people

South Rim

  • Gunnison Route: 15 people *
  • Tomichi Route: 9 people
  • Warner Route: 23 people


For more information about each of the routes please visit the parks website:

We did the Gunnison route which is quite the amazing hike. Our full guide to doing the route is here!


* The Gunnison Route is by far the most popular route so if this is the one you'd like to do make sure you arrive early to the permit talk!

For more information about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park head to the Park's official website:

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