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Backpacking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!


The Black Canyon of the Gunnison's unique landscape was formed slowly by the action of water and rock scouring down through hard crystalline rock.

Why go hiking in boring places? If you're looking for interesting backpacking light spots, here is one of the best I've found.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Entrance
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Entrance, backpacking light

Looking across the canyon, I can see the "Painted Wall". It is the tallest cliff in Colorado (2,250 feet). It is 1,000 feet taller than the Empire State Building! Molten Lava flowed up through the rock and cooled leaving behind the obvious pattern!

Painted Wall
Painted Wall, black canyon of the gunnison, backpacking light

No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an amazing place! I could look out for miles from the hiking trail.

Black Canyon
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, backpacking light

There are many walking and hiking trails at this park. These pictures were taken in June 2002 from the South Rim. Here are some of the trails on the south side of the canyon:

  • Rim Rock Nature Trail: Moderate - 1 mile round trip
  • Oak Flat Loop Trail: Strenuous - 2 miles round trip
  • Cedar Point Nature Trail: Easy - 2/3 mile round trip
  • Warner Point Nature Trail: Moderate - 1.5 miles round trip

I can see the Gunnison river clearly from many points on the trails. I can hear the river running on the rocks below.

Gunnison River From Above
Gunnison River From Above, black canyon of the gunnison, backpacking light

There is a trail that leads down to the river but I did not take it all the way down. It would have been too strenuous for me to get back up to the top of the canyon. So I did the loop trail instead. If you decide to hike down to the river and stay over-night, consider taking an ultralight backpacking light tent.

I did run into two backpackers who stayed by the river for three days and were backpacking out of the canyon. They were young and obviously not bothered by such a steep hike!


South Rim Road

The South Rim Drive is 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point and has 12 overlooks. Most are reached by walking a short trail. Allow 2-3 hours to view several overlooks. Try not to overlook these:

  • Gunnison Point
  • Chasm View
  • Painted Wall
  • Sunset View.

Getting to the River

Gunnison River
Gunnison River, black canyon of the gunnison, backpacking light

The easiest way to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River is to drive the East Portal Road.

This road is extremely steep with hairpin curves. Vehicles with an overall length greater than 22 feet are prohibited. The East Portal Road is closed in winter.

I have never seen a canyon quite like this one. Steep vertical walls and jagged cliffs. If you are planning a backpacking trip or have a chance to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, please do so. You'll love it!


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Black Canyon of the Gunnison




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