Why is it called Black Canyon?
It’s just been since 1999 that the dramatic landscape of Black Canyon of the Gunnison has held national park status, but the Gunnison River’s carving of the canyon began millions of years ago. The Black Canyon, so named because the walls are often shrouded in shadows making them appear black, has some of the world’s oldest exposed rock — Precambrian or “basement” rock that is nearly 2 billion years old.
Things to See & Do
This is the perfect spot for scenic drives where can you peer 2,000 feet below the often guardrail-less edge to see the Gunnison River that descends in elevation at one of the fastest rates of any North American river. Experienced rock climbers find a playground here, but the majority of visitors enjoy hikes, nature trails, drives, Gold Medal fishing and generally admiring natural wonders while in the park.
If you're looking for accessible features and facilities in the park, you'll find numerous scenic overlooks, restrooms, the visitor center and campsites at the popular South Rim campground.
Pack a picnic and lunch at Gunnison Point to refuel for your afternoon adventures. Spot the fastest bird in the world, the Peregrine falcon, as it jets across the canyon exceeding speeds of 200 miles per hour, all while a mule deer mother and her fawn munch on wildflowers. And visitors that won’t be making an appearance? Venomous snakes — the canyon’s night temps are too cold for them.
There are three campsites at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. South Rim Campground has impressive views of the 2,250-foot Painted Wall, the highest cliff in Colorado (it’s 1,000-feet taller than the Empire State Building!). Meanwhile, North Rim Campground offers smaller, shady spots and great glimpses of the canyon, while East Portal Campground is located adjacent to the national park in beautiful Curecanti National Recreation Area.
For stellar sights of the Gunnison River, the canyon’s sheer walls and a variety of plant life, check out the 1-mile Rim Rock Nature Trail, which follows a relatively flat path along the rim of the canyon. Or try the 2-mile Oak Flat Loop Trail, which offers a peek at the landscape below the canyon’s rim. The route is narrow and traverses steep slopes, and might not be suitable for younger hikers. Keep in mind: Only experienced and well-prepared hikers should descend the inner canyon, for there are no maintained or marked trails. Find more hiking trails in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park.
Getting to Black Canyon of the Gunnison
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.
The North Rim is about 11 miles southwest of Crawford. From CO Highway 92, head west on Black Canyon Road about 3 miles south of Crawford. See more directions to the park.
Since there’s no bridge across the canyon, allow two to three hours to drive from one rim to the other. The park’s South Rim Visitors Center is open year-round and is command central for any visit to the park. Collect maps, make campground reservations and get weather updates before you explore, as the weather shifts dramatically here.
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison's East Portal Road made our list of 99 Gorgeous Places in Colorado. See what else made the list >>
Photo: Courtesy of the National Park Service.