Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Black Canyon of the Gunnison: North Rim

We stayed in Paonia for the first night of our southwestern Colorado road trip so that we would have easy access to the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We checked into the Bross Hotel in Paonia at 4 pm and, after dropping our luggage off in our room, headed to the North Rim.

The last several miles to the Rim Road and ranger station are unpaved well-graded gravel and were easily traversed in early June. We only passed on vehicle on the way in (the ranger was on the way out) and we passed one other vehicle on the way out at around 8 pm that night.

There is eventually a "T" intersection in the gravel road in which turning right takes one to the ranger station and campground and turning left takes one to the overlooks on the North Rim's Rim Road.

We arrived at the North Rim Ranger Station just before 5 pm, but it was already closed (the website states that the North Rim Ranger Station is "open intermittently in the summer and closed in the winter"). We used the self-pay station to pay the $30 admission fee.


North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point

We then started on the North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point because that trail's trailhead is in the immediate vicinity of the North Rim Ranger Station (very close to the vault toilet).

The first part of the trail is faily open as this photograph shows (the ranger station and trailhead are at the top of the photograph).

Much of the hike has trees, but you start to see the canyon before you get to the trees.

Once you enter the trees, the views of the canyon are partially or even wholly obscured at times, but there are points where the canyon comes into full view again.

We stopped hiking the North Vista Trail at Exclamation Point.

We weren't the only ones enjoying the views from Exclamation Point.

After enjoying the views from Exclamation Point, we returned on the North Vista Trail in to our vehicle parked at the trailhead in front of the ranger station.

We started the North Vista Trail hike to Exclamation Point around 5 pm on a Monday evening in early June and we saw only only seven other people (a single man jogging the trail, a single man hiking the trail, and a family of five with three young children) on the trail during the hike to and from Exclamation Point.


Chasm View Trail

The Chasm View Trail is a short loop trail near the North Rim campgrounds. We drove through those campgrounds and parked on the edge of them to start the Chasm View Trail. Over half of the first-come, first serve North Rim Campground camping spots appeared to be claimed and they looked like nice camping spots with lots of trees.

The short Chasm View Trail is a relatively short look with only a little elevation change, so it may be preferable to the North Vista Trail for those looking for a quicker or easier hike with similarly magestic views.


North Rim Overlooks

There are five overlooks on the North Rim's Rim Road (ordered from closest to ranger station to furthest from ranger station):

All of these overlooks are fairly easily and quickly accessed from each trailhead at Rim Road and require relatively short walking distances.

We visited all five overlooks and did not encounter even one other individual at any of the overlooks in the Monday evening hours that we were there! It felt like we had the park to ourselves.

The North Rim's Rim Road overlooks do not have the formal marked parking spots that the South Rim's overlooks have. Instead, the overlooks on the North Rim's Rim Road have extra pull-over space near each overlook's trailhead for parking. If this area was busy, parking could be difficult for some of the overlooks, but we had each pull-over area to ourselves at each of the overlooks.

The Narrows View

Balanced Rock View

Big Island View

Island Peaks View

Kneeling Camel View

The next photograph was taken directly from Rim Road (one of the advantages of driving the only vehicle on Rim Road is the ability to stop and take such a photograph!):

With so few other people at the North Rim, we were able to hike the North Vista Trail and the Chasm View Trail and were able to visit all five overlook points in three hours (5 pm to 8 pm) on a Monday evening in early June.

It was amazing to have this part of the national park almost to ourselves in the same summer as the well-advertised overcrowding at other national parks such as Rocky Mountain National Park.

As we were driving back toward Crawford on our way back to Paonia, we saw a deer cross the road in front of us and leap the fence on the other side of the road after it had crossed the road. We had the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison almost entirely to ourselves and it was fantastic.