Put an exclamation point on it
Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers great views from both sides
Is the north the new south?
No, this has nothing to do with the Civil War. Rather, this is about the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
The spectacular, visually stunning canyon is a true gem of western Colorado and easy for visitors to see from the south rim, 30-some miles out of Montrose.
But the north rim is a true diamond in the rough for visitors who are on the other side of the canyon.
The popular Black Canyon draws more than 200,000 visitors annually, with around 90 percent of those checking out the national park, estalished in 1999, from the south rim.
The gorgeous gorge is accurately described as deep, steep and narrow, and the views from the south rim are indeed spectacular. There are numerous viewing points that give visitors an eye-popping experience, but for me, the north rim is a more unique destination.
The biggest hurdle to the north rim is it’s not as easy to visit. Located 12 miles south of Crawford, the turn is just after Crawford State Park. With the final seven miles via dirt road, the north rim is remote. It’s also closed during the winter months.
The main viewing point on the north rim is from the Chasm View — sensational. This is a short walk on a loop trail from the parking area and has a couple of different places to soak in views of the canyon.
If you’re up for a short, rather easy three-mile out-and-back hike, I highly recommend the Exclamation Point.
There is a longer hike that continues on, but the views from Exclamation Point are splendid.
Obviously, after absorbing the views from this vantage point, I had to wonder if there could possibly be a double or even triple exclamation point trail.
What I love about the views from this hike is a straight-on view of the immensely deep canyon and a sliver of the Gunnison River far below the canyon walls. Like virtually every view of the canyon, it’s truly awe-inspiring and you’ll find yourself letting the scenery wash over you.
The best scene from the south rim, by far, is the Painted Wall. It’s the largest cliff in Colorado at more than 2,300 feet high and its name comes from the stark lighter colored lines in the cliff.
It looks like paint was flung from an artist’s paintbrush.
These lines come from a geological phenomenon millions of years in the making. Hot magma forced its way into fractures in the cliff wall, then cooled, leaving the lines.
Obviously, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is packed with geologic and historic facts, but its main appeal is its stunning, breathtaking beauty.
The north rim offers a marvelous contrasting look at the Painted Wall. Basically the same view, but that slight difference in angles is quite extraordinary.
The hike to Exclamation Point gives you an even rarer viewpoint. Upon arriving at this vantage point, you have made your way to the far side of the Painted Wall. The south rim viewing area is a straight across the canyon.
You can see the colored lines in the wall from a side view, while still seeing the rugged canyon and river far below.
It’s a short jaunt that is well worth the time and effort.
There’s an overlook prior to Exclamation Point that’s a nice stop, but it’s not the ultimate destination. The hike winds away from the canyon for a short distance before making it’s way back to Exclamation Point and the fork to continue on to the Green Mountain Trail.
A park’s pass costing $15 a visit (good for seven days) is good for both the south and north rims.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of those special Western Slope places that we tend to forget about, but it’s a great day trip that will be filled with spectacular scenes of Mother Nature’s work.
There are hiking and picnic opportunities on both sides of the canyon and — just a reminder — there is no bridge connecting the two sides, so to take in both rims, it will take a long drive or a couple of different days.
I do love the north rim for it’s views and some nice hiking.
Yes, it’s still the deep, steep and narrow canyon from a slightly different views than the south rim — still stunning, still spectacular — but sometimes different is a little more special.
The north will never be the new south, but the north rim is pretty darn special.