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Hiking The Black Canyon In The United States’ Newest National Park


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Audrye Page



Welcome to Black Canyon National Park, the newest addition to the United States’ renowned national park system. Nestled in the heart of Colorado, this hidden gem offers breathtaking landscapes, adrenaline-pumping hiking trails, and unforgettable experiences for adventure enthusiasts.


Black Canyon National Park is a nature lover’s paradise, boasting steep cliffs, rugged canyons, and the majestic Gunnison River flowing through its depths. With its diverse flora and fauna, this park offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of nature and challenge your hiking abilities.


For history buffs, the park holds a fascinating tale. The sheer walls of Black Canyon were formed over millions of years by the erosive power of the Gunnison River, carving through the hard rock and creating a natural wonder. The area’s rich history is also etched in the rock faces, with remnants of ancestral Puebloan dwellings and evidence of early European explorers.


Whether you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, Black Canyon National Park has something to offer for everyone. From leisurely strolls along the rim to adrenaline-pumping descents into the canyon, this park promises adventure at every turn.


As you explore the trails, keep an eye out for the park’s unique wildlife. Black bears, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and a variety of bird species call this rugged terrain home. The park is also a sanctuary for several plant species, including ponderosa pines, wildflowers, and the rare Penstemon debilis.


So, grab your hiking boots, pack your sense of adventure, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the Black Canyon. In this article, we’ll delve into the history, geography, hiking trails, safety tips, and camping options available in this picturesque national park. Let’s dive into the depths of Black Canyon National Park and discover its wonders!


History of Black Canyon National Park

The history of Black Canyon National Park is as intriguing as the canyon itself. Millennia before the arrival of European explorers, the canyon was inhabited by Native American tribes, such as the Ute and the Hopi. Evidence of their presence can be seen in the form of rock paintings and artifacts found scattered throughout the area.


European exploration of the canyon began in the 18th century when Spanish explorers first laid eyes on its imposing cliffs. However, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the canyon began to attract attention from adventurers and settlers. The lure of precious minerals brought miners to the area, hoping to strike it rich. Although their efforts were largely unsuccessful, their legacy can still be seen in the remnants of mining structures within the park.


The unique geology and natural beauty of the canyon eventually caught the attention of conservationists. In 1933, President Herbert Hoover designated Black Canyon as a national monument to protect its scenic and geological significance. Over the next few decades, efforts to preserve and showcase the canyon’s natural wonders continued.


Finally, in 1999, Black Canyon was designated as a national park, becoming the 58th park in the United States‘ national park system. This recognition was a testament to the canyon’s exceptional geological features, its rich biodiversity, and its cultural significance.


Today, Black Canyon National Park stands as a testament to the eternal beauty and resilience of nature. Visitors can witness the ongoing geological forces that shaped the canyon over millions of years. The park also offers a glimpse into the lives of the Native American tribes who once called this area home and the European settlers who sought to conquer its rugged terrain.


Whether you’re a history buff seeking to uncover the secrets of the past or simply a nature lover looking for breathtaking vistas, Black Canyon National Park’s history adds an extra layer of fascination to your exploration. As you hike through the canyon and observe its towering walls, take a moment to reflect on the centuries of human and natural history that have shaped this awe-inspiring landscape. The story of Black Canyon National Park is a testament to the enduring power of nature and the importance of preserving our natural wonders for future generations to enjoy.


Location and Geography

Black Canyon National Park is located in western Colorado, near the city of Montrose. The park encompasses a rugged and picturesque stretch of the Gunnison River, spanning approximately 48 kilometers (30 miles) from its eastern to western boundary.


The park’s centerpiece is the Black Canyon, a narrow gorge with steep cliffs that descend over 600 meters (2,000 feet) to the river below. This unique geologic formation is the result of millions of years of erosion by the Gunnison River, cutting through the hard rock layers and exposing the dark, jagged walls that give the canyon its name.


The canyon is characterized by its narrowness and dramatic vertical walls, which create a sense of awe and wonder as you stand at its rim. The walls of the canyon are so steep and sheer that sunlight only reaches the bottom for a few brief hours each day, adding to its mystique.


While the canyon itself may be the main attraction, Black Canyon National Park also encompasses a wider area of rugged wilderness. The park includes both the North and South Rim, each offering unique viewpoints and hiking opportunities. The North Rim tends to be less crowded and provides a more secluded experience, while the South Rim offers more accessibility and a wider range of visitor amenities.


One of the most famous features of Black Canyon National Park is the Painted Wall, located on the park’s South Rim. Rising to a height of over 700 meters (2,250 feet), the Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in Colorado and showcases the different colors and textures of the various rock layers that make up the canyon.


As you explore the park, you’ll also encounter other striking geological formations, such as the Devils Lookout and the Warner Point Overlook, which offer panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.


When planning your visit to Black Canyon National Park, it’s important to note that the park’s remote location and rugged terrain contribute to its wild and untamed character. While this adds to its charm, it also means that facilities within the park are limited. It’s essential to come well-prepared with food, water, appropriate clothing, and a sense of adventure.


Now that you have a better understanding of Black Canyon National Park’s location and unique geography, you’re ready to venture into its breathtaking landscapes. From the towering cliffs to the meandering river below, this park promises a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will leave you in awe of the natural world’s immense power and beauty.


Wildlife and Plant Species in the Park

Black Canyon National Park is not just a feast for the eyes but also a haven for a diverse range of wildlife and plant species. The park’s varied ecosystems provide habitats for a multitude of species, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers.


When it comes to wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for some of the park’s most iconic residents. Black bears, mule deer, elk, and mountain lions roam the rugged terrain, adding an element of excitement and wonder to your visit. The park is also home to smaller mammals such as coyotes, bobcats, and various species of rodents.


The birdlife in Black Canyon National Park is equally impressive. Over 200 bird species have been recorded in the park, including majestic raptors like golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Visitors may also have the opportunity to spot smaller birds such as black-capped chickadees, Steller’s jays, and canyon wrens as they flit among the trees and cliffs.


As you explore the park, take note of the diverse plant species that call Black Canyon home. Ponderosa pine forests dominate the landscape, their tall trunks and distinctive vanilla scent adding a touch of wilderness to your hikes. Other tree species, such as Douglas fir and aspen, can also be found throughout the park, adding to the visual diversity.


During the spring and summer months, the meadows and slopes of the park burst into vibrant colors as wildflowers bloom. Lupines, columbines, and penstemons are just a few of the floral species that paint the landscape with their hues, attracting not only human admirers but also pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds.


One particularly unique plant species found in Black Canyon National Park is the Penstemon debilis, also known as the Parachute Penstemon. This rare flower is endemic to the area and is recognized for its delicate pink petals and ability to survive in the harsh rocky environment of the canyon.


While exploring the park, remember to respect the wildlife and plant life that calls it home. Keep a safe distance from animals, refrain from feeding them, and capture memories through photographs rather than touching or disturbing the natural habitats.


Black Canyon National Park offers an incredible opportunity to witness the interconnectedness of nature and the rich biodiversity that exists even in seemingly inhospitable environments. Whether it’s catching a glimpse of a black bear lumbering through the forest or marveling at the delicate petals of a wildflower, the park’s wildlife and plant species will leave you with a deep appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.


Hiking Trails in Black Canyon

Black Canyon National Park is a hiker’s paradise, offering a variety of trails that cater to all skill levels and preferences. From easy strolls along the rim to challenging descents into the canyon, there is a hiking trail for every adventurer.


One of the most popular trails in the park is the Rim Rock Nature Trail. This easy, family-friendly trail starts at the South Rim Visitor Center and provides stunning panoramic views of the canyon. Along the way, interpretive signs offer insights into the park’s geology, flora, and fauna, making it an educational experience as well.


For those looking for a more immersive hike, the Warner Point Nature Trail offers a moderate-level trek with breathtaking vistas. Starting from the North Rim Visitor Center, this trail takes you through diverse ecosystems, including pine forests and open meadows. At Warner Point, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the canyon and surrounding wilderness.


If you’re up for a challenge, the Gunnison Route Trail is a rigorous trek into the heart of the canyon. This strenuous hike requires proper planning and preparation. Descending from the South Rim, you’ll navigate steep switchbacks and rocky terrain, reaching the river at the bottom. This hike is recommended for experienced hikers who are equipped with the right gear and have a good level of fitness.


Another popular trail option is the Oak Flat Loop Trail, offering a moderate-level hike through groves of oak trees and meadows. This loop trail provides opportunities for wildlife spotting along the way and offers some shade during hot summer months.


For those seeking a longer and more adventurous journey, the East Portal Trail is an option worth considering. This challenging trail takes you from the Gunnison River’s edge, following an old railroad grade. Along the way, you’ll witness stunning views of the canyon, as well as remnants of historic structures from the area’s mining past.


No matter which trail you choose, it’s essential to come well-prepared. Wear appropriate footwear, pack plenty of water and snacks, and dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions. It’s also a good idea to check with park rangers for the latest trail conditions and any safety advisories before setting off.


Remember to stay on designated trails, follow Leave No Trace principles, and respect the natural surroundings. Take the time to soak in the beauty of the canyon, pause for photos, and embrace the serenity of this remarkable wilderness.


Black Canyon National Park offers a hiking experience unlike any other. With its awe-inspiring views, diverse trail options, and opportunities for both novice and experienced hikers, it’s a destination that will satisfy your craving for adventure and immerse you in the raw beauty of the great outdoors.


Preparing for a Hike in Black Canyon National Park

Before you embark on a hike in Black Canyon National Park, it’s important to make adequate preparations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:


Plan Your Hike: Research the different trail options available in the park and choose one that matches your skill level and preferences. Consider the distance, elevation gain, terrain, and estimated hiking time. Take into account the weather conditions and season as well.


Check Trail Conditions: Prior to your hike, check with park rangers or the visitor center for any trail closures, restrictions, or safety advisories. Some trails may be closed due to wildlife activity, landslides, or other factors. Stay informed to ensure a smooth and safe hiking experience.


Prepare Physically: Black Canyon National Park offers trails of varying difficulty levels, so it’s important to assess your own physical fitness and choose a trail that suits your abilities. If you’re not in good hiking shape, start with easier trails and gradually work your way up to more challenging routes. Engage in regular exercise to build stamina and strength.


Pack the Essentials: Make sure to carry essential hiking gear and supplies. These may include a backpack, sturdy hiking boots, a map or GPS device, extra clothing layers, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, insect repellent, plenty of water, and high-energy snacks. Don’t forget a first aid kit and emergency whistle, especially if you’re embarking on more remote trails.


Inform Others: If you’re hiking alone, let someone reliable know about your hiking plans, including the trail you’ll be on, your estimated time of departure and return, and any emergency contacts they can reach out to in case of unforeseen circumstances.


Follow Leave No Trace Principles: As you explore the park, be mindful of preserving the natural environment and minimizing your impact. Leave nothing but footprints, take only photographs, and respect wildlife and plant life. Dispose of trash responsibly and follow park guidelines for waste management.


Be Aware of Wildlife: Black Canyon National Park is home to a variety of wildlife species, including potentially dangerous ones such as bears and mountain lions. Familiarize yourself with appropriate wildlife safety practices, such as storing food properly, keeping a safe distance, and making noise while hiking to alert animals to your presence.


Check Weather Conditions: Before setting off on your hike, check the weather forecast for the park. Weather conditions can change quickly, especially in mountainous areas. Dress in layers to adjust to temperature fluctuations and bring rain gear if needed. Avoid hiking during storms or when conditions may become hazardous.


Respect Park Regulations: Familiarize yourself with the park’s rules and regulations and adhere to them. These may include restrictions on off-trail hiking, camping permits, and guidelines for campfires. By respecting park regulations, you contribute to the preservation of the natural beauty and ensure a positive experience for all.


By preparing properly before your hike in Black Canyon National Park, you can embark on your adventure with confidence, knowing that you have taken the necessary steps to ensure your safety and enjoyment. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your gear, and get ready to immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes that await you in this remarkable national park.


Popular Hiking Routes in Black Canyon

Black Canyon National Park offers a variety of popular hiking routes, each providing unique opportunities to explore and appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of the canyon. Whether you’re a novice hiker or an experienced trekker, there’s a trail in Black Canyon that will suit your skill level and preferences.


One of the most renowned trails in the park is the South Rim Trail. Stretching for approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles), this trail offers breathtaking views of the canyon and its rugged walls. It follows the southern rim, allowing hikers to witness the dramatic drop-offs, towering cliffs, and the stunning Painted Wall.


Another popular option is the North Vista Trail, which winds along the park’s northern rim. This trail spans about 11 kilometers (7 miles) and treats hikers to panoramic views of the canyon as well. It’s a great choice for those seeking a more secluded and peaceful experience, as it tends to be less crowded compared to the South Rim.


If you’re looking to venture into the depths of the canyon, the Gunnison Route Trail is a challenging option. This trail descends from the South Rim, leading hikers through steep switchbacks and rocky terrain to the river below. Keep in mind that this strenuous trail requires careful planning, appropriate gear, and a good level of physical fitness.


For a shorter but equally rewarding hike, consider the Warner Point Nature Trail. This moderate-level trail starts from the North Rim and provides stunning vistas of the canyon. Along the way, you’ll traverse through diverse ecosystems, including pine forests and meadows, offering a delightful mix of scenery.


If you’re more inclined towards an easy stroll with incredible views, the Rim Rock Nature Trail is an excellent choice. This family-friendly trail starts near the South Rim Visitor Center and offers accessible pathways, interpretive signs, and impressive panoramic vistas of the canyon. It’s a great option for those looking for a leisurely hike while still soaking in the park’s natural beauty.


As you explore these popular hiking routes, remember to stay on designated trails, respect the natural environment, and follow safety guidelines. Carry essential gear, such as proper footwear, ample water, snacks, and sun protection, to ensure a comfortable and safe hiking experience.


Black Canyon National Park’s hiking trails offer an opportunity to witness the raw power and beauty of nature up close. Whether you choose to hike along the rim or venture into the depths of the canyon, these popular routes will leave you with memories of stunning vistas, striking geological formations, and a profound appreciation for the untamed wilderness that resides within the park.


Safety Tips for Hiking in Black Canyon National Park

While Black Canyon National Park offers breathtaking scenery and exhilarating hiking opportunities, it’s essential to prioritize your safety while exploring this rugged wilderness. Here are some important safety tips to keep in mind before embarking on a hike in the park:


Plan and Prepare: Research your chosen trail beforehand, including its difficulty level, distance, and estimated hiking time. Familiarize yourself with the park’s rules and regulations, and check for any trail closures or safety advisories. Be realistic about your own physical abilities and choose a trail that matches your fitness level.


Check the Weather: Colorado weather can be unpredictable, so always check the forecast before heading out. Dress in layers to accommodate changing conditions and pack necessary rain gear. Avoid hiking during storms or when inclement weather is predicted, as conditions can become hazardous.


Carry Essential Gear: Pack hiking essentials such as a map or GPS device, a compass, extra clothing layers for changing weather, sufficient water, high-energy snacks, a first aid kit, and sunscreen. It’s also advisable to carry a whistle and a flashlight or headlamp for emergencies.


Stay Hydrated and Fueled: Black Canyon’s high elevation and rugged terrain can lead to dehydration. Carry plenty of water and drink frequently to stay hydrated. Pack nutritious snacks to maintain energy levels and replenish electrolytes as needed.


Inform Others: Before setting off on your hike, inform a reliable person about your hiking plans, including the trail you’ll be on and your estimated time of return. This way, someone will know to raise the alarm if you haven’t returned by a certain time.


Remain on Designated Trails: Stick to established trails and avoid venturing off into unmarked areas. Straying off-trail can lead to dangerous situations, including getting lost or encountering difficult terrain.


Be Wildlife Aware: Black Canyon is home to various wildlife species, including potentially dangerous ones like black bears and mountain lions. Familiarize yourself with wildlife safety practices, such as storing food properly, making noise to alert animals to your presence, and keeping a safe distance. Do not feed or approach wildlife.


Stay Alert and Oriented: Pay attention to your surroundings and be aware of potential hazards, including loose rocks, steep drop-offs, and slippery surfaces. Use caution when traversing rocky sections and always keep your balance. Carry a map or GPS device to ensure you stay on the correct trail.


Hike in a Group, if Possible: Hiking with a partner or in a group is recommended, especially on longer or more challenging trails. If solo hiking, exercise extra caution and inform someone of your plans.


Follow Leave No Trace Principles: Respect the environment and practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out all trash, including food waste, and dispose of it properly. Do not disturb or remove any natural features or wildlife.


By following these safety tips, you can have an enjoyable and safe hiking experience in Black Canyon National Park. Remember, always prioritize your well-being and be prepared for the unexpected. Taking precautions will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the park’s stunning landscapes and create lasting memories while ensuring your return home safely.


Camping Options in the Park

For those looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of Black Canyon National Park for an extended period, camping is an excellent option. The park offers a range of camping options, allowing visitors to fully embrace the natural surroundings and experience the tranquility of the wilderness.


South Rim Campground: Located on the South Rim of the canyon, this campground offers a convenient base for exploring the park. With 88 campsites available, it caters to both tent and RV campers. Amenities include picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms, and potable water. Reservations can be made in advance, and it’s advisable to book early during peak season.


North Rim Campground: Situated on the North Rim of the canyon, this campground provides a more secluded camping experience. It offers 13 first-come, first-served sites for tent campers only. While amenities are limited, campers can enjoy picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets. The North Rim Campground is a great option for those seeking a quieter and more rustic camping experience.


East Portal Campground: Located near the Gunnison River at the bottom of the canyon, this primitive campground is perfect for hikers exploring the depths of Black Canyon. It offers six drive-in sites and four walk-in sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Campers must be prepared with their own water, as potable water is not available. It’s important to note that the road leading to the campground is steep and challenging.


Both the South Rim and North Rim Campgrounds provide easy access to hiking trails and stunning viewpoints, allowing campers to maximize their time exploring the park. The campgrounds are equipped with the necessary amenities to ensure a comfortable camping experience, although campers should come prepared with all essential supplies, including food, water, and appropriate gear.


It’s important to keep in mind that camping regulations and fees may vary, so it’s advisable to check the park’s official website or contact the visitor center for the most up-to-date information. Additionally, always practice Leave No Trace principles while camping in the park, respecting the natural environment and leaving your campsite as pristine as you found it.


With its serene atmosphere and stunning night skies, camping in Black Canyon National Park provides an opportunity to truly connect with nature and have a memorable outdoor adventure. Whether you choose to camp on the rim or venture to the bottom of the canyon, camping in this remarkable park is an experience that will leave you with a profound appreciation for the beauty of the wilderness.


Exploring Other Activities in Black Canyon National Park

While hiking may be the primary draw for visitors to Black Canyon National Park, there are several other activities and attractions to explore within the park. From scenic drives to wildlife viewing, these activities offer a well-rounded experience for every nature lover.


Scenic Drives: Driving along the park’s Rim Rock Road provides breathtaking vistas of the canyon without the need for strenuous hiking. This scenic drive is a great option for those with limited mobility or time constraints, offering numerous overlooks and photo opportunities along the way. The South Rim Drive and the North Rim Drive also provide incredible viewpoints and access to various trails.


Wildlife Viewing: Black Canyon National Park is a haven for wildlife, making it an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of black bears, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and a variety of bird species. Visit during dawn or dusk for the best chances of spotting wildlife in their natural habitats.


Ranger Programs: The park offers ranger-led programs and activities that provide educational insights about the canyon’s geology, history, and wildlife. Join a guided hike, attend a nature talk, or participate in stargazing programs to enhance your understanding of the park’s unique features and rich natural heritage.


Fishing: Anglers will enjoy the opportunities for fishing in the park’s designated areas along the Gunnison River. The river is known for its trout population, and fishing permits are required. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the park’s fishing regulations before casting your line.


Photography: With its dramatic cliffs, changing light conditions, and stunning landscapes, Black Canyon National Park is a paradise for photographers. Capture the beauty of the canyon at different times of the day, experiment with angles and compositions, and let your creativity shine in immortalizing the park’s natural wonders.


Picnicking: Take advantage of the park’s designated picnic areas to relax and enjoy a meal surrounded by scenic views. The South Rim Picnic Area provides a perfect spot to sit back, recharge, and take in the grandeur of the canyon.


Junior Ranger Program: If you’re visiting the park with children, encourage them to participate in the Junior Ranger program. This interactive and educational program allows young visitors to earn a Junior Ranger badge by completing activities related to the park’s natural and cultural resources.


Regardless of your interests, Black Canyon National Park offers a range of activities beyond hiking that will enhance your visit and provide a deeper appreciation for the park’s natural wonders. Take the time to explore these additional offerings and make the most of your time in this extraordinary wilderness.



Black Canyon National Park is a hidden gem in the United States’ national park system, offering a remarkable blend of natural beauty, rich history, and thrilling adventures. Nestled in the heart of Colorado, this park mesmerizes visitors with its steep cliffs, rugged canyons, and the roaring Gunnison River.


From the moment you set foot in Black Canyon National Park, you’ll be captivated by its allure. The park’s intriguing history, shaped by Native American tribes and European explorers, adds depth to the experience, while its unique geography leaves visitors in awe of the forces of nature.


Hiking the park’s trails provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and witness the unrivaled beauty of the canyon. Whether you choose an easy stroll along the rim or venture into the depths of the canyon itself, the trails cater to all levels of hikers, offering breathtaking views and unforgettable moments.


But Black Canyon National Park isn’t just about hiking. It’s a place where wildlife thrives and where bird species enchant visitors with their majestic flights. It’s a place for camping under the starry night sky and exploring the park’s diverse ecosystems. It’s a place for scenic drives that reveal awe-inspiring vistas around every bend.


As you hike, camp, and explore the park, it’s crucial to prioritize safety, plan accordingly, and respect the natural environment. Adhere to park regulations, follow safety guidelines, and carry essential gear to ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit.


Black Canyon National Park is more than just a destination—it’s an experience that stays with you long after you’ve left its boundaries. It’s a place of wonder, where time slows and the magnificence of nature takes center stage. Whether you come for a day trip or an extended stay, this national park promises to leave you with cherished memories and a deep appreciation for the unparalleled beauty that exists within its borders.


So, lace up your hiking boots, pack your sense of adventure, and set off on a journey like no other. Explore the depths of Black Canyon National Park, marvel at its towering cliffs, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Let the park’s raw and untamed wilderness awaken your senses, invigorate your spirit, and remind you of the overwhelming power and majesty of nature.