Only a fraction of the visitors to Black Canyon of the Gunnison make the trip to the North Rim. Those that do are rewarded with a wonderfully quiet, uncrowded experience and views that beat those from the South Rim.
Similar to the South Rim, you can drive the rim road, stopping at overlooks along the way. There are also several hiking trails to go deeper into the park, several inner canyon experiences, and a jaw-dropping viewpoint that beats anything on the South Rim.
In this post, I cover the best things to do on the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison with advice on how to plan your time.
Things to do on the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
1. Drive North Rim Drive Road
North Rim Drive Road is four and a half miles long and weaves its way along the North Rim. This road is an unpaved, gravel road but it is suitable for all vehicles.
Along North Rim Drive Road are five overlooks and access to a few hiking trails.
Here are the overlooks in order, starting at The Narrows and ending with Kneeling Camel View. Unlike the overlooks on the South Rim, it is a very short walk from the parking area to the overlook, so each overlook only takes a few minutes of your time.
This overlook offers nice views along the canyon at one of its narrowest points. This is the view looking southeast through the Black Canyon.
From this viewpoint, you can see a large, balanced boulder perched high above the Gunnison River. It’s not the most thrilling view so if you skipped one viewpoint on the North Rim, this one gets my vote.
From here, you get similar views as from The Narrows, with views down the Black Canyon.
Big Island Viewpoint
Island Peaks View
From this overlook, you can see a lot of the South Rim. Looking southeast, you get to see rugged pinnacles of rock. Looking northwest, you can see the South Rim visitor center and a wider expanse of the canyon. If you hiked, or plan to hike the Gunnison Route (one of the easier hikes down into the inner canyon), you can see the location of the hiking trail and just how steep of a hike this is.
Island Peaks Viewpoint
View of the Gunnison Route on the South Rim
Kneeling Camel View
Can you see the shape of a kneeling camel in the rocks?
Beyond this viewpoint, the road ends with a round-about and from here you will drive back towards the visitor center.
2. Chasm View Nature Trail
Distance: 0.33 miles | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 15 minutes
This short hiking trail loops around the North Rim Campground and offers stunning views of the Painted Wall. The Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in Colorado at 2,250 feet. If you look closely, you might be able to see people at the overlooks on the South Rim from here.
View of the Painted Wall
View from the Chasm View Nature Trail
3. Exclamation Point
Distance: 3 miles round-trip | Difficulty: Easy | Time: 1.5 hours
This is one of the most spectacular views in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but to get here you will have to do a little bit of hiking.
To get to Exclamation Point, park in the small lot near the Ranger Station. You will hike the North Vista Trail to get to this viewpoint.
Even though you hike into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison wilderness, you do not need a permit to hike to Exclamation Point.
Note: You do not need a permit for this hike. Permits are required for inner canyon use but this hike does not enter the inner canyon.
The North Vista Trail heads along the North Rim, through juniper trees and brush. Occasionally you will get a view of the South Rim. There are a few ups and downs along the trail but nothing too strenuous. Just before reaching the 1.5 mile point, look for the spur trail to the left, which takes you out to Exclamation Point.
From here, you have a straight shot looking down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s an extraordinary view and well worth the short hike to get here.
4. Hike Green Mountain
Distance: 7 miles round-trip | Difficulty: Moderate | Total Ascent: 1,230 feet | Time: 3 to 4 hours
If you want panoramic views over Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, put this hike on your list.
To get to the peak of Green Mountain, you will hike the North Vista Trail. Park at the Ranger Station. For this hike, you do not need a permit.
From the trailhead, you will hike 3.5 miles to the top of Green Mountain. Along the way, you will pass the short spur trail to Exclamation Point.
On the first half of the hike you occasionally get a view of the canyon through the trees.
Near Exclamation Point there are also unique views of the canyon like this one.
The first half of the hike is relatively easy, a flat walk along the North Rim. Once you get past Exclamation Point, the trail climbs up Green Mountain. It’s nothing too strenuous but the high elevation here can make you feel winded. This hike starts at an elevation of almost 8,000 feet. Once you reach the peak of Green Mountain, you’ll be standing at 8,546 feet with sweeping views over Colorado.
View of the Black Canyon from Green Mountain
From the peak of Green Mountain, you can see the San Juan Mountains, the Uncompahgre Plateau, and a unique view of Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
View from the trail on the return hike.
5. Deadhorse Trail
Distance: 5 miles round-trip | Difficulty: Easy to moderate | Time: 2 to 4 hours
This hike starts at Kneeling Camel View. Most of this walk is along an old service road. Once you hit a fence, turn right and walk out to the edge of the rim for a view of the canyon.
For more information about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, read our Black Canyon of the Gunnison Travel Guide. Get important travel planning tips, sample itineraries, advice on when to go, where to stay, and more.
6. Explore the Inner Canyon
There are three routes on the North Rim that enter the inner canyon. All of these require wilderness use permits which can be obtained at the Ranger Station on the North Rim. Excellent physical fitness and prior hiking experience are necessary to do these hikes. These hiking trails are infamous for the abundant poison ivy growing along the trail which can be 5 feet high in some spots.
Distance: 1.7 miles round-trip | Time: 5 hours
This is the easiest inner canyon route on the North Rim. The trail drops 1,800 feet before arriving at the Gunnison River. Be prepared to climb several ledges and wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect yourself against the poison ivy.
Distance: 1.8 miles round-trip | Time: 4.5 miles
This route takes hikers to the narrowest portion of the canyon. You will descend 1,800 feet and climb several ledges. Park at Balanced Rock Overlook.
Distance: 1.2 miles round-trip | Time: 5.5 hours
This is the toughest, most dangerous inner canyon route on this list. The trail is steep with loose rock. To start this hike, you will have to scramble down a 30-feet ledge. This hike starts near Kneeling Camel Overlook.
While in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trails, pack out what you bring to the hiking trails, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.
Things to do on the North Rim: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
How to Get to the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Even though the canyon is only 1,100 feet in the narrowest section, it takes about two hours to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim. To visit both the South and the North Rims, you need to have two days (one day for each rim).
If you are staying in Montrose, it takes an hour and a half to drive to the North Rim (64 miles).
Crawford is the closest town to the Black Canyon. To get to the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, take highway 92 to Black Canyon Road and follow signs for Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The final 7 miles of the road is a gravel road that is suitable for standard cars.
North Rim Visitor Center
The North Rim is closed to vehicles in the winter. You can get updates about road conditions on the national park service website.
There is a $30 to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This fee also includes the South Rim, so if you went here first, within the past 7 days, you are also covered to visit the North Rim. However, if you only plan to visit the North Rim, you will have to pay this $30 fee. There are limited fee collection stations on the North Rim. The National Park Service recommends that you pay your fee online before you go. Learn more here.
You need a half to a full day to visit the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This gives you plenty of time to drive North Rim Drive Road and visit all of the viewpoints, hike to Exclamation Point, and add on the hike to Green Mountain or an inner canyon route.
Get updates on road and trail closures on the National Park Service website as you plan your trip and just before your visit.
If you are looking for a cool spot to add onto your visit, check out Needle Rock Natural Area, which is located northeast of Crawford.
Needle Rock Natural Area
If you have any questions about visiting the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information about Colorado
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: One of the best things to do on the South Rim is to drive South Rim Drive to the overlooks of the Black Canyon. If you are an avid hiker, don’t miss the Gunnison Route, a trail that takes you from the rim to the Gunnison River.
COLORADO: To read all of our articles about Colorado, check out our Colorado Travel Guide.
GREAT SAND DUNES: In our article Best Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park, we cover the top experiences, plus how to plan your time, where to stay, and more.
BEST OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: For a list of top experiences, read our article Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. We also have a guide to the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to spend one day in RMNP.
SCENIC DRIVES IN COLORADO: Pikes Peak, the Million Dollar Highway, and the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is just a short list of the scenic drives you can do in Colorado. For the full list, read our article about the Best Scenic Drives in Colorado.
NATIONAL PARKS: In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.
Read all of our articles about the United States in our United States Travel Guide.
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