Located in the Montrose County, Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is named such because of the canyon’s black walls, and after the last name of the person to document the canyon, Captain John Gunnison. The Gunnison National Park covers about 12 miles out of the 48-mile-long canyon of the Gunnison River.
The Rim Drives offer plenty of opportunities for travelers; you can peer into the magnificent canyon, experience the world’s oldest exposed rock, and admire the natural wonders. It depends on you whether you want to take it easy and enjoy the dizzying overlooks or challenge yourself to explore the wilderness of rock, water, and sky.
How and When to Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The nearest airports are Montrose and Gunnison. The South Rim is located 15 miles to the northeast of Montrose. The North Rim is at a distance of 80 miles by car from the South Rim. Summer is the most popular time to visit while winter offers opportunities for backcountry camping, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
The weather varies greatly between the canyon rim and the floor. Early summer precipitation is minimal but in late summer, you can experience rain and lightning. Snow is plentiful from November to late March and as quoted by author Duane Vandenbusche, “Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, darkness and dread of the Black Canyon.”
Here we list things that you can’t miss at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to discover your adventurous side.
10 Things that you can’t miss at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Travel to the Inner Canyon
Routes can be difficult to follow because of steep, unmaintained, and unmarked gullies. Only experienced and well-prepared hikers should try their luck. Activities such as swimming, wading, or hiking across the Gunnison River are not recommended, except in a boat or kayak.
You should contact the Park Ranger before attempting any of these activities. Like many Colorado National Parks, they do not allow wood fires and pets. To be prepared, you come with snowshoes, crampons, and an ice axe, especially if planning to visit during the winter season. You will require a permit and they are issued on a first-come, first-served basis.
Livingit Tip: You may carry the Trails Illustrated map #245, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, to assist you in exploring this wilderness.
Visit the South Rim Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is located on the South Rim Road 1.5 miles beyond the entrance station and is full of information about the area history and geology. It also features a well-stocked gift shop with friendly staffs. The visitor center includes a full deck surround that offers an excellent view of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and the stunning River.
The center showcases a great film explaining how the canyon has evolved over time. There is no food available but you can enjoy the picnic facilities part of the National Park service.
Livingit Tip: You may inquire about the free guided tours and informational Ranger programs.
Go Hiking on a Nature Trail
The Gunnison National Park features many hiking trails, both on the South and North Rims. South Rim consists of Rim Rock Trail, Warner Point Trail, and Oak Flat Trail. The Warner Point trail offers a spectacular view of the San Juan Mountains through pinyon/juniper woodlands. It is a 1.5 mile round trip. Experience the Oak Flat Trail which allows you to explore the rim without actually hiking into the canyon.
On the other hand, North Rim features Deadhorse Trail, a 6.5 mile round trip, and North Vista Trail, a 7-mile round trip.
Before starting your expedition, it is important to choose proper trekking gears like hiking shoes and equipment for campsites.
For further information, you may read : Tips to keep in mind while choosing hiking shoes!
Livingit Tip: The South Rim features easier hikes than the North Rim, so if you want to go easy, opt for the South Rim.
Witness the Juniper Trees
These trees dominate the Warner Point Nature Trail on the park’s South Rim. It extends down the slope right to the edge of the precipitous cliffs. You can camp in the shaded enclave of the Pinyon-Juniper forest, a great spot in the Gunnison Colorado.
Livingit Tip: You may discover your photography skills as the shapes of the Juniper trees provide you with endless photography options.
Watch a Beautiful Sunset
Soak yourself in the last glow of the day that skims the black canyon walls. You may visit Sunset View, the westernmost overlook along South Rim Road, and experience the breathtaking view of the sun sinking below the horizon.
Livingit Tip: Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture this mesmerizing view.
Enjoy the South Rim Road Drive
It is seven miles from Tomichi Point to High Point consisting of 12 overlooks, easily accessible by walking a short trail. You will need 2-3 hours to enjoy and view several overlooks. You can shop at Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. The South Rim Visitor Center is located at Gunnison Point overlooking the rocky mountain.
Livingit Tip: If you are looking to visit a quieter area of the park for some peace of mind, consider visiting the North Rim.
Spot Amazing Wildlife
The Park hosts plenty of wildlife in their natural habitats. You can catch a glimpse of elk, Mule Deer, Yellow-bellied Marmot, rock squirrels, chipmunks, and cottontail rabbits. If you are lucky, you may spot a mountain lion in the early morning and evening. Grab your binoculars for bird watching in the Black Canyon. Blue Grouse, Golden Eagles, and Canyon Wren are visual treat to the eyes.
Livingit Tip: Download the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Bird List to track your sightings.
Drive Along East Portal Road to the River
If you want to enjoy nature’s beauty from the comfort of your car, the East Portal Road is for you. It gives you access to the river. The road is extremely steep including hairpin turns but the views make it worthwhile.
Livingit Tip: Don’t forget to check if it’s open, as the national park authorities close the road during the winter season.
It’s certainly not for beginners and faint hearted with some impassable portions and dangerous portages. The river rapids are considered Class V, which calls for the most experienced and well-equipped kayakers. Water is cold around the year, and so swimming is not recommended.
Livingit Tip: You need to take Wilderness Use Permits for kayaking.
Take Up Stargazing
Treat your eyes with plenty of twinkling stars as the Gunnison has been designated the International Dark Sky Park in September 2015. Various astronomical events are hosted by the park’s ranger. Taking in the view of the night sky is available throughout the year.
Black Canyon is a perfect combination of wild beauty and spectacular wildlife. With this list of best things, you can explore the matchless recreational opportunities. Be it hiking, kayaking or scenic driving, we are sure that you will have beautiful memories to cherish forever!
Share your experiences of Black Canyon with us, in the comments below!