Oak Flat Loop Trail | Black Canyon

Full disclosure: We tried to hike the Oak Flat Loop, but we didn’t make it all the way around. We were stopped just before we made it halfway by a precocious little black bear, and we had to retrace our steps. Still, we saw enough of this trail to give a pretty accurate description of the trail, and to provide some details on how to access the loop.

Bear Safety

First, yes, there are bears in Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We were sort of doubtful, and we didn’t bring the bear spray. The rangers in the visitor center assured us that many people reported seeing bears when they got below the rim of the canyon. Oak Flat Loop allows you to get down off the rim, but it is not a back-country trail, so it doesn’t require a permit. This was a good reminder to us to always be bear aware, even when you are pretty sure you’re safe.

This is using my Zoom lens. Thank goodness we weren’t actually this close.

The Trail

Oak Flat Loop trailhead is next to the Visitor Center. Go down the wooden steps and turn left instead of taking the highly-trafficked route down to Gunnison Point. From there, Oak Flat Loop Trail walks downriver along the canyon rim. There is a branch for the Uplands Trail, but we stayed to the right to walk the Oak Flat Loop counter-clockwise. This trail is 2.0 miles roundtrip. The hike is listed as strenuous on the National Park website, but everything we read has it listed as moderate.

The trail begins flat as it heads away from the Visitor Center.
At this junction, we recommend staying to the right.

Soon, the trail cuts steeply down into the canyon. It is very much like walking down half a dozen flights of stairs. In fact, there are stairs built into the hillside, and the trail follows steep switchbacks. This steep section is why you hike this part on the way down instead of climbing it back up.

As we got to the bottom of the steep part of Oak Flat Loop, which was around a half-mile in, we spotted this little black bear. We watched for a few minutes before being joined by two off-duty rangers. This bear was right on the trail, and it was only about 20 feet away when we spotted it. After slowly backing up to a relatively safe distance, we noticed that the bear was ambling in our direction. Our family of five, along with the two rangers began shouting and clapping, as we backed farther up the trail. We made it safely away from this curious critter, but we were unable to complete the loop.

The trail starts heading down below the rim of the canyon.
We like that this trail went into the trees.
There are some stairs, and just lots of down. Remember, you will be coming back up!
The bear was in the trees when we came upon him.
But he came out onto the trail, and that is when we decided not to finish our hike.

If we had been able to continue the trail, we know that it hikes to some great looks into the canyon from below the rim. The trail is also partially in the trees, so you see a little different landscape from the viewpoints along the scenic drive.

Advice

Here’s what we know: The Oak Flat loop is much less step if you climb it counter-clockwise. We got all the way to the bottom at just over a half-mile distance, and unfortunately had to hike back the way we came which was the steepest section according to the rangers. The remaining mile and a half of the hike brings you up the same distance we went down, so plan to go counter-clockwise. Also, watch out for black bears!

We enjoyed the views from Gunnison Point instead of finishing this trail.

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