You don’t have to worry about crowds at this national park home to a magnificent wilderness of jagged canyon walls and a river rushing by far below. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the least visited national park in Colorado. It’s also one of the least visited in the country. It should be on your list because it could be called Colorado’s version of the Grand Canyon, especially since it’s home to some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rock in North America. The canyon walls rise 2,000 feet above the Gunnison River, which carved out the canyon. There are 14 miles of the river in the national park. It’s named Black Canyon because some parts of the canyon get very little sunlight.
The South Rim gets most of the visitors. The North Rim is more remote. There is no bridge or road connecting the two rims in the park. It takes about two hours to drive on non-park roads between the two.
A few years ago, I spent some time with a ranger while filming a 30-minute show on Colorado’s national parks for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. He said Black Canyon is primitive, which means it’s relatively untouched. What we see now is what pioneers and ancestral puebloan people would have seen. If you want to experience an undeveloped rugged western landscape, Black Canyon is it. I hiked Warner Point Trail for the first time during that filming and have hiked it several times since.
The trail is named after Mark Warner. He was a minister in nearby Montrose and campaigned to protect Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the 1920s and 1930s. Black Canyon of the Gunnison was designated a national monument in 1933. It became a national park in 1999. Warner was fascinated with the trees along this trail.
Trail Stats: The trail is 1.4 miles plus .1 to parking lot so it’s 1.5 miles roundtrip. Rolling trail with lots of shade. Takes less than an hour to hike.
Getting There: Warner Point Trail is at High Point Overlook at the end of South Rim Drive. It’s 7 miles from Tomichi Point to High Point. Before you get there, stop at Sunset Point because you can see the point from there.
On this hike, I grabbed a trail guide at the High Point Overlook. It’s filled with information on the trees and sites for 14 markers on the way to the Warner Point. There’s tons of shade as you hike though a pinon pine and juniper forest. This trail rolls with views of the San Juan Mountains and Umcompahgre Valley on one side and glimpses of the Black Canyon on the other side.
When you get to marker 11, you’re in a nature battle zone where the pinon-juniper forest transitions to Gamble Oak, Utah serviceberry and Douglas fir. These trees get more of the moisture than the woodland trees since the north-facing slopes of Black Canyon retain rain and snow longer.
You’ll definitely know when you hit the end of the trail.
I think Warner Point has one of the best views of the Gunnison River and Black Canyon.
I suggest stopping at some or all of the 14 overlooks before doing the hike. Don’t miss Painted Wall Overlook. At 2,250 feet tall, Painted Wall is the tallest cliff in Colorado. Curecanti National Recreation Area is also wonderful. It’s worth a stop, especially if you’re heading to the North Rim. The North Rim is lesser developed so make sure you have plenty of gas, water and snacks. It’s worth the effort to see the narrowest part of the canyon where the walls are just 40 apart.
Jennifer Broome has traveled extensively across Colorado and is considered an expert on travel and outdoors in the Centennial State.