Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

We love national parks! We found out from talking to our fellow Utahns, that not many people have heard of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, even though it is just 5 hours from the Wasatch Front. This national park has been a national monument since all the way back in 1933! It became America’s 55th National Park in 1999.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is named because it is so narrow and deep that certain parts of the canyon floor receive only 33 minutes of sunlight per day, leaving the walls covered in black shadows. Seeing the canyon for yourself is a real treat as it is difficult to capture the beauty of this canyon in photographs.

Visiting Black Canyon

The national park is divided into two sections, the north rim and the south rim, and it is difficult to visit both on the same day as it is nearly two hours to drive from one rim to the other, though the viewpoints are only a thousand yards apart! Most people visit the south rim, and the north rim is quite undeveloped. We took the time to visit both, and we’ve got all the details for you in this post.

South Rim

The south rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is much busier than the north rim. There are more people, more trails, and more pullouts. It is also easier to access. There are two main roads, including one that takes you to the bottom of the canyon called East Portal Road.

We enjoyed our day exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Visitor Center

There is only one Visitor Center in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and it is on the south side. It is a great spot for information, picking up your junior ranger booklets, bathrooms & water, as well as the start to many hikes. We definitely recommend stopping. You can check current hours on the national park website.

The Visitor is small, but it’s a great place to stop and get information.


South Rim Road has ten pullouts, and none of them are really roadside. Each requires a short walk to the rim, which can become quite tedious. Most of the overlooks are marked in yards at the side of the road, and we saw signs ranging from 200-500 yards. This distance adds up, and our feet were pretty sore by the end of the day! We stopped at every view point and we recommend these five:

  • Gunnison Point (behind the Visitor Center)
  • Cedar Point Nature Trail
  • Sunset View (no hike required and picnic tables and restrooms available)
  • Painted Wall
  • Pulpit Rock
All of the viewpoints have fences to keep you safe.
Some have signs with information.
Painted Wall Viewpoint
Gunnison Point Viewpoint
Pulpit Rock Viewpoint


There are also a variety of hikes on the south rim. We did a few different trails, and we’ve written about each one in detail. You can find out more about each hike by clicking on the name of the trail and it will link to our full review and description:

View at the end of Warner Point Nature Trail

East Portal Road

Finally, the south rim provides access to the bottom of the canyon, though it isn’t quite what it seems. There is road called East Portal Road that goes steeply down to the river. The road is very windy with switchbacks, and there is a 16% grade! Make sure to use a very low gear as you head down, and you’ll still smell your brakes burning at the bottom. Any vehicle over 22 feet is prohibited.

The road is intense, but worth it.

Because of the way the canyon levels out, when you reach the river, the walls won’t be towering 2,000 feet above you, but it is still a pretty drive that you should do when you visit the south rim. The Gunnison River is lovely down at the bottom of the Canyon. There is a pavilion and restrooms which make a great spot for picnics, and many people enjoy fishing down in the river. This was one of our favorite spots!

The views were beautiful down by the river.
The look at the canyon is so much different.

North Rim

The north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is much less visited. When we followed our digital maps to this area, we weren’t even sure we were on the correct route as we took off through a rural back road and ended up on a dirt road before entering the park. There were no rangers on the north rim on the Monday in the summer when we visited. There is a small ranger station, but it was not open when we were in the park. This is a good spot to stop and pick up a map, eat lunch at one of the two picnic tables, or use the pit toilet.

A much smaller sign on the north rim.

Most people who come to the north rim are seeking a quieter experience and many will camp at the first-come-first-served campground in this area. We used the campground for a picnic lunch before heading out on the trail. But there is another reason to visit the north rim. This rim is much steeper. The average grade is 93%, as opposed to 63% on the south rim. Though the south rim is more open, the north rim feels like standing on the edge of a skyscraper and looking straight down.

The small ranger station has maps and two picnic tables and a pit toilet.


There is a short scenic drive along the north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This drive is 4.5 miles long and has 5 overlooks. We stopped at all of them and loved how each spot offered a different view of the canyon than the last. Most of the overlooks require a short walk, though two of them are roadside.

The road is well maintained, but it is not paved.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Canyon View
Kneeling Camel Viewpoint
Some viewpoints have a short walk, but all are easy.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Canyon View
The steepness of the canyon walls is awesome to see.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Canyon View
The Narrows viewpoint.


The North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnson has three different trails.

1. At the end of the road is a long hike called Dead Horse Trail, which is 5 miles roundtrip. We did not add this hike to our itinerary.

2. A second hike leaves from the Ranger Station. North Vista Trail has variable distance based on your destination. We did three miles to Exclamation Point. You can read our full write up of this hike using this link.

The view at Exclamation Point

3. The final hike is a short brochure-guided nature trail. It is called Chasm View Trail, and is just a short half-mile along the rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We highly recommend this hike if you visit the north rim.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Canyon View
There is a great look into the canyon at Chasm View.

Though many people find the north rim of the canyon to be repetitive, we found it to be a bit of a respite from the hustle and bustle that has become our nation’s national parks.

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