Black Canyon of the Gunnison
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
  • access info for 120 trailheads
  • 90 colorful trail maps
  • 305 full color photographs
  • loads of hiking tips
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    Distance: 7.2 miles (round trip)

    Walking time:  4 1/2 hours 

    : 870 ft. gain/loss
       North Vista Trailhead (start): 7,700 ft
       Exclamation Point Overlook: 7,702 ft
       Green Mountain: 8,563 ft.

    Trail: Well marked, well maintained

    Season: From late spring through late fall. The north rim of the park is usually closed by snow from mid-November through April.

    Vicinity: Near Delta

    Black Canyon of the GunnisonBlack Canyon of the Gunnison


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    The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is surely one of the most awesome spectacles in Colorado. The canyon’s average depth is 2,000 feet, and in many places it is much deeper. But the characteristic that makes the canyon so unusual is the sheerness of its walls. At the Painted Wall, for example, the gorge is 2,300 feet deep, yet the horizontal distance from the river to the edge of the north rim is scarcely 500 feet.

    Adding to the visual effect of the seemingly bottomless chasm is the dark color of the metamorphic gneiss and schist that make up most of the inner canyon walls. This ancient stone was formed during Precambrian time and is well over a billion years old. It is also extremely hard, and to a large extent that is why the walls are so sheer. The hard, crystalline rock has great compressive strength, and it does not erode away as fast as a softer material might.

    There are scenic drives on both the north and south rims of the Black Canyon, and the Park Service has established overlook points on both rims from where you can gaze into the canyon. There are also several relatively safe, non-technical routes into the canyon if you are inclined to climb down to the water. These routes generally involve less than 2 miles, round trip, of scrambling, but the climb out is very strenuous. The rangers can tell you more about these routes.

    The North Vista Trail described here does not actually go inside the canyon, but it goes to the Exclamation Point Overlook which will give you a fine overview of the canyon. It also goes to the top of Green Mountain, which will give you as close to an aerial view of the canyon as you can get from the ground. Furthermore this trail is on the less-traveled north rim side of the park, where you might be able to enjoy a measure of solitude on your walk.

    From the ranger station the trail proceeds west through the sagebrush and pinion/juniper forest for 0.3 mile to the edge of the Black Canyon Gorge. It then parallels the rim of the canyon above SOB draw for the next 0.9 mile, passing several unnamed overlook points along the way. Finally, 1.2 mile from the ranger station you will come to a signed spur trail that goes the last 0.2 mile to Exclamation Point.

    Exclamation Point is situated high above a large bend in the canyon, giving you the opportunity to look down the gorge in two directions. The canyon is 1,900 feet deep at this point, and the Gunnison River is clearly visible below. Unlike the park’s other viewpoints, there are no guardrails here, so be careful.

    From Exclamation Point the trail veers away from the canyon through the pinion and juniper trees in a northwesterly direction. After 2.2 miles it breaks out of the trees at the top of a nearby hill called Green Mountain. Green Mountain is only 860 feet higher than the canyon rim, but it offers another interesting perspective on Black Canyon. You can also see several other nearby Colorado landmarks from the summit, including the San Juan Mountains, the West Elks, and Grand Mesa.


    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
    we recommend:
    Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Trails Illustrated, map #245)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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