The Gunnison Route

The Gunnison route, located in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, is an adventure and a half! The start of this route is located near the South Rim Visitor Center on the Oak Flat Loop. This hike is a route NOT a trail. That means it does not have a clearly defined path that leads you to the bottom and back out. You have to pay special attention to branching points and turn around frequently during your decent to make note of where you just came from. That being said, there is a proper way down and up, and the park rangers at the visitors center will help you prepare and let you know what to expect. This is a difficult 3-5 hour long hike that requires planning, experience and supplies. However, if you do decide to travel to the bottom you will not be disappointed!

Route Facts:

  • A Wilderness permit is required for every member of your group
    • You must pick up your permit the day before at the South Rim Visitor Center at 3:30 pm. The Gunnison route is the most popular so arrive early!
  • The route includes an 80 foot long chain to help you get down some of the steep rocks.
    • Rock climbing gear/experience is not necessary to complete this hike however be aware that it is very challenging and steep and extensive hiking experience is recommended.
  • Roundtrip it is about 3.5 miles but this can vary depending on how much you want to walk along the river.
  • There is 0.75 miles of river access at the bottom.

Hiking Guide

  1. Start your hike at the South Rim Visitor center on the Oak Flat Loop Trail.
  2. A couple minutes into your hike you'll see a sign that says Oak Flat Loop, go right at this fork in the trail.
  3. About a half mile into the Oak Flat Loop there will be a sign that reads "Black Canyon of the Gunnison WILDERNESS" this is where you will turn off the Oak Flat Loop and start your way down to the bottom of the canyon. It is about 1 mile to the bottom from here but it drops 1500 feet.
  4. About a third of the way down you will find an 80 ft long chain to help you down some steep rocks. Where the chain ends it continues to be very steep the rest of the way down, if you feel uncomfortable with the chain portion it is wise to turn around here because it does not get any easier.
    • Note: Once you pass the chain there will be many spots that the trail appears to branch and it will be very confusing on your way back up. In order to not get lost, be sure to turn around at every possible branching point and take a photo of where you just came from. It is helpful to put your hand in the photo and point to the correct direction for even more clarity.
  5. Once you get to the bottom of the trail enjoy the beautiful canyon by walking along the river in either direction. There is a bathroom available at the bottom so be sure to take a pit stop if needed. There are also 3 primitive camping spots at the bottom of the canyon if you choose to stay overnight (make sure the park rangers are aware of your plan).
  6. Follow the same route you took down back to the top of the canyon. Plan for much more time spent going up due to the steepness and elevation gain.

Example of a route finding photo.

Bathroom at the bottom of the route.

80 ft long chain about 1/3 of the way down the Gunnison route.

If you'd like to download a copy of our hiking guide click the button below!

Gunnison Route Hiking Guide
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