Black Canyon of the Gunnison isn’t a huge park, and most of the trails aren’t extremely long — but that’s not to say they aren’t challenging. There’s a 2,000 foot difference in elevation between the top and bottom of the canyon, and since the widest point of the canyon is only about 1,300 feet across, you can expect hikes that are short and steep. So be sure not to go just by milage alone when evaluating a hike’s difficulty. Be sure to carry lots of water, and be able to identify poison ivy if you’re going into the canyon. It’s rampant, especially in the spring and early summer.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Photo: NPS/Victoria Stauffenberg/Public Domain

Chasm View Nature Trail: (.6 miles, 100 feet gain) Chasm View is a moderate and short walk. As the name suggests, the trail offers excellent views of the depths of the chasm of the Black Canyon. Stop at the second overlook along the trail for views of the Painted Wall and Serpent Point. Bird watchers may find raptors in the trees along the path. More information.

Rim Rock Nature Trail: (1.5 miles, 180 feet gain) This moderate two-mile round trip walking trail runs along the canyon rim with excellent views of the walls and cliffs below. More information.

Oak Flat Loop Trail: (1.3 miles, 310 feet gain) Though short, the Oak Flat Loop has some steep climbs and narrow sections of trail. But it’s one of the best options hiking below the rim without navigating one of the unmarked, unmaintained trails to the river. More information.

Exclamation Point via North Vista Trail: (7.5 miles, 900 feet gain) For a slightly longer hike, the North Vista Trail is one of the few options. There are two destinations along the trail (Exclamation Point at 1.5 miles in and Green Mountain at 3.5 miles in), and many hikers turn around at the first one. While Exclamation Point offers inner-canyon views, Green Mountain has some of the best panoramic shots in the area, with stunning views of the San Juan Mountains, the Uncompahgre Plateau, and an aerial view of the Black Canyon itself. More information.

Gunnison Route Trail: (1.8 miles, 1,800 feet gain) Hiking to the river is not for the faint of heart, but this is the best route for testing your mettle with a trek to the canyon’s depths. While it’s the most popular trail along the South Rim, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s easy; it’s steep and strenuous. If you come during the summer, make sure to arrive early to secure your required wilderness permit. More information.

Warner Point Nature Trail: (1.5 miles, 400 feet gain) This easy-to-follow trail is short and popular, thanks to the park’s accompanying nature guide. There are 14 markers along the trail that correspond to information on the sheet to guide hikers through the history of the parks’s founding and teach about the park’s most common flora and fauna. More information.