Although bikes are not permitted on any park trails, this is still a popular destination for bikers, who travel the South Rim Road to the various overlooks and trail heads. There are also plenty of mountain-biking opportunities outside the park. You can get maps, information, bike repairs, and accessories in Montrose at Cascade Bicycles, 21 N. Cascade Ave. (tel. 970/249-7375; www.cascadebicyclesllc.com), and Jeans Westerner, 147 N. Townsend Ave. (tel. 800/426-6756 or 970/249-3600; www.jeanswesterner.com), which rents mountain bikes starting at $29 per day.
The sheer vertical walls and scenic beauty of the Black Canyon make it an ideal and popular destination for rock climbers, but -- we cannot emphasize this too strongly -- this is no place for beginners. These cliffs require a great deal of experience and the best equipment. Free permits are required, and prospective climbers should discuss their plans first with park rangers.
Dedicated anglers can make their way to the Gunnison River at the bottom of the canyon in a quest for brown and rainbow trout. East Portal Road (open only in summer) provides access to the upstream section of the river from adjacent Curecanti National Recreation Area. The stretch of the Gunnison River within the park has been designated as Gold Medal Waters; only artificial lures are permitted, and other special rules apply (check with park rangers). A Colorado fishing license is required. For fly-fishing tips and equipment, stop at Jeans Westerner or Cimarron Creek, 317 E. Main St. (tel. 970/249-0408; www.cimarroncreek.com).
Mostly, don't do it! Through the park, the Gunnison River is extremely dangerous for both swimmers and rafters (it's considered unraftable). Sections of river west of the park, however, are more suitable; information is available from the Public Lands Center office in Montrose. The only exception is for experienced kayakers, who find the river an exhilarating challenge. Free permits are required.
The park is home to a variety of wildlife; you're likely to see chipmunks, ground squirrels, badgers, yellow-bellied marmots, and mule deer. Although not frequently spotted, there are also black bear, cougars, and bobcats, and you'll probably hear the lonesome high-pitched call of coyotes at night. The peregrine falcon can sometimes be spotted along the cliffs, especially in spring and early summer, and you may also see red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, golden eagles, blue grouse, canyon wrens, and white-throated swifts.
When the South Rim Road is closed by winter snow, the Park Service plows only to the South Rim Visitor Center, leaving the rest of the park the domain of cross-country skiers and snowshoers. The South Rim Road, running about 6 miles from the visitor center into the park, makes a great trail for cross-country skiers, providing fairly easy access to the scenic drive's overlooks. Snowshoers especially like the upper section of Oak Flat Loop Trail and the Rim Rock Nature Trail. You can rent cross-country skis, at $9.50 per day, or snowshoes, at $15 per day, at Jeans Westerner.
Hiking & Backpacking
Trails on the park’s rims range from short, easy walks to moderate-to-strenuous hikes of several miles. Hiking below the rim is mostly difficult and not recommended for those with a fear of heights. Permits are not needed for hiking rim trails, but are required for all treks below the rim.
Trails along the South Rim include the easy Cedar Point Nature Trail. From the Cedar Point trail head, along South Rim Road, this .7-mile round-trip walk has signs along the way describing the plants you’ll see and provides breathtaking views of the Gunnison River, 2,000 feet down, at the end. The moderate Warner Point Nature Trail begins at High Point Overlook at the end of South Rim Road. It’s 1.5 miles round-trip and offers a multitude of things to see, from flora such as mountain mahogany, piñon pine, and Utah juniper, to distant mountains and valleys, as well as the Black Canyon and its creator, the Gunnison River. The trailhead for the 2-mile round-trip Oak Flat Loop Trail, rated moderate to strenuous, is near the visitor center. Dropping slightly below the rim, this trail offers excellent views into the canyon. Be aware that the trail is narrow in spots and a bit close to steep drop-offs.
Trails along the North Rim include the moderate Chasm View Nature Trail (.3 miles, round-trip), with a trailhead at the end of the North Rim campground loop. Beginning in a piñon-juniper forest, this trailheads to the rim for good views of the canyon and the river; you’ll also have a good chance of seeing swallows, swifts, and raptors here. The 7-mile North Vista Trail, which begins at the North Rim Ranger Station, is moderate to strenuous. It offers some of the best views into the Black Canyon and also rewards hikers with a good chance of seeing such birds as red-tailed hawks, white-throated swifts, Clark’s nutcrackers, and ravens.
Experienced backcountry hikers in good physical condition may want to hike down into the canyon. Although there are no maintained or marked trails, there are several routes that rangers can help you find. Free permits are required, and there are a limited number of campsites for backpackers. The most popular inner canyon hike is the strenuous Gunnison Route, branching off the South Rim’s Oak Flat Trail en route to the river. An 80-foot length of chain helps keep you from falling on a stretch about a third of the way down. This hike drops 1,800 feet and takes about 5 hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.