Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Things To Do


Due to the technical nature and numerous difficult portages, the Gunnison River through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is not raftable.

Rafting opportunities are available in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area west of the National Park. Several outfitters offer guided raft trips on the Gunnison Gorge section of the river.

Contact the Bureau of Land Management for information on the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area:

BLM, Montrose District Office
2465 South Townsend Avenue
Montrose, CO 81404
(970) 240-5400

Higher Education

To schedule any of these programs, please call (970) 641-2337 x204.

A "Land Ethic" for the Classroom: The Leopold Education Project
An innovative, interdisciplinary educational program based on the classic writings of the renowned conservationist, Aldo Leopold. This program strives to introduce a land ethic to tomorrow's stewards by acquainting teachers with the writings of Aldo Leopold. Undergraduate and graduate credit is available. (16 hours)

The National Park Service
An overview of the mission of the National Park Service and how it relates to other federal land management agencies. (60 minutes)

Safe Boating
This program is designed to provide the novice with the information necessary to safely operate a powered watercraft and as a refresher for the experienced boater. Topics covered include boating laws, rules of the road, personal safety equipment, safe boat handling, navigation, boating problems, moving water considerations and trailering. (4 hours)


The following outfitters are approved to operate in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Contact these businesses directly to make trip arrangements.

Updated January 2007


Elk Ridge Trail Rides
10203 Bostwick Park Road Montrose, CO 81401


San Juan Mountain Guides
P.O. Box 1214 Ouray, CO 81427

Skyward Mountaineering
P.O. Box 323 Ridgway, CO 81432

Southwest Adventure Guides
P.O. Box 3242 Durango, CO 81302

Crested Butte Mountain Guides
P.O. Box 1061 Crested Butte, CO 81224

New Climbing Routes

The Park Service currently has copies of hand drawn topos available, at the South Rim Visitor Center and North Rim Ranger Station, for the following new routes:

The Rectagonal V 5.12- FA: Topher Donahue, Jared Ogden

Ouiji Board 5.12b FA: Andy Donson, Jonny Copp

Diagonal Arete V 5.10 A2 FA: Jim Beyer

Captain Hook VI 5.10 A4 FA: Jim Beyer

Power Lounger 5.10

Peter Terbish Tower 5.11A

Atlantis IV/V- 5.11- FA: Kent Wheeler, Jim Howe

Super Wuss (IV 5.6) actually 5.10 FA: Kevin Cochron, Josh Wharton

Blood Sport III 5.12a FA: Zack Smith, Josh Wharton

Woke Up Punk IV 5.12a FA: Josh Gross, Zack Smith

Flapjack IV 5.12a FA: Tim Kuss, James Williamson

Shadow Boxing V 5.13a R/X FA: Topher Donahue, Jared Ogden

Stay Puff Buttress 5.10 A1 FA: Josh Borof, Paul Emrick

Burl Girl V 5.12 FA: Topher Donahue, Jared Ogden

Stand Up Comic III 5.11+ FA: Wheeler, Shotwell, Lomme

Hair in my Cheeseburger IV+ 5.10 FA: Josh Borof, Paul Emrick

Crystalvision IV+ 5.11- FA: Josh Borof, Paul Emrick

Tague Yer Time V+ 5.12 FA: Topher Donahue, Jared Ogden

Free Hallucinations VI 5.13- R D10+ FA: Ryan Nelson, Jared Ogden

Cheap Hooker V 5.12- FA: Topher Donahue, Jared Ogden

Things To Do

Prepare yourself for 2,000 foot tall, narrow canyon walls dropping almost vertically to the Gunnison River.

The Black Canyon is known for crumbling rock, dizzying heights, and a lack of places to place protective equipment. Rock climbing is a challenge limited to highly experienced, expert climbers only.

Rock Climbing

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a destination that offers vast opportunities to advanced rock climbers.

The canyon is extremely deep and narrow. The depth of the canyon at Warner Point (the deepest section of canyon) is 2,722 ft. The Painted Wall is the tallest vertical wall in the state of Colorado with a height of 2,250 ft. In the area of the North and South Chasm Walls, where the majority of the climbing activity takes place, the depth of the canyon is 1,820 ft. The canyon is at its narrowest point in the Chasm View area, with a rim to rim distance of 1,100 ft.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a full on adventure climbing area. Detailed climbing information for Black Canyon climbs is often difficult to obtain or is non-existent. Black Canyon Rock Climbs by Robbie Williams is currently the most complete guide book on the Black Canyon. The Park Service also retains copies of topos and route information, which have been turned in by first ascent parties. Visit the South Rim Visitor Center or North Rim Ranger Station for information. Visit our Bookstore for guide book information.

Black Canyon is not a place for the beginning climber. Of the one hundred forty five climbs that are either found in Black Canyon Rock Climbs or are known by the Park Service; eight are rated at 5.8, and of these eight only four have good information available and see regular ascents. Twenty one climbs have a rating of 5.9; five of these are aid routes and only six of them see any significant climbing activity. The other one hundred and seventeen climbs have ratings between 5.10 and 5.13 and many require aid. All of the climbs at the Black Canyon are committing and many climbers have said that the ratings here can be deceiving.

All of the climbs within Black Canyon are multi-pitch traditional routes located in remote areas within the canyon. The National Park Service has rangers trained in high angle rescue, but one should keep in mind that any rescue operation within the park is difficult and requires extended periods of time. Being benighted due to underestimating a route is not cause for rescue at the Black Canyon. Climbers visiting the park should carry the equipment necessary to endure an unexpected bivy.

Peak climbing season at the Black Canyon begins in mid-April and runs through the early part of June and then from mid-September through early November. Environmental hazards found at the park during these time periods include frequent afternoon thunder showers, fully leafed out poison ivy, and approach gullies inhabited by ticks.

Climbers visiting the park should remember:

  • Both the North and South Rims have entrance and camping fees.
  • A wilderness use permit is required for all inner canyon travel.
  • Wood gathering is prohibited.
  • Wood fires are not permitted in the inner canyon.
  • Pets are allowed in designated areas only, and not in the inner canyon. Do not leave your pet unattended in a vehicle or campsite.
  • Practice Leave No Trace while in the canyon. Littering will not be tolerated.

A free wilderness use permit is required for all inner-canyon activities including climbing. Permits help us monitor use of the wilderness, routes and to keep tabs on this great resource. They also help us identify potential emergencies by letting us know your expected itinerary. Climbers are a large user group in the Black and as such the National Park Service makes significant efforts to address climber concerns and ongoing needs.

Filling out a permit only takes a few seconds and doesn't cost a thing. Permits are available at the South Rim Visitor Center or the North Rim Ranger Station. When these facilities are closed, instructions will be posted for self-registration.

In addition to a permit, the North Rim Ranger Station has a whiteboard that is used as an informal way of letting other climbers know who is on what route. It prevents multiple parties from piling up on routes and is a quick way to judge climber activity in the canyon.



The Gunnison River within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is designated as Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water. Streams and rivers in Colorado are designated as Gold Medal Waters by the state wildlife commission because they provide outstanding angling opportunities for large trout. The Gold Medal Waters begin 200 yards downstream of Crystal Dam and continue to the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

Special regulations are required to maintain gold medal quality experiences. Of the more than 9,000 miles of trout streams in Colorado, only 168 miles are designated as Gold Medal.

These regulations apply to the Gunnison River within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and within Curecanti National Recreation Area at East Portal (between the closure at Crystal Dam and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park boundary):

  • Use artificial flies or lures only. NO BAIT.
  • ALL Rainbow trout are CATCH AND RELEASE.
  • Limits for brown trout: Daily bag: 4, Possession: 8.
  • A Colorado fishing license is required.
  • Fishing is prohibited within 200 yards downstream of Crystal Dam.

Horseback Riding

Deadhorse Trail
The Deadhorse Trail on the North Rim is the ONLY area open to horses or pack animals for day use, recreational riding in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. No permit is required. Horses must be trailered to the trailhead at Kneeling Camel Overlook. Trailers must be parked at this overlook as well.

The Deadhorse Trail is located at the east end of the North Rim road, near the Kneeling Camel Overlook. It is easy to moderate with a round trip distance of 5 miles (8 kilometers). The first part of the trail follows an old service road, which after 3/4-mile (1.2 km) passes a stock pond that is usually dry. Continue on another 1 1/2 mile (2.4 km) until the stock fence and then turn right (south) and ride 1/4 mile (.4 km) along the fence until the canyon's rim. Deadhorse Gulch is reached via the large side drainage located east of the trail's end. Elevation ranges from approximately 8000' (2460 m) to 8200' (2525 m).

There are no facilities at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for horses or pack animals. Horses are only allowed in the North Rim Campground or on the North Rim Road during transport in a trailer. Horses are not allowed on the South Rim.

Horseback riding is permitted in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area west of the National Park. Contact the Bureau of Land Management for more information on the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area (BLM, Montrose District Office, 2465 South Townsend Avenue, Montrose, CO 81404; (970) 240-5400.

General Rules for Horse Use

  • Any other use of horses or pack animals is prohibited unless authorized by a grazing use permit approved by the superintendent.
  • All hay used for livestock feed or bedding must be certified as weed free in compliance with Montrose or Gunnison County Standards.
  • Grazing is prohibited.
  • There are no hitching posts available along any trails or at trailheads.
  • Picketing, hobbling or tying livestock to natural features, such as trees, bushes or rocks, is prohibited.

Recommended Procedures
To help insure a safe, pleasant visit for your horse, yourself and other visitors to this area, please observe the following suggested practices.

  • Stay on the approved, pre-existing trails at all times.
  • Always carry a first aid kit for you and your horse.
  • Carry adequate water for you and your horse. Water may not be available on the trail.
  • Walk your horse. Moving at faster gaits increases trail erosion and endangers hikers.
  • Always alert hikers when you approach them. Ask them to yield the trail. Be prepared to give them instructions on how to behave around your horse. Ask them not to pet or feed your animal. Warn them if your horse kicks or bites.
  • Pass other trail users only when and where it is safe to do so.
  • Do not tie horses to trees, bushes rocks, or other natural features.
  • Clean up after yourself. Pack out all litter. Remove horse manure from the trail and scatter it. Remove manure and excess hay from corrals and dispose of it properly.
  • Bears reside in this area. Store horse feed in proper containers, and secure it inside a vehicle.
  • If you discover serious trail damage or a fire, notify a park ranger immediately.
  • If your animal is injured or dies on a trail, notify a park ranger immediately.
  • If your horse gets loose, and you are unable to catch it, notify a park ranger as soon as possible.