The Gunnison Route is a unique and difficult route down to the Gunnison River showcasing incredible scenery of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

Immediately upon arriving, secure a permit to scramble down 1,800ft in one mile to the Gunnison River. There are no hiking trails below the rim of the canyon, and because of its relentless steepness and rock exposure, the only existing routes are incredibly steep and loose. To protect the delicate environment only 12 people are allowed per day.

The route down to the river is a steep, vegetated rock gully, littered with flecks of quartz, feldspar, mica and garnet that glitter in the light. At the base of the route there is an idyllic oasis along the river's edge. Vegetation competes for space below the naked towering walls of the canyon. The river, a surging torrent, rips down the canyon and disappears into a cataract as it makes its 240ft per mile drop. Oddly, somehow, the mighty river's roar is nearly drowned out by a cacophony of birdsong.

The legendary Painted Wall is also nearby. At 2,250ft tall, Painted Wall is the 3rd highest wall in all of America - only Yosemite's El Capitan and Notch Peak's North Face in Idaho are taller. The Forrest-Walker team established the 19 pitch, multi-day, Grade 5.10 A4 route from the ground up in 1972.

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Water
  • Sun protection
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RT Distance 2 Miles
Elevation Gain 1800 Feet
Activities Photography, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Advanced
Season Year Round
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Forest
River
Romantic
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

The hardest thing I have ever done...

...but also the most rewarding. When we were trying to figure out if we would be able to handle this route, the ranger asked, "Well, do you hike a lot, and are you in good shape?" Sure, we thought, no problem. This is not a route for the faint of heart. If you're looking to challenge yourself, slide down some rocks, get up close and personal with a gorgeous river, try to climb back up the rocks you slid down on, and give your quads the hardest workout they've ever gotten, this is the route for you.

A steep scramble into the heart of the Black Canyon

The beauty of the inner canyon is absolutely worth the 1800 ft. of struggle! There are some excellent campsites by the Gunnison River if you are willing to haul a backpack down, just be mindful to watch for poison ivy at the bottom. One of the highlights of the route for me is an 80 ft. chain which helps with passing through a steep section halfway down. Not to be missed!


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Nearby Adventures

More Nearby Adventures

Hike the Oak Flat Loop

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Colorado's four national parks.

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Skiing Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Nestled among rolling, unassuming hills north of Montrose on Colorado’s Western Slope, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of those landscapes that truly must be seen to be believed.

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Hike the Chasm View Nature Trail

This easy trail is located along the north rim of the canyon and can be completed as either a short loop hike or a shorter out and back to the first overlook.

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