Definitely Not Your Grandmother’s Hike!
On both the North and South Rims of the Canyon, you will find trails that vary between easy and moderately strenuous and these are wonderful places for viewing nature, including many excellent birding spots.
But, as for the rest of the trails for hiking Black Canyon on what is called the Inner Canyon, I use the word “trails” very loosely because they are really just paths, unmarked and often steep and treacherous. There are frequent drop-offs, often just off the trails, along with loose rocks and very steep inclines.
Most importantly, no one should undertake hiking Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s Inner Canyon without a partner, just in case there’s a problem.
On the bright side, hiking Black Canyon on these trails will give you a close-up look at one of the most spectacular canyons in the world. In many ways, it’s like no other canyon in the world. It is accessible for hiking, but yet it is a raw and untamed wilderness.
So, let’s get down to what each trail looks like.
- If you’re looking for an easy trail, there is the Cedar Point Nature Trail which is about 2/3 of a mile long and has marked signs at spots with nature interest. At the end of this trail, there are overlooks with absolutely breathtaking views of the Canyon and the Gunnison River more than 2,000 feet below. You will also have a great view of the Painted Wall, which is the tallest cliff in Colorado.
- The Rock Rim Nature Trail is a great trail for hikers who want a less strenuous, but not entirely easy, hike. This trail will take you on a nature walk along the South Rim where you will see plants and flowers, along with very nice views of the Gunnison River far below and the amazing sheer walls of the canyon. On this trail, you will stay on the rim and never actually go down into the Canyon. The Rock Rim Nature Trail is one mile round-trip.
- The Oak Flat Loop Trail is about two miles long round-trip and is for hikers who are interested in going below the rim but are not up for a hike down to the river. This trail begins at the Visitors Center and runs through scrub and rock outcroppings on a narrow trail with some steep climbs. Along the way, there are a couple of very nice spots to stop and enjoy the scenery, or have lunch, with spectacular views. This trail is more difficult than the Rock Rim Nature Trail.
- The Warner Point Nature Trail is a moderately-difficult trail that is about 1-1/2 miles long and begins near the South Rim Visitor Center. Here you will find benches among the pine trees, to rest while you take in the views of the San Juan Mountains and the Uncompahgre Valley to the south and the West Elk Mountains to the north. And, of course, from this trail there are gorgeous views of the Gunnison River and the Black Canyon.
At the North Rim, there are three trails which will appeal to those who are looking for less difficult trails but still want spectacular views and photo opportunities.
- The Chasm Rim Nature Trail is only 1/3 mile long round-trip but you will be rewarded with views of the Painted Wall and Serpent Point. You will see people across the way on the South Rim who are only 1,100 ft. away from you.
- Then there’s the North Vista Trail which is moderate for the first three miles and then strenuous for the last seven miles. This trail winds along the canyon’s rim to Exclamation Point where you will see some of the best Inner Canyon views that can be found without hiking down into the Canyon. If you venture further along the trail, you will see views of the Rocky Mountains to the north and south and will be able to see an aerial view of the Black Canyon, one of the greatest rewards when hiking Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
- The third trail along the North Rim is the Deadhorse Trail which is about five miles long and is an easy to moderate trail. This trail will take you past a pond which is fed by one of the few springs to be found on the North Rim and then you will come to the rim itself where you will overlook Deadhorse Gulch and the expansive valley below.
Inner Canyon Hiking
Compared to hiking Black Canyon on the trails at the top of the North and South Rims of the Canyon, hikes down into the Canyon itself are true, old-time adventure. You should be an experienced hiker and be in very good physical condition to attempt these hikes.
The trails are not marked and you are expected to find your own way to the bottom and back up. If you take a wrong turn, you may find that you’ve come to a dead-end on a cliff and will have to backtrack.
When hiking the Inner Canyon, be sure to bring your own purified water and sturdy hiking boots and clothes, including raingear for sudden afternoon thunderstorms.
When you reach the Gunnison River, it is recommended that you don’t wade in the icy water because the current is very swift and the rocks are slippery.
If you’re looking for an even greater challenge, it is possible to hike the Inner Canyon in the winter. If you attempt this hike, you will need winter hiking gear, an ice axe and probably snowshoes.
In spite of the dangers that I have stressed, if you hike the Inner Canyon in either the summer or the winter, you will be rewarded with the quiet, calm and beauty of being in a true wilderness away from the crowds and the noise of the world. What possibly could be better?