South Rim or North Rim at Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Which is best?

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A deep and narrow chasm splits Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park into two breathtaking destinations: the North Rim and the South Rim.

The South Rim is the most popular. It’s the easiest to access, has the most scenic viewpoints, and is located the closest to nearby restaurants and hotels.

The North Rim has the biggest variety of hiking trails in the park. It’s also a quieter and more remote experience–perfect for travelers looking to get away from the crowds.

map of black canyon of the gunnison north vs south

The Gunnison River snakes along the floor of the canyon. You can drive to the base via East Portal Road, or hike down one of the inner canyon trails.

In this article, we’re going to cover the differences between Black Canyon of the Gunnison North vs South Rim and help you decide which one to visit.

Getting to Black Canyon of the Gunnison: North Rim vs South Rim

Both sides of Black Canyon of the Gunnison are worth visiting. But there are no bridges that quickly connect the two. It takes about two hours to drive from one rim to the other so it’s important to plan ahead.

The South Rim is located 20 minutes northeast of Montrose, Colorado. That makes it easy to pop in and out of the park to visit restaurants, explore the town, and stay in local hotels.

The North Rim is located 30 minutes southwest of Crawford, Colorado. This town is considerably smaller than Montrose and does not have numerous restaurants or amenities like the South Rim.

Both locations are best reached using a personal vehicle. There are no shuttle buses and minimal rental availability nearby the park. The closest regional airport is in Grand Junction, Colorado.

entrance sign to black canyon of the gunnison national park
Signage at the entrance of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Which Rim has the best Scenic Drive – North or South?

South Rim Road is entirely paved which is a much more comfortable driving experience. There are 12 scenic overlooks and four hiking trails that are easily accessible along the 7-mile route.

North Rim Road is 4.5-miles long, unpaved, and gravel. It has a much more rural feel and features 5 scenic overlooks along the route. There are also four hiking trails that stretch up to 7-miles long.

If you only have one day to visit, the south rim will give you a greater variety of viewpoints and short hikes.

The north rim is the best if you want a more isolated experience.

East Portal Road can be accessed from the South Rim and takes you to the base of the canyon. The road is steep and windy. Vehicles longer than 22 feet are prohibited.

driving east portal road in black canyon of the gunnison national park
East Portal Road to the base of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Which rim has the best scenic overlooks?

The South Rim has more scenic overlooks than the north and they are also the highest rated according to visitors. Pulpit Rock, Cross Fissures View, and Chasm View are some of the most popular overlooks. The south rim is also the best place to view the Painted Wall.

The North Rim has fewer overlooks, but it’s the best place to get a beeline view down the narrowest part of the canyon. Take a hike to Exclamation Point for an unforgettable perspective of the park.

gunnison point overlook on the south rim of the black canyon of the gunnison national park
Gunnison Point Overlook – South Rim

Which Rim has the best hiking?

The South Rim is best if you want to pack a bunch of short hiking trails into one day. The longest hike on the south rim is only 2-miles round-trip which is perfect for doing multiple short routes.

The North Rim has a larger variety of hiking trails that range from 0.3 miles to 7 miles long. There is also more elevation change on the north rim trails, so they are better for travelers looking for a challenge.

Both sides of the canyon have multiple inner canyon trails that traverse all the way down to the Gunnison River. These hikes are rated difficult, and the trails are unmaintained.

North Rim vs South Rim Visitor Centers

There is only one visitor center in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and it is located on the South Rim.

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South Rim Visitor Center

Which rim is the best for families?

The South Rim is best for families with small children who want to complete a variety of hikes and viewpoints in a short amount of time.

The trails on the South Rim are mostly flat, well-maintained, and clearly marked so they are easy to follow for all ages and ability levels.

North Rim vs South Rim Picnics

Picnic tables are located on the South Rim. You can find them at the following viewpoints: Gunnison Point, Pulpit Rock, Sunset View, High Point and East Portal.

The only picnic tables on the north side are in the North Rim Campground.

Which Rim is the most accessible for those with mobility issues?

Unfortunately, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is not the most accessible place to visit for those with mobility issues. Only two trails are considered “accessible” which are Tomichi Point and Sunset View. Both are located on the South Rim of the park and are only about 10 feet from the road.

Which rim is the best for dogs?

Overall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is pretty dog-friendly. Leashed pets are welcome on all roads, overlooks and campgrounds on both rims.

The Cedar Point Nature Trail, North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail, and Rim Rock Trail are pet friendly as well.

north rim campground in black canyon of the gunnison national park
North Rim Campground at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

North Rim vs South Rim Campground

The South Rim Campground is larger and has electric hookups. There are 88 sites that can accommodate RVs up to 55 feet and has seasonal water available. The sites are close together and partially shaded. Some south rim campsites can be reserved ahead of time.

The North Rim Campground is much smaller and more secluded. It only has 13 dispersed camping sites which are first-come, first-served and fill up quickly. Campsites on the north rim are nestled among pinyon and juniper trees. It’s a much quieter and more authentic camping experience.

Which rim is the best for rock climbing?

Climbing routes can be found on both rims of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are approximately 145 climbing routes rated from 5.8 to 5.13. The Painted Wall climbing area is located on the North Rim.

North Rim vs South Rim horseback riding

Only one trail in the park allows horseback riding and that’s the Deadhorse Trail on the North Rim. Horses are not allowed in the south rim of the park.

Which rim is the best for sunrises and sunsets?

According to frequent visitors, the best place to view the sunrise is on the Chasm View Nature trail on the North Rim.

The best place to see the sun set is at Sunset View Overlook on the South Rim, of course!

visiting black canyon of the gunnison national park in winter

Which Rim is better for visiting in the winter?

The South Rim is the best place to visit in the winter. During the snowy season, South Rim Road is closed beyond Gunnison Point and groomed for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.

The North Rim is closed in winter from mid-November to April.

Which side of the park has the best food?

The South Rim is closer to restaurants and other amenities in Montrose, Colorado.

Which side has the best hotels?

The South Rim has the best hotel and lodging options. You can find hotels in the nearby city of Montrose, Colorado.

Which side has the most nearby attractions?

The South Rim is closest to Montrose, Colorado where you can find lots of food and hotel options.

The North Rim is closest to the Grand Mesa and Gunnison National Forests if you’re looking to do some more exploring.

If you only have one day to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which Rim is best?

The South Rim is the best side to visit if you only have one day to explore the park. There’s a reason it’s the most popular side! The South Rim has the best scenic drive, the most overlooks, and lots of short hiking trails that can be completed in one day.