Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, North Rim, Colorado

For me, the saving grace of our time in Colorado was that we were 30 minutes from the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A lot of our expectations for the summer were met with the reality that Will’s job was much more time- and labor-intensive than we had expected or been led to believe. And even though there were a few trails at Crawford State Park, they were not very scenic or, honestly, very enjoyable.

Thus, the canyon became my spot, my refuge.

In the 3 months we were in Colorado, I visited the North Rim 10 times (I really made use of our America the Beautiful pass!). Most of these visits were with Bird, and many included taking people who were visiting, but I also found time to go a few times on my own and once just Will and me.

There is something truly breathtaking about standing at the edge of a canyon that has been carved over the centuries by water. That teeny tiny river we can hear and see way down there created this magnificent feature. For me, it is one thing to see a mountain that was formed by the force of all the earth around it, but something entirely different to see a canyon eroded away, bit by bit, by water.

The National Park is split between the sides of the canyon, the North Rim and the South Rim, and because of its proximity to more populous areas (and airports), the South Rim is the more popular and is where the formal visitor center is located. However, and I may be a little biased, the North Rim is the side to visit.

On a typical visit to the North Rim, it was not unheard of to encounter fewer than 10 people for the duration of the visit. Whether it was walking the 0.75-mile Chasm View Trail to get a good view of the canyon, stopping at one of the many pull-offs along Rim Drive, or hiking the 3-mile Exclamation Point Trail, the park never felt busy. It was one of the few times I have visited a National Park and been able to experience true quiet because of the scarcity of other visitors.

My favorite trail in the park is (as far as I can tell) an unnamed trail at the very end of Rim Drive. It is only about 0.25 miles long and is super easy, but it leads to incredible views and solitude (not quite the views and solitude found on the Exclamation Point trail, but you get a similar bang for a lot less effort and time). This trail takes off from the loop at the end of Rim Drive where there is one of the very few restrooms in the park. I have seen people almost every single visit stopped at the restroom, but I never encountered another person on the trail.

This trail ends at a few rocks that jut out into the canyon, giving you a sensation of being almost one with the canyon. It is a rush of adrenaline getting out onto the rocks, even though a) it is a wide rock, and b) it is not a sheer drop to the bottom of the canyon even though it absolutely feels like it. Aside from the overlooks at Exclamation Point, this is the only other place in the park where there are no fences or barriers between you and the edge of the canyon.

While that short hike offers truly spectacular views and feelings of solitude, the Exclamation Point trail offers more of the same but requires more effort. In addition to my solo hike of this trail, it is the trail Will and I hiked together on one of the only dates we were able to go on over the summer.

Our proximity to the North Rim truly improved my summer and my overall feelings about western Colorado. And it is one of the few reasons I would return in a few years just so Bird could fully enjoy the experience. Though, given her delight in our trips to the canyon and her insisting that we sit “for a few more minutes” and look at the canyon on our final trip, I think she might have found some of the same joy and peace that I did in our many visits.

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