Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sheer cliff walls, 200 mph falcons await Black Canyon national park hikers

The Painted Wall, Colorado's tallest cliff. Photo courtesy
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NPS/Lisa Lynch.
Among the best ways to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park’s major sights is via a day hike. Just three short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – the steep river canyon, the world’s fastest bird, and rare mountain wildlife.

Steep river gorge
Making a far steeper drop than occurs in the Grand Canyon, the Gunnison River has left behind sheer cliff walls more than 2000 feet high. A great day hike for taking in the gorge is the Cedar Point Nature Trail, an easy 0.66-mile round trip along the canyon rim. Cedar Point features two overlooks with the river below and offers a view of the Painted Wall, Colorado’s tallest cliff at 2,250 feet high.

World’s fastest bird
A number of peregrine falcons – which can clock out at 200 mph in an aerial dive – call the Black Canyon come. A segment of the North Vista Trail, at 3-miles round trip to Exclamation Point, offers your best chance of spotting the bird, as well as red-tailed hawks, warblers and ravens in a pinyon-juniper forest.

Marmots, Bighorns and Elk, Oh My!
Several rare mammals live on the canyon’s rock ledges or near the rim in grassy clearings. Among them are the yellow-bellied marmot, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and elk. A marmot or two usually can be spotted on the 1-mile Rim Rock Nature Trail; bring binoculars!

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.