North Rim Routes

Learn and Explore

There are no maintained or marked trails into the inner canyon. Instead, there are “wilderness routes,” or unmarked scrambles to the river. Only individuals in excellent physical condition should attempt these routes; they are not meant for small children.

Wilderness Use Permits are required.

Hikers are expected to find their own way and be prepared for self-rescue. While descending, study the route behind, as this will make it easier to wayfind when confronted with a choice of routes and drainages on the way back up. The routes are the easiest, and sometimes only, path to the river.

Poison ivy is nearly impossible to avoid, and can be found growing 5 feet tall along the river. Pets are not allowed in the inner canyon wilderness.

 

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Basic Necessities

The hike into and out of the canyon and is very strenuous. Giardia is in all water sources, including the river, therefore all water must be purified. In your pack, you should include:

  • At least 4 liters of water (or 2 liters and a water filter)
  • High energy foods
  • Sturdy hiking boots (unstable terrain and loose scree)
  • Rain gear (afternoon thunderstorms are common)
 
 

Wilderness Camping

You may camp at the “bottom” of the wilderness routes, by the Gunnison River. There are established campsites at the bottom of each route. We highly recommend you bring a bear-proof canister. Wilderness Use Permits are required.

The Routes in Winter

Exploration of the wilderness during the winter is at your own risk. Winter hikers attempting the inner canyon routes should be prepared with snowshoes, crampons, ice axe, and possibly a rope.

Most of the South Rim routes are snow covered from November to April. Water is not available at either rim during the winter months, so make sure to bring your own.

 
two hikers scrambling down rocky ledges with river down below
S.O.B. Draw has several short ledges to climb. This route is recommended for first-time Inner Canyon hikers on the North Rim.

NPS photo

S.O.B. Draw

This route is suggested for the first time North Rim inner canyon hiker. S.O.B. Draw is famous for its abundant poison ivy. Long pants are recommended. The route has several short ledges to climb (8-12 feet, 3 m). Campsites are located downstream a short distance.

Park vehicles in the pull through near the campground registration board, or at the North Rim Ranger Station. The route begins at the access ladder along the fence line just east of the campground. This is on the right side of the road when traveling from the ranger station to the campground. Follow the path to the top of the drainage gully and descend on the far right of the route.

  • Distance: 1.75 miles (2.8 km)
  • Vertical Drop: 1800 feet (549 m)
  • Descent: 2 hours
  • Ascent: 3 hours
  • River Access*: 2 miles (3.2 km)
  • Campsites: 6

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steep rocky ledge with scree field below tucked into a narrow draw in the cliffside
Long Draw features a few short ledges to climb, like the one pictured above.

NPS photo by Erik Anderson

Long Draw

Formerly called Devil's Slide, Long Draw brings the hiker into one of the narrowest parts of the canyon, where canyon walls tower above the swiftly moving Gunnison River. The route has short ledges to climb (8-12 ft, 3 m), with one nearly vertical ledge approximately 1/3 way down. Because this draw is narrow, hikers can experience shade for most of the day. There is plenty of poison ivy along the bottom of this route.

Park at Balanced Rock Overlook, and walk northeast to the bend in the road. The descent begins at the road. Pass through a small area of box elder trees at the rim and scramble down the gully to the river.

  • Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km)
  • Vertical Drop: 1800 feet (549 m)
  • Descent: 1.5 hours
  • Ascent: 3 hours
  • River Access*: 0.25 mile (402 m)
  • Campsites: 1
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looking up at a long scree field tucked in a narrow draw in the cliffside
Slide Draw is a difficult route because of the steep grade and abundance of loose scree.

NPS photo by Erik Anderson

Slide Draw

This route is extremely steep and the most potentially dangerous due to loose rock and poor footing. A 30-foot nearly vertical scramble is required to start the route. Because this draw is narrow, hikers can experience shade for most of the day.

Park at Kneeling Camel View, and walk east until you reach the head of the draw. Follow the draw to the river, taking extra caution due to the large abundance of loose rocks.

  • Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km)
  • Vertical Drop: 1620 feet (494 m)
  • Descent: 1.5 hours
  • Ascent: 4 hours
  • River Access*: 0.75 mile (1.2 km)
  • Campsites: 2

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*Walking Along the River

The mileages listed as "River Access" are the maximum distance available to a hiker along the river at low water levels (300-350 cubic feet per second). Wading in the cold river (50F) is hazardous and not recommended, and at levels above 450-500 CFS the combination of high, swift water and cold temperatures increases the danger. Rocks along the shore can be moss encrusted and very slick. Many individuals have been swept to their death in the Gunnison River.

Last updated: August 18, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

102 Elk Creek
(GPS/physical address = 9800 Highway 347, Montrose, CO)

Gunnison, CO 81230

Phone:

(970) 641-2337 x205

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