CO – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (05/22)

I was ready to take a break from National Forests where hiking trails seem to rate much lower than other forms of recreation. With National Park in close proximity, I was drawn that direction. In the fall of 2017 I was running from wildfire smoke but sadly found more of the same (blog link). I hadn’t been to the South Rim so of course that’s where I started.

There aren’t any dispersed camping options near the south entrance so my first order of business was trying to secure a first come spot in the campground. Finding success, I drove the South Rim Road stopping at all the viewpoints. The position of the sun makes a huge difference is rock color and texture. In fact it took me until the end of my last day to finally capture best light on Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado. It’s 2,250 feet from river to rim.

Each pullover provides opportunities to learn about the geology, as well short walks to stretch those legs and get some exercise. I walked every maintained trail on both sides of the canyon this trip.

It’s a long ways down to the Gunnison River. In fact, the greatest depth from rim to river is 2,722 feet.

If this tree could talk . . .

Bunnies and birds were plentiful.

This bighorn sheep had enough of portrait sessions and decided it was time for a nap.

A benefit of staying at the South Rim Campground was hiking the nearby trails bright and early for best light, wildlife and bird chatter.

It’s not all about the canyon. The vegetation was varied and I was delighted to find myself in an aspen forest.

If you want to touch the river, or camp near it, or backpack along it without a steep off-trail scramble, it’s worth the drive down to the East Portal.

This is the Gunnison Diversion Dam. What’s cool is that later I hiked the Deadhorse Trail where I could look down from the rim and see this spot.

Play the game

Hiking Trails

There are four maintained trails along the South Rim ranging from 1.5 to 2 miles, and three on the North Rim with the longest 7 miles. There are also several inner canyon routes which require permits to enter the wilderness. More information can be obtained at the ranger station visitor centers. I thought I was interested until I attended the ranger talk and learned more details and decided it was well above my fitness level. The routes on the South Rim require a ranger interview in order to obtain a permit; on the North Rim permits are self issued.

Deadhorse Trail

This is one of the longer trails, and probably one of the least visited.

I thought the trail would take me up this peak, but I was wrong and happily so on this warm day. Although not apparent at a glance, there were quite a few wildflowers and butterflies.

You have to look hard to find the river, way way down around 2,000 feet. If you look carefully you can also see the road leading down to East Portal. I watched a few cars going down down down. Be sure your brakes have been recently serviced before attempting this drive. There aren’t many places to escape or turn around.

This is the view looking down at the Gunnison Diversion Dam which I’d seen earlier when I drove down to East Portal.

I believe if you follow the fence line, you could reach the ridge to summit that peak.

North Vista/Green Mountain Trail

This was my last hike and it was by far my favorite. Here’s a view of Green Mountain from the South Rim.

What a welcome!

This is the only trail where you can hike in the wilderness without a permit.

The first destination and for most hikers the turnaround point.

WOW, she exclaimed!!!!

More my kind of EXPLANATION POINT!!!

Wildflowers

YES it was spring and I found flowers on nearly every trail.

Claret Cup
Geum triflorum, prairie smoke, three-flowered avens, or old man’s whiskers
Lupine
Scarlet Gilia
Viola
Evening Primrose

I couldn’t resist visiting Sunset View on evening.

Tips:

  • Loop C is the First Come First Serve Non Reservation option for the South Rim Campground. There may be openings in the others loops but try this one first.
  • Water rationing!
  • Restroom etiquette LOL
  • There are some great dispersed camping options on the North Rim side. I enjoyed views of the West Elk Mountains.
  • Crawford is a great town to spend some time and regroup between visiting the North and South Rims. I was waiting out storms and found nearby dispersed camping. There are laundry and shower facilities and WiFi outside the library as well as public restrooms and a water refill station.
Fresh snow on the West Elk Mountains
I couldn’t resist a visit to Needle Rock after the storm.
I look forward to a future visit to explore the West Elk Mountains

Resources:

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