North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point (Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO)

Exclamation Point, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, August 2020

!!!!! More than a mere punctuation mark, Exclamation Point is also the name for a prominent vista along the North Rim in Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Longer and perhaps more rewarding than the nearby Chasm View Nature Trail, the North Vista Trail skirts the canyon’s flanks for nearly 1.5 mile before reaching the stunning and secluded viewpoint, overlooking the precipitous canyon below. Here the near-vertical walls—composed of gneiss, granite, and schist—drop around 2,000 feet to the thundering Gunnison River below. (Note: Adventurous hikers can continue on the North Vista Trail to a viewpoint on Green Mountain (8,563’), but it’s not clear that the views are significantly better.)

Map of North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyRun track)

The hike

The relative solitude of Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s North Rim comes at a price: it is 2-3 hours from the more popular South Rim by car. Access is considerably easier from the towns of Crawford and Hotchkiss, but the final six miles to the Black Canyon Ranger Station (the trailhead for this hike) are along (well-graded) dirt roads. Park at the ranger station and look for the obvious sign marking the start of the North Vista Trail, just to the right of the toilets.

Start of the North Vista Trail

Take off on this track heading across the open scrub of sagebrush and Gambel oaks, entering the Black Canyon Wilderness. Soon enough, hikers encounter the iconic pinyon-juniper mix that is so ubiquitous across the Colorado Plateau, and the tree cover gradually becomes denser. About 250 yards from the start, hikers catch their first distant glimpse of the Painted Wall, a beautifully-streaked feature of the canyon’s south-facing walls. Yet the trail at first keeps its distance from the main canyon, instead skirting a series of side drainages, which come in gently from the north before dropping precipitously to the Gunnison off to the left.

Distant view of Black Canyon from the North Vista Trail

Three ravines are passed in turn, even as the relative elevation gain/loss of the easy trail remains negligible. At ¾ mile, a marked spur leads off left to the first unabashed viewpoint of the hike, this one situated at the precipice of a side canyon leading into the main gorge.

View from the first overlook

Beyond this initial viewpoint, the trail edges away from the rim and begins to climb uphill through dense woods, making its way westward to a trail junction at 1.25 miles. Here the spur to Exclamation Point heads off to the left. Follow this track for a couple of minutes, then take either fork to complete the short loop around the vista area.

Views down-canyon (west) from Exclamation Point

At roughly 1.45 miles from the trailhead, hikers are greeted with the much-anticipated 180-degree view of the dizzyingly-steep canyon. Across the deep chasm, one can make out vehicles—and perhaps people—along the South Rim Road, seemingly close but hours away across the harrowing gorge. Of course, do be careful and watch your step…

View up-canyon (east) from Exclamation Point

(Note: When I visited Exclamation Point in August 2020, some curious travelers and lovers of punctuation had left a lovable addition to the viewpoint…a cluster of rocks in the shape of an exclamation mark.)

From here, return the way you came along this easy, quick hike along the North Rim. Allot about 1.5-2 hours for the round-trip hike.

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