Black Canyon of the Gunnison – North Rim
Access: Passenger Car
Water: At campground
GPS Coordinates: 38° 35.237’N , 107° 42.294’W
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in Montrose County in western Colorado. Some of the oldest rock on earth is exposed within the high walls of this fascinating and scenic canyon. In my opinion this is basically a two part park, in which I mean, there is a north rim and a south rim. The south rim is the more popular and easier route to access. I’ve been on the south rim many times but never on the north rim, so this post describes accessing and viewing from the north rim.
To access the north side of the canyon from Grand Junction Colorado you need to travel south on US-50 for about 40 miles until you come to Delta Colorado. From here make sure you take a left off of US-50 and onto Hwy 92 and travel approximately 21 miles until you reach the town of Hotchkiss Colorado. Once in Hotchkiss continue on Hwy 92 as it bears right and heads towards Crawford Colorado.
Continue on Hwy 92 as it passes through the small town of Crawford and travels along the shores of Crawford State Park. Immediately after Crawford Reservoir you will see Black Canyon Road and a sign your right indicating Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Continue on this road for about 11.7 miles. There are multiple side roads that branch off along the way but at each intersection there were signs indicating which way to go to reach the park. the road is paved until about the last 6 miles where it turns to a smooth gravel. during the summer months the road is suitable for any vehicle but I believe they close it during the winter if it gets too snowy.
Continuing north the road climbs up and passes through scrub oak and pinyons and ultimately ends up at the North Rim Campground. The campground is suitable for any tents and RV’s less then 35 feet in length. the cost at the time of my visit was $16.00 per night. there are various hiking trails located in the vicinity as well ranging from the Chasm view Nature trail at 1/3 mile to the Deadhorse trail at 5 miles round trip.
Since this was just a day outing we took the short 1/3 mile Chasm Nature trail. there are some fliers at the trail head that talks about the plants, history and geology of the area so be sure to grab one of those.
The trail takes you to an overlook of the Painted Wall which is said to be the highest vertical cliff in Colorado. Below you can see some nice views of the aqua waters of the Gunnison River.
Once done at the Chasm Nature Trail you can have a nice picnic in the shade at one of the picnic tables in the campground then head back the way you came.
Once past the initial entrance to the park there are about 5 different official overlooks. Each overlook offers its own unique views of the canyon walls and river below. At one of the overlooks we were treated to watching a couple rock climbers climbing the sheer walls of the canyon. When we seen them they were a little under halfway up and it was about 12:00 pm. The ranger at the overlook said they probably started hiking down to the bottom around 4 or 5 in the morning. the area they were climbing was about 1600-1800 feet high. They still had quite a ways to go, one of the guys they said was 73 years old.
After the last overlook the road dead ends at a small loop that has a toilet in the middle. From here the only way to go is back the way you came.
If you’re done for the day you have two options for your return trip. You can either return the way you came which is what we did or when reaching Hwy 92 you can take a right and travel to Blue Mesa reservoir where you can either turn left to Gunnison Colorado or right and head towards Montrose. If you go right and have the time you can visit the south rim of the Black Canyon and compare views. You need to budget at least two hours drive time if you’re planning on visiting the south rim after your north rim visit.
I’ve never been to the North Rim of the canyon so this was a special treat for me. I think you can see more of the canyon floor from the north side but whichever side you choose you will not be dissapointed.