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Memorial Day Weekend Along the Black Canyon

Memorial Day Weekend | Friday – Sunday, May 24-26, 2024

This Memorial Day Weekend I decided to stay a little closer to home so I could spend some time along the Gunnison River in both the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Since it’s getting to be that time of the year when the desert is starting to get a little too warm for me and there is still too much snow up in the high country, luckily this area along the rim of the Black Canyon is in-between and usually just right at this time of the year.


Fruitland Mesa: East Gorge Trail to Smith Fork

(Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area)

I left from work on Friday afternoon, topped off my gas tank in Delta and then made my way over to Crawford, where I left the highway behind and drove across Fruitland Mesa into the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area on the Black Ridge Road. I’ve wanted to check out this part of the Gunnison Gorge for many years, but always found myself thinking about it when the road is closed, which is from December 1st until May 15th each year, so I was finally glad to be making it out this way. I was planning to hike the East Gorge Trail first thing on Saturday morning, which left me all evening to explore the two-tracks and overlooks on top of the mesa until sunset.

Driving across Fruitland Mesa to the edge of the Black Canyon.

Fruitland Mesa Two-Track

On overlook of the Smith Fork with the North Fork Valley and snow-capped Elk Mountains beyond.

Smith Fork Overlook

I had a great view over Red Canyon to Buttermilk Ridge as I hiked to the highest point along Black Ridge.

Black Ridge to Red Canyon

Black Ridge Road

Black Ridge Road

The views over the Gunnison Gorge from the edge of the mesa were spectacular.

Gunnison Gorge

The end of Scenic Mesa.

Edge of Scenic Mesa

Shortly before sunset I hiked out to the end of this promontory jutting out from the mesa.


Descending through a rocky ledge to reach the promontory.

Ledge Descent

Lovely light on the rim.

Along the Rim

Here’s the view looking down from the end of the promontory.

From the Point

Looking back across the narrow catwalk that was fun to walk across.

View from the Catwalk

I could see the very end of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison down below.

End of the Black Canyon

The Promontory Catwalk

Promontory Catwalk

Looking over to the promontory from another overlook along the rim.

Promontory View

Gunnison Gorge Sunset

Gunnison Gorge Sunset

Sun rays across the canyon.

Sun Rays

I headed over to the East Gorge Trailhead and found a place to camp just before sunset.

Trailhead Evening

Even though it was pretty windy for most of the night, I still slept pretty well and woke up to this colorful view before sunrise on Saturday morning.

West Elks Color

Starting my hike down the East Gorge Trail.

East Gorge Trailhead Sign

Although it was overcast for most of the hike this morning, the sun did briefly come out as I started the descent into the canyon.

East Gorge Trail Morning

While it was mostly easy to follow the East Gorge Trail, there were a few places where navigation was a little tricky since it doesn’t appear that this trail gets much use, which is not surprising since there is not a lot of info about it out there.

East Gorge Trail View

While following an old road along the rim of the Black Canyon, I passed by this old mining equipment.

Mining Equipment

For a little way the old road followed closely to the rim of the Black Canyon.

Above the Gunnison

I hiked all the way out to the point between the confluence of the Smith Fork and Gunnison River before turning around and heading back the way I had come.

Smith Fork

Black Canyon views on the way back.

Black Canyon

Along the Gunnison Gorge

Gunnison River in the Gorge

Gunnison River in the Gorge

Following the old road along the rim of the Black Canyon.

Old Road

Rapids Below

Rapids Below

A view across the canyon as I returned to the bottom of the East Gorge Trail.

Old Road View

The sun started to come out a little bit as I climbed back up to the top of the mesa.

Canyon Spotlight

Back On Top

After the hike I returned to Hotchkiss for lunch and then went for a drive along the Gunnison River to it’s confluence with the North Fork on the South River Road.

Gunnison River Bluffs

Gunnison River

Before returning to Crawford I drove up Smiths Mountain and walked to the summit on a short trail.

Smiths Mountain Trail


Deadhorse Loop Trail & North Vista Trail to Green Mountain

(Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park)

After spending the majority of the day in the Gunnison Gorge NCA, I returned to Crawford and made my way over to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park so I could spend the rest of the evening and morning there before heading home on Sunday.

I stopped at a couple of the overlooks as I made way to the end of the road near the Kneeling Camel.

Kneeling Camel

Whitewater in the Black Canyon


Although my legs were still a bit tired from the long hike earlier in the day, I decided to go on one more shorter hike this evening on the Deadhorse Trail since I had neglected to hike the loop portion of the trail the last time I was here.

I stopped to check out the old Ranger Station buildings along the way.

Old Ranger Station Building

Historic Ranger Station

Historic Ranger Station

Deadhorse Trail

Deadhorse Trail

Although I had hopes that the sun was coming out again when I started hiking the trail, it stayed overcast for the rest of the hike as I hiked along the rim of the canyon.

Deadhorse Loop View

Before leaving the park to find a campsite for the night I made one last stop at The Narrows View.

The Narrows

After a good night of sleep I was up early on Sunday morning so I could return to the park and hike the North Vista Trail to the top of Green Mountain, which is the last trail on the North Rim that I had not hiked before.

Entering the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness.

Wilderness Sign

The first light of the day strikes the top of the Painted Wall.

First Light

Since I was hiking right past it, I stopped to see The Narrows from Exclamation Point.

Exclamation Point View

Looking across a chasm to the summit of Green Mountain.

Green Mountain

Green Mountain Trail

Green Mountain Trail

The Fruitland Benchmark on the summit of Green Mountain.

Fruitland, 1934

The light wasn’t great for photos towards the Black Canyon this morning (I think the afternoon would be better) but there were nice views across Vernal Mesa to the San Juan Mountains including Uncompahgre Peak and Storm King.

Across the Great Divide

Hazy Black Canyon View

Hazy Black Canyon View

Here’s one last view of Serpent Point as I made my way back to the trailhead and then headed home.

Serpent Point

I was originally planning to spend Memorial Day on the Gunnison River near Delta with my friend Jackson, but unfortunately I wasn’t feeling well when I got up on Monday morning and ended up cancelling those plans and staying home instead. Aside from that little setback, I had a great weekend exploring the Black Canyon of the Gunnison this weekend!

>> Along the Black Canyon Photo Gallery

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