Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park comprises of 12 out of the 48 mile-long canyon of the Gunnison River. You can take it as easy and drive up to dizzying overlooks or challenge yourself to your heart’s content during your visit.
The South Rim is the most established part of the park with plenty of pullouts and short hikes. For those who want more adventure can enter the wilderness (anything below the rim) to hike, rock climb, fish, or even kayak. We loved that this park wasn’t overly crowded and there was plenty to see and do. We can’t wait to go back during the summer and try climbing here.
9 THINGS TO DO IN BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON NATIONAL PARK
1. Stop by the South Rim Visitor Center
You can check out the exhibits and chat with the rangers to figure out your best plan of action for the day! Even when we’ve previously visited a park, we still like to stop by and see what’s new. During our trip here, we were told that the blue grouse was hanging out by the campgrounds and that birders from all over the world were coming here to see them. Who knew!
2. Drive Along the South Rim Road
One of the easiest things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison is this 7-mile drive, which has 12 overlooks to test your fear of heights. Many of the overlooks require walking a short trail but nothing difficult. If you’re limited on time, be sure to check out Pulpit Rock, Painted Wall, and Sunset View.
3. Explore the Inner Canyon
There is a lot to do within the canyon but there are no maintained or marked trails, so routes can be difficult to follow. Keep in mind that you do need a wilderness use permit for any activities in the inner canyon. Find all the deets here.
4. Drive to the River via the East Portal Road
The East Portal Road gives you access to the river. Keep in mind that it is extremely steep (16% grades) with hairpin turns. They don’t allow vehicles over 22 ft, and our Airstream would not have fared well here. Don’t forget to check to see if it’s open, since they close the road during winter.
5. Hike an Established Trail
No better way to see the park than to hike a trail. There are a handful of trails that take you to spectacular overlooks. During our time there, the ranger recommended Warner Point Nature Trail. Although the hike itself wasn’t exciting, the views at the end were worth it!
Pro Tip: The South Rim has easier hikes and the North Rim has longer and more strenuous hikes.
6. Enjoy the Sunset from Sunset View
It’s easy to figure out where to watch the sunset from with a name like this. We came out here both nights we were in the park to enjoy the sun going down. It’s probably the best spot for photos! Trust me, we went to every single overlook in the park.
7. Photograph the Juniper Trees
The park is home to a wide range of fauna, but the Juniper trees are some of the most fun to photograph. The shape and character of each gives you endless options.
8. Kayak The River
This is not a run for beginners! There are plenty of runs outside of the park if you’re new, but the runs are class III & IV within the park with some impassable portions and dangerous portages.
9. Spot Wildlife
The park is home to coyotes, elk, magpies, eagles, mule deer, bears, and more. Birders also come in hopes to spot great horned owls, American dippers, and Steller’s jay, along with a range of migratory birds. See their birder checklist here.
Some More Interest Facts:
- Parts of the canyon only receive a little over 30 minutes of sunlight a day.
- The Gunnison River is the 5th steepest mountain descent river in North America. To give you a comparison, the Gunnison River drops an average of 34 feet per mile, whereas the Colorado River drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile.
- Duane Vandenbusche states, “Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon.”
- At its narrowest point, the canyon is only 40 feet wide at the river.
- Painted Wall is the tallest sheer cliff in Colorado at 2,250 feet.
What are some lesser-known and underrated National Parks you’ve visited?