12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (2022)

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (1)

Located 250 miles southwest ofDenver, the Black Canyon stretches 48 miles, but only 14 miles of it is designated as a national park. Seven miles northeast of Montrose at the intersection of Highway 347 and Highway 50, Black Canyon of the Gunnison was established as a national monument in 1933 and became a national park in 1999.

Plan Your Visit

The park is divided into three areas, South Rim, East Portal Road, and North Rim. Most people visit the South Rim as it is a 3-hour drive between the two rims. We recommend this park as part of a 6-day Southwest Colorado road trip loop.

South Rim

The 7-mile South Rim Road has 12 overlook stops. Some outlooks are located right next to the road and others require a walk out to the viewing point. Posted signs inform how many yards the viewing point is from the road.

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (2)

Your first stop at Tomichi Point will have you gasping your breath in awe and grasping your little ones in fear at the great drop off of a couple of thousand feet. While the viewing platform is safe for everyone, great caution should be used while on Rim Rock Trail.

(Video) Hiking the Gunnison Route at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (+ Overlooks!)

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (3)

If you have little ones, I suggest you scout out the area while an adult waits in the car with the kids. This will help you decide if the trail is right for your family or for some of your family and how much you want to cover.

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (4)
12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (5)

The Gunnison Point parking lot includes the park’s South Rim visitor center where you can watch an educational movie about the park and learn about how the canyon was created.

Although I’ve alerted you to potential danger, please don’t skip this park because of a few perilous areas. Most of the viewing outlooks are fenced in like this.

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (6)

During our visit, Colorado had several wildfires. You can see the smoke in my pictures.

(Video) LEAST-VISITED NATIONAL PARK IN COLORADO | Quick Trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (7)

The park was still beautiful even if it was dimmed by, let’s say, 10% by the smoke.

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (8)

Painted Wall – named for the pink veins of igneous pegmatite rock showing through layers of gneiss and schist.

East Portal Road

The road travels five steep miles at a 16% grade to the bottom of the canyon. You’ll find a 15 site campground, picnic area, and primitive trail. Due to the steep grades and hairpin curves, vehicles over 22 feet are not permitted on this road. East Portal is closed in winter.

North Rim

12 Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (9)

The North Rim of the park is 11 miles southwest of Crawford, Colorado. Closed in winter, the last 7 miles of the access road is unpaved gravel. You’ll find 5 overlooks you can visit by car and four or more from the hiking trails. A campground with 13 sites is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

(Video) Black Canyon Of The Gunnison Vacation Travel Video Guide

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Junior Ranger Program

Pick up a Junior Ranger program for both the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and its sister site, Curecanti National Recreation Area.

Time to Cover Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Since the park isn’t considered one of the top ten, receiving around 400,000 visitors in 2019, you don’t have to worry about crowds, especially at the North Rim. Allow yourself 2-4 hours to visit the park depending on how many overlooks you walk out to and visit.

Although the park is open every day, during winter months the South Rim is open only to Gunnison Point. The North Rim and East Portal Road close late November to mid-April.

Hiking with Kids

Depending on your kids’ ages and ability levels, you could schedule a hike in your visit.

(Video) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Colorado Road Trip Travel Vlog 2020 Day 3

  • Rim Rock Nature Trail – This moderate 1-mile trail starts near the entrance to Campground Loop C and ends at the South Rim Visitor Center.
  • Cedar Point Nature Trail – An easy 2/3 mile round trip leads to two overlooks of the river and Painted Wall.
  • Warner Point Nature Trail – Another moderate trail of 1.5 miles, the trail begins/ends at the High Point Overlook or the South Rim Visitor Center. Enjoy shady benches and views of the San Juan Mountain Range, Uncompahgre Valley, Bostwick Park, West Elk Mountains, Gunnison River, and the Black Canyon.

Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison

  1. Talk with your kids before the trip about sticking close to you during your visit.
  2. There are no restaurants inside the national park, stop at a grocery store (in Montrose or Gunnison) to pack snacks and lunch before you head to the park.
  3. You can find vault toilets at the following stops: Tomichi Point, Visitor Center, Pulpit Rock, Sunset View, and High Point.
  4. There isn’t much shade – be sure to bring hats, sunscreen, and water!
  5. Watch for altitude sickness – the park is at a 7500-8500 feet elevation. Although by this point in your Colorado trip, your crew should have acclimated.
  6. Stop and listen to the river at Pulpit Rock Overlook. The river might be 1800+ feet down but you can still watch the current and hear the flow of the water.
  7. Poison Ivygrows near the banks of the Gunnison River. Be on the lookout for leaves of 3 if you visit East Portal Road or go hiking.
  8. Curecanti National Recreation Area– visit the nearby 43,095-acre park, comprising of three reservoirs, including Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in the state.
  9. The most expansive view of the canyon can be found at the end of Warner Point Trail. At the trailhead, grab a guide with information that corresponds to numbered markers.
  10. Get another viewpoint of the Canyon by booking a ranger-led, 1-1/2-hour tour of the Morrow Point Reservoir. Travel seven miles of the canyon by boat. Children must weigh a minimum of 35 pounds to wear the required and provided flotation devices. Reservations are required and it’s strongly encouraged to make them several weeks in advance.
  11. Every year, Black Canyon hosts an Astronomy Festival. Events may include solar viewing and astronomy activities during the day and ranger talks, guest speaker programs, and telescope viewing each night.
  12. If you know your crew might not want to visit the whole park or if you’re short on time, stop at these viewpoints– Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Pulpit Rock.
  13. Bonus tip – Three South Rim overlooks, Pulpit Rock, Chasm View, and Sunset View are mobility accessible. Balanced Rock Overlook on the North Rim is too. Both rims have restrooms with accessible facilities.

Fun Facts

  1. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an International Dark Sky Park, which means that it is a great place to see the Milky Way and constellations on a clear night.
  2. Black Canyon derives its name because some parts of the gorge receive only 33 total minutes of sunlight per day.
  3. Nearby Gunnison was named after John Williams Gunnison, an American military officer, who explored in the area as part of the Stansbury Expedition in 1849.
  4. In 1901, an expedition was made to analyze the possibility of blasting a diversion tunnel for irrigation through the canyon. It took 9 days to cover a distance of 33 miles.
  5. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad train first passed through the canyon in 1882. Carving a railroad bed from the steep, rugged, and extremely hard rock walls was extremely difficult, it took a year to construct the last mile of track.
  6. The track was abandoned in 1955 in favor of the new route through Glenwood Springs which didn’t have as much inclement weather or rock slides.

Entrance Fees for Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We highly recommend buying anAmerica the Beautifulpass for $80. The pass is good for one calendar year and is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Having a pass will allow you to pop in for a few hours in the evening and again the next morning.

If you have a 4th grader, check out the FREE Annual 4th Grade pass which is good for the duration of the school year through the following summer (September-August).

Current U.S. military members and their dependents in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force, as well as Reserve and National Guard members, qualify for a free annual pass.

Where to Stay

Hotels

  • Montrose – the biggest town closest to the park.
  • Gunnison – a great place to stay after you visit the park.

Camping and RV

Vacation Rentals

Need more room or want to stay a while? Check out a vacation rental near the park.

(Video) RV Living in Gunnison Colorado // Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park & Hiking

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FAQs

What is the best way to view the Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

For the ultimate adventure in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, hike below the rim to the Gunnison River. On the South Rim, four trails lead from the rim to the Gunnison River. A Wilderness Use Permit is required for each of these hikes (you need to pick up your permit the day before your hike).

How much time should I spend at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? ›

Allow 2-3 hours for a leisurely tour. Information is available at the North Rim Ranger Station, open intermittently in summer. The North Rim Road is closed in winter.

Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison worth seeing? ›

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is deep, steep, and narrow. The views from the top are pretty impressive and this small park is worthwhile even if you only have a short time to visit.

What do you wear to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

The park is notorious for its poison ivy, which grows many feet high along the walls of the canyon. If you plan on descending into the canyon, you should wear pants and long sleeves to protect yourself.

Is North Rim or South Rim better Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

The South Rim has more services, facilities and overlooks, and provides better views of the Painted Wall. The North Rim is accessed via a gravel road, has no visitor center, but does provide better views into the narrowest part of the canyon.

Which rim is better in Black Canyon? ›

If you only have one day to visit Black Canyon, the south rim will give you a greater variety of viewpoints and short hikes. The north rim is the best if you want a more isolated experience. East Portal Road can be accessed from the South Rim and takes you to the base of the canyon. The road is steep and windy.

What is the best hike in Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

According to users from AllTrails.com, the best place to hike in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is Warner Point Nature Trail, which has a 4.5 star rating from 1,093 reviews.

Is the North Rim of Black Canyon worth it? ›

Because there is no bridge over the canyon, accessing the North Rim requires a bit of a drive. You'll need to allow two to three hours' drive time from one rim to the other—but it's entirely worth it. Not only are there far fewer people, but the views from the North Rim are also more dramatic, if that's even possible.

Are there bears in Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

It is unlikely that you will see a black bear and even less likely a mountain lion.

How much does it cost to get into the Black Canyon? ›

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park normally charges $20 per vehicle, $15 per motorcycle and $10 per pedestrian or bicycle. Entrance fees are good for seven days. The entrance fee waiver for the fee-free days does not cover user fees for camping.

Is the drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison scary? ›

Some of the deepest areas of this canyon get little more than 30 minutes of sunlight per day, yet visitors can discover an incredible feat of science and nature by exploring this canyon from top to bottom. Once you shake off the shadowy jitters, you'll find it's not scary at all.

What town is closest to Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is divided into two areas: the more popular South Rim and the less developed North Rim. The two areas are a two hour drive apart. The closest town to the South Rim is Montrose, Colo.

Should I wear shorts or leggings to the Grand Canyon? ›

In the summer, wear shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes with a light jacket or sweater. In the winter, opt for jeans, good shoes (or even boots – it does snow at the Grand Canyon!), and a long-sleeved shirt with a jacket or sweater.

Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison crowded? ›

The 9 Best Black Canyon of the Gunnison Hiking Trails for Avoiding People. In the ranking of America's most popular national parks, Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison falls toward the bottom. In 2021 it ranked 48th of 63 parks with 308,910 total visitors.

Can you swim in Black Canyon? ›

Other things to do near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

There's a large lake where you can boat, swim or just dip your feet in. It does require a $9.00 day pass per vehicle to enter.

Can you swim in Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

Other things to do near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

There's a large lake where you can boat, swim or just dip your feet in. It does require a $9.00 day pass per vehicle to enter.

How long to drive to North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

How to Get to the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Even though the canyon is only 1,100 feet in the narrowest section, it takes about two hours to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim.

Is South Rim better than West? ›

The activities offered at each location vary; the South Rim is best for sightseeing and hiking, while the West Rim is best for helicopter rides and walking on the Skywalk.

What is the closest city to Black Canyon? ›

Towns & Cities Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
  • Montrose, CO. 19.9 mi / 36 mins.
  • Delta, CO. 41.1 mi / 58 mins.
  • Ouray, CO. 55.2 mi / 1 hour 17 mins.
  • Gunnison, CO. 68.8 mi / 1 hour 30 mins.
  • Crawford, CO. 69.9 mi / 1 hour 33 mins.
  • Telluride, CO. 84.5 mi / 1 hour 55 mins.
  • Mt Crested Butte, CO. 99.9 mi / 2 hours 11 mins.

How deep is the water at the Black Canyon? ›

This tour can include the optional deep water solo climb against a cliff that overhangs above a large 80-foot deep pool of water.

What time does Black Canyon of the Gunnison open? ›

Location: 7 miles north on CO Highway 347 from the intersection with U.S. Highway 50. Winter Hours (approx. October to May): Open daily from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm. Closed 12:00-12:30 pm for lunch.

How long does it take to climb the Devil's Bit? ›

A satisfying hill walk on Devil's Bit Mountain, this pleasant loop takes 90 minutes to complete. The terrain is a mix of sandy laneways, forestry tracks, green roads and hillside paths.

Is Black Elk peak a difficult hike? ›

This is an easy hike that gets moderate in parts, but there are plenty of nice spots to stop for a drink of water and a picture. (Make sure you bring your own hydration, as there's no water available on the trails.) But one of the best parts of Black Elk Peak is the number of options you can take to get to the top.

Can you hike Sierra Negra without a guide? ›

This hike is only accessible with a guide. The Sierra Negra Volcano has the second largest crater in the world, with a six mile diameter.

How long is the North Rim Scenic Drive? ›

How long does the North Rim Parkway take to drive? This 43-mile drive should take you an hour to drive, but you may want to allow a longer time so you can stop to hike the numerous trails available along the way.

Which is more scenic North Rim or South Rim Grand Canyon? ›

The South Rim is at a lower elevation which allows you to get a better view of the walls of the opposite rim. The sheer magnitude of the Grand Canyon is much more visible from the South Rim. The South Rim is more “user friendly” with paved paths along the rim.

Which side of the Grand Canyon is less touristy? ›

The North Rim sees, by far, the least number of Grand Canyon tourists (only 10% of all park visitors). Since it's more difficult to get to and less well-known, many visitors to the park simply skip the North Rim, heading straight for the South Rim instead.

What time of day are black bear active? ›

Daily Activity Period: Most bears become active a half-hour before sunrise, take a nap or two during the day, and bed down for the night an hour or two after sunset. However, some bears are active at night to possibly avoid people or other bears. Preferred Foods: Nuts, acorns, fruit, insects, succulent greens.

What time of day are black bears most active in spring? ›

Bears are most active during early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer. Mating usually takes place in July. Both female and male bears may have more than one mate during the summer.

Are there rattlesnakes in Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

There are four types of rattlesnakes in the Black Canyon area and all are to be considered dangerous.

Can you use national park pass at Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

The passes are valid only for entrance fees at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. If you plan to visit the North Rim of the Black Canyon, we strongly advise purchase of the digital pass as there are limited pay options at the North Rim.

Why do people go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

On the rim you can explore several easy-going nature trails, all of which offer canyon overlooks. For those who have several days, the park offers adventurous backcountry experiences and developed campsites, fishing on the Gunnison's Gold Medal waters, rock climbing, wildlife watching and more.

Which is deeper Black Canyon or Grand Canyon? ›

Depth (feet) of the Black Canyon at Warner Point. That's impressive, but not by comparison to the true monsters. Hells Canyon, the deepest canyon in North America, is 7,913 feet deep at Hedevil Point (on the Idaho side). The Grand Canyon averages about 5,000 feet deep.

Can you drive to the bottom of the Black Canyon? ›

The East Portal Road travels five steep miles to the bottom of the canyon. You'll find a small campground, picnic area, and primitive trail when you reach the end of the road.

Why do they call it Black Canyon? ›

The Black Canyon derives its name from its black-stained, lichen-covered walls, which accentuate the gloom of the chasm. Roads on the North and South rims, with overlooks and foot trails, reach about 8,000 feet (2,400 metres) above sea level.

What is Gunnison Colorado known for? ›

1. Hiking and Camping. Colorado is known for having some of the best hiking and camping spots, and Gunnison is home to several must-see outdoor spaces. In fact, there are over 750 miles of singletrack trails surrounding the Western campus.

How far is Black Canyon from Gunnison to Montrose? ›

Black Canyon's South Rim is about 14 miles from Montrose and 63 miles from Gunnison. To get there from Montrose, travel 7 miles north on CO Highway 347 from the intersection with U.S. Highway 50 east of the city. Since there's no bridge across the canyon, allow two to three hours to drive from one rim to the other.

How far from Denver is Gunnison National Park? ›

264 miles

Do cell phones work at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? ›

However, cellphone coverage remains weak or nonexistent outside the South Rim, although some will be able to pick up a weak signal on the North Rim if they are located near the rim itself. Coverage does not generally exist within the canyon, so don't expect to use your phone on any hikes below the rim.

What should I bring to a canyon? ›

To make your job a little easier, we've created a list of must-have items for your Grand Canyon adventure.
  1. Comfortable, sturdy shoes. ...
  2. Light layers. ...
  3. A hat. ...
  4. Sunglasses. ...
  5. Sunscreen. ...
  6. Lots of water, in a disposable or reusable water bottle. ...
  7. Snacks. ...
  8. Your camera and spare batteries.

Should I bring a backpack to Grand Canyon? ›

Grand Canyon Gear and Equipment. Now that you're properly dressed for your trip, it's time to choose which non-clothing items you'll also need during the hike. First, you'll need a reliable backpack. We suggest purchasing a pack in the range of 60 to 80-liters.

How many days should you spend at Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

How Many Days Do You Need in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? If you want to visit both the North and South Rims, you will need two days. On the quickest of visits, you can visit the South Rim in about 4 to 5 hours, simply by driving South Rim Road.

How long should you spend at Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

Allow 2-3 hours for a leisurely tour. Information is available at the North Rim Ranger Station, open intermittently in summer. The North Rim Road is closed in winter.

Do you need reservations for Black Canyon of the Gunnison? ›

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park | Gunnison, Colorado. According to mycoloradoparks.com, visitors do not need reservations to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park; however, reservations for the South Rim area are "strongly recommended." An annual pass to the park costs $55.

What animals are in Black Canyon? ›

Other wildlife you may see while kayaking through Black Canyon include desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bats, rabbits, coyotes, and beavers.

Is Black Canyon worth visiting? ›

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is deep, steep, and narrow. The views from the top are pretty impressive and this small park is worthwhile even if you only have a short time to visit.

What should you not do at the Grand Canyon? ›

Grand Canyon: What Not to Do
  • Grand Canyon: What Not to Do. ...
  • Timing is Everything: Don't Arrive at Peak Times. ...
  • Liquid Assets: Don't Neglect to Stay Hydrated. ...
  • Get an Altitude Adjustment: Don't Underestimate the Elevation. ...
  • Weather or Not: Don't Forget to Pack for Changing Conditions.
11 Jan 2018

What side of the plane should I sit on to see the Grand Canyon? ›

Over the Grand Canyon

There are many routes that take you over this natural wonder. These include transcontinental flights to Los Angeles, flights into Las Vegas (sit on the right side) and short-hop flights from Phoenix to Salt Lake City (your best bet is the left side).

Videos

1. Colorado’s Grand Canyon | Black Canyon of the Gunnison Quick Guide
(RAC Adventures)
2. Riding Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park
(Pushin It)
3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Fly Fishing
(Rock the Park)
4. S1:E25 Colorful Colorado P1: Black Canyon
(FTA Adventures)
5. Adventures In Photography: The Black Canyon
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6. Top 12 Best Places To Travel In Colorado | Colorado Travel Guide
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