Wildlife, Vistas, & More to Enjoy Along the Rims of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Katherine RivardHappy Trails
A man standing at the edge of the cliffs at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with a rainbow with dark clouds during sunrise over the canyon
— Howard Hill, Share the Experience

The simplest of pleasures are sometimes the most rewarding, and a calm trail hike at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is no exception. This wild park in western Colorado offers incredible hiking opportunities along the canyon’s edge. Visitors are likely to see a variety of birds and animals in the lush wilderness while taking in the vistas and landscapes as arresting as the those at better-known parks like Grand Canyon National Park. Travel as many of the trails as possible to reach view after sweeping view, and remember to keep your eyes open along the way to note the many plants and animals that inhabit the park.

To ensure you get the most out of your trek through the park, it’s critical to pack out what you pack in and read all park rules before arriving. Animal lovers will also want to prepare for their visit by learning about the many types of birds and critters found in the park and bringing along a pair of binoculars to look on from a safe distance.

The South Rim

Cedar Point Nature Trail

The overlook at Cedar Point on the South Rim at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park with black cliffs and blue skies

The overlook at Cedar Point

National Park Service

This short trail (less than a mile roundtrip) provides some of the most striking views of any of the park’s trails. Traveling along the sloped trail, visitors can follow guideposts that provide information on the bountiful flora. The destination’s overlook also features jaw-dropping views of the river 2,000 feet below!

Warner Point Nature Trail

Slightly longer than Cedar Point Nature Trail, this 1.5-mile walk begins at either High Point Overlook or the South Rim Visitor Center. Take your time and rest on the shaded benches, taking in the numerous types of trees. A special walking guide provides even more information with exciting details at each of the 14 markers.

The North Rim

North Vista Trail

Depending on your goals and level of energy, choose to take a moderate 3-mile trip to Exclamation Point and back, or test yourself on the more strenuous 7-mile trip to Green Mountain. Scenic views and birding opportunities await those who choose this course. From Exclamation Point, you’ll enjoy incredible inner-canyon views, while Green Mountain offers panoramic vistas of the area.

Deadhorse Trail

A view down the canyon with red and black sandstone cliffs from Deadhorse Trail at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The view from Deadhorse Trail

National Park Service

Despite its peculiar name, Deadhorse Trail is actually the only trail where horses are allowed in this park! However, if you don’t own a horse, your trusted footwear is all that is required. Five miles roundtrip, this trail provides views of the Deadhorse Gulch and East Portal on the Gunnison River. The trail begins at the old Ranger Station and is the remainder of what once served as the service road.

A brown mountain cottontail rabbit in the snow at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

A mountain cottontail

National Park Service

While walking through the park, tread quietly and take breaks to sit and watch for animals. Yellow-bellied marmots, Colorado chipmunks, and mountain cottontails are a few of the small animals you might encounter. Mule deer are some of the most commonly spotted animals, particularly along U.S. Highway 50 and the state highways. Even black bears and mountain lions inhabit the area, though it is very unlikely that you will see either of these larger animals during your visit.

Meanwhile, look up to the sky or peer into the trees to see an incredible array of birds. By night, the great horned owl prowls on rodents. By day, visitors will be lucky to catch the song of a canyon wren, even if they don’t see these small birds, or stand in awe of the park’s peregrine falcons — capable of soaring down to catch prey at a speed of 200 mph.

With so many animals and views possible from the canyon’s rim, there’s no need to explore the canyon from within. However, adrenaline junkies and those who are in excellent shape may test themselves via trips into the canyon itself. Hiking the inner canyon is not suggested for most visitors, given that it requires hikers to be in excellent physical condition and these intrepid hikers must be ready for self-rescue if necessary. There are no paths or trails within the canyon and poison ivy is rampant. Furthermore, all water sources require purification and many travelers have lost their lives after being swept away by the bustling river.

The waters of the Colorado River cascading over rocks at the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
National Park Service

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is home to some of the steepest cliffs in North America, creating breathtaking views from any of the trails in the park. Though visitors may choose to drive through the park, the short hikes along the rims are some of the most incredible ways to experience the area. Find out for yourself when you #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque at this Coloradan gem!


I think you should include information on the option of going down to the river and learn all the interesting info about the river. I feel there should be a stamp for the river site. Great visit and I am so grateful that the park entrance ranger suggested we go down there. The drive is typical of any Colorado Park. Enjoyed this place so much. Would go back in a heart beat.

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