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Best Attractions for Families at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Attractions for Families

From Dead Horse Point to Painted Wall to Exclamation Point, Black Canyon of the Gunnison has some of Colorado's most thrilling views and scenic attractions.

Add Visitor Centers and self-guided nature trails, and kids can get a decent education while they are on vacation!

Did You Know?

The tallest sheer cliff face
in Colorado,
Painted Wall
in Black Canyon
of the Gunnison
National Park,
rises 2,250 feet
above the river at its feet. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
is one of the most thought provoking attractions you'll ever visit with your family. 

Read our Book Review
The Family Guide to Colorado's National Parks and Monuments

Photo: Hiking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On the South Rim:

South Rim Visitor Center

Perched on the canyon’s edge, this building has great interpretive displays about the geology of the area and the wildlife that inhabits the canyon. A video describes the processes that formed the chasm and tells the story of human relationship to it.  The visitor center also has a good-sized bookstore with lots of kids’ books, maps and posters.

Outside, the porch offers a vista of the canyon with the Gunnison Point Trail and Overlook in the foreground. It’s a good thing they sell extra film inside.

South Rim Road

The South Rim Road is pretty but not terribly scenic, as it winds through scrubby, rolling hills near the canyon. However, it does have lots of turnouts. From these, short trails lead out to the brink of the precipice, where established overlooks offer guardrails and interpretive signs. At each overlook, the startling drop commands all your attention for a minute as the image of falling through all that space messes with your mind. Once you have shaken yourself from that trance you can enjoy the information about the geology and biology that the plaques have to offer. And the jagged walls with the often-snowy mountains rising behind them create a beautiful panorama.

Chasm View and Painted Wall Overlooks

These two overlooks, sitting right next to each other on the South Rim Road, are two of the most spectacular viewpoints in the park. The railing at Chasm View is a bit more substantial than that of Painted Wall, and the orientation allows you to see up part of the length of the canyon. Painted Wall, opposite the Painted Wall Overlook, is the tallest sheer cliff face in Colorado, rising 2,250 feet above the river. Long ago, light colored igneous rock squeezed up into spaces in the dark metamorphic rock and hardened there, causing a striking pattern to appear, and inspiring the name.

Warner Point Nature Trail

Starting at the High Point Picnic Area, families can hike guidepost-to-guidepost, learning about the plants and animals along the edge of Black Canyon.

“This is a great trail for families, especially for those who have younger kids,” says Jennifer Mandel, Interpretive Park Ranger at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. “It is fairly well shaded and recommended even at mid-day.” Designated as a moderate hike in the park’s literature, the path is “undulating, with several sets of stairs – about 8 steps each – and they are wide enough to walk side by side,” she continues. “At the end you have a 180 degree view – north into the canyon and south over the valley and beyond to the San Juans. It’s just gorgeous.”

Just be sure to pick up a brochure at the Visitor center first, as they may be out at the trailhead. This trail offers excellent bird watching early in the morning and is not as exposed to the abyss as some of the other backcountry trails are. Rangers still advise that you hold your children’s hands at the overlook at the end of the trail, though. The hike to the Warner Point Overlook and back is 1.5-miles long.

On the North Rim:

North Rim Road

The gravel North Rim Road winds back and forth between tributary gulches, with pullouts and views of the south side of the park.  Unlike its counterpart across the gap, this road curves perilously close to oblivion. Drive with care, especially if the road is wet or snowy, as it could be slick. Be sure to stop at each and every pullout as they all offer awesome peeks at the canyon, each with a different, and worthwhile, perspective. If you can peel your eyes away from the plunging cliffs, interpretive signs offer fascinating explanations of the natural features.

North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point

A three-mile round trip, this undulating trail leads through scrubby forests and fairy-land wildflower patches out to a highpoint over a bend in the river. All along the way, hikers are treated to glimpses of the chasm yawning off to the south. Signs direct visitors to overlooks, but the cliff-top view spots have nothing to keep folks from falling 2000 feet into the river. No railings, no fences, nothing. On the North Vista Trail, like other backcountry trails in this park, either you have the good sense to stay away from the edge or you don’t.

We picnicked at Exclamation Point, and the entire meal was a little bit nervous. We parents were like cats at a mouse hole, keeping an eye on our kids, ages seven and four. But the boys were nervous, too. Our older son picked a spot well back from the edge to sit and eat his sandwich. Our younger one joined him, saying, “I’m too young to go over there.” We ended up spending over an hour at the overlook, scrambling through the woods, climbing on rocks, and admiring the view from a distance.

Chasm View Overlook

This short loop trail from the campground leads to observation of the canyon at its narrowest point. A similar overlook perches right across the way. You could admire South Rim tourists’ outfits if you wanted to, but a 1,800-foot deep crack separates you, making it a bit awkward.

Although some parts of the trail are exposed to steep drops into empty space, the main overlook areas are well fortified with chain link and concrete for visitor safety. The vista, especially of Painted Wall, is outstanding, and changes throughout the day with the light. It merits frequent visits.

Deadhorse Trail

A 6.5-mile round trip mostly along an old service road, the Deadhorse trail is exposed to direct sun as it rolls through oak brush and open meadows. About a 1.2 miles from the trailhead, a spur loops out to two informal viewpoints.  With no railings to protect you from falling, the spectacle is both awesome and anxiety-provoking. The Tomichi Point viewpoint is directly across the canyon.

After the spur loop rejoins the main trail, the hike continues about a mile to a barbed wire stock fence, which climbs a small rise to overlook the river and Deadhorse Gulch, a large side drainage. From the end of the trail, you can see the East Portal area of Curecanti National Recreation Area and round mesa tops rising in the distance.