At just over 300,000 visitors in 2018, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is certainly one of the quieter parks that you will visit, which is great: You may have this gem all to yourself. Located near Montrose, Black Canyon is far from the crowds of Denver, so this gigantic ditch feels more intimate and private than its flashy Arizona relative. This Precambrian rock is nearly 2 million years old, according to colorado.com, and is named the Black Canyon because its walls are frequently darkened with shadows.
Hike Warner Point Nature Trail and watch the sunset at Sunset View
Visitors can choose between the north and south rim, but if you only have a weekend, I recommend sticking to the south rim. It’s easier to access and you can spend your time soaking in the scenery rather than sitting in a car.
After popping by the South Rim Visitor Center to collect trail maps and chat with rangers, head to the very end of South Rim Road, where you will find the trailhead. The Warner Point Nature Trail is only 1½ miles roundtrip with moderate undulation, so you will have plenty of time to read the plethora of park signage along the route. Thirteen trail markers include descriptions of local trees and scenic vistas, and the information provided is truly enjoyable. While not as dramatic as the endpoint view, hikers will certainly enjoy pleasant panoramas of the West Elk Mountains to the north and the San Juan Mountains to the south. As for that final 270-degree view? I’d argue it is one of the finest views of the Black Canyon and Gunnison River that can be found in the park.
After returning from the Warner Point Nature Trail, hop in your car and head back a few miles on the South Rim Road for sunset. The aptly named Sunset View is the westernmost viewpoint along the road and it has a parking lot with picnic tables and restrooms, making it a great spot to stop for an evening picnic. The view is oriented more to the northwest but you will glimpse the river downstream for the first time. The cliff walls aren’t as steep here as in other locations and viewpoints, but the canyon is still dramatically beautiful. If you catch this viewpoint on a stunner of a sunset, you’ll have magical photos to take back home.
Hike Rim Rock Nature Trail and Oak Flat Loop Trail
Head back to the South Rim and find the Rim Rock Nature Trail’s trailhead near the entrance to Campground Loop C. This easy 1-mile hike certainly isn’t demanding but it does provide you with a glimpse into the multitude of plant life in the Black Canyon, like sagebrush and pinyon pine. You will also be able to view the steep canyon walls as they plunge toward the Gunnison River — all from the safety of your relatively flat trail.
The Rim Rock Nature Trail eventually ends back at the South Rim Visitor Center, which is perfect for your itinerary. From here, follow signs for the Oak Flat Loop Trail and follow the path. The Oak Flat Loop route (2 miles roundtrip) was built by Student Conservation Association volunteers, according to the National Park Service, and it is a great opportunity for visitors to see life below the rim without having to commit to one of the off-trail, very strenuous backpacking routes that drop down to the river. For some reason, crowds tend to avoid this trail, so it is usually a quiet alternative to some of the more popular rim hiking trails. The trail descends roughly 375 feet over the first mile with a series of steady switchbacks but, as expected, what goes down must come back up. The second mile is a gradual incline as you must climb back up to the rim. But there is an upside: Trees line much of the route, offering a shady respite on blazing hot summer days.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get outdoor news sent straight to your inbox.