Arizona has the Grand Canyon, but Colorado has the Black Canyon! Like Grand Canyon National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has a North Rim and a South Rim. And just like the famous brother in Arizona, the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the most accessible side. Along the winding South Rim Road you will find many beautiful vantage points, from where you have a magnificent and impressive view of the dark, steep cliffs. If you listen carefully, you hear the wild noise of the Gunnison River at the bottom of the canyon.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is located in the midwest of the state Colorado. One of the steepest, darkest and most rugged canyons in America is formed by the Gunnison River. The river has paved its way through very hard rock layers on the western side of the Rocky Mountains for a period of about 2 million years. The walls of the canyon consist of volcanic material, predominantly black in color. The gap reaches depths of 600 meters and is not more than 450 meters wide in most places. The canyon seems even darker because the sunlight has little chance to shine on the walls.
Originally the canyon was 80 kilometers long, but the construction of three dams has caused a large part to be flooded. This section now falls under the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Only 20 kilometers from the canyon is still in the old state, but this section does include the deepest and most beautiful piece. This part of the canyon falls under the National Park.
One of the larger roads that the Rocky Mountains cut from east to west is the US-50.
At 60 miles east of Gunnison and 11 miles west of Montrose is the exit to Co-347. This road runs through an area with lots of bushes, and climbs over a distance of about 6 miles to a height of over 2500 meters. You drive into the South Rim of the park through the Monument Entrance. The northern side of the canyon is only accessible via the unpaved but well passable North Rim Road. This road starts at the eastern end of Crawford State Recreation Area, near the town of Crawford on the Co-92. The North Rim Road is closed during the winter months.
East Portal Road
If you enter the park through the Co-347, you quickly reach the side road East Portal Road. This dead end road, which is closed during the winter months, goes down through many sharp bends. The East Portal Road runs partly in the park, and partly outside the park. The road ends at the Gunnison Diversion Dam in the Curecanti National Recreational Area. You will find a ranger station, a picnic area and a campsite. Long vehicles are not allowed on this road.
South Rim Road
For a good view over the canyon you keep following the Co-347. Within the park this road is called the South Rim Road. The South Rim Road is 8 miles long, and there are 12 different viewpoints along the way. It takes 2 to 3 hours to visit this side of the park. Just past the park border lies the South Rim Campground.
If you are looking for the beautiful Hiking Trails in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, take a look here …
In Black Canyon of the Gunnison there are deer (deer), coyotes (prairie wolves), porcupine (porcupines), yellow-bellied marmots, chipmunks and squirrels (squirrels). Occasionally badgers (badgers), bobcats and black bears are also signaled. The birds you can see in this area are the red-tailed hawk, the white-throated swift, the violet-green swallow, Clark’s nutcracker, raven, western tanager and falcon. Click here for information about wildlife watching.
The steep walls on the north side are popular with experienced climbers.
Cycling is allowed on the North Rim Road, but not on the trails.
See the descriptions of the short trails in the “Sights” section.
There are cattle on the north side of the canyon. Hikers must keep the fences they encounter along the way.
There are no hiking trails in the canyon itself. It is possible to descend into the canyon, but because such a trip is very difficult, this is only recommended for very experienced hikers. You must have permission beforehand. Permits are available at the South Rim Visitor Center and at the North Rim Ranger Station. Click here for more information about hiking in the canyon.
Horse riding is only allowed on the 8 kilometer long Deadhorse Trail, on the north side of the park. You do not need a permit for this. Trailers can be parked near the Kneeling Camel Overlook.
The Gunnison River is a dangerous river, even very experienced kayakers come here regularly in trouble. The water is very cold, swimming is therefore not advised. For all activities in the canyon itself, prior permission is required. Click here for more information.
South Rim Visitor Center
During the summer the Visitor Center is open daily, and during the winter from Wednesday to Sunday (except during public holidays).
North Rim Ranger Station
During the summer the Ranger Station is opened intermittently, during the winter it is closed.
The Rim House
This coffee shop / gift shop is located on the South Rim, at Pulpit Rock, and is open daily from mid-May to late September.
- at the Visitor Center
- at The Rim House
- at High Point Overlook
- at Kneeling Camel View
There are two campsites in the park. The South Rim Campground has 88 pitches (partly with electricity). There are pit toilets, tables and grills. Reservations are not possible, but in general there is still room in the busiest season. The North Rim Campground has 13 places, with pit toilets, tables and grills. Reservation is also not possible for this campsite. During the summer months there are often no more places available. Water is available on both campsites from mid-May to mid-October.
There are no hotels in the park ….
There are a variety of lodging options in the nearby communities of Montrose and Gunnison. Check here for other Hotels nearby
America the Beautiful Pass.
In some National Parks access is free, but most National Parks require entrance fees. On the site of the NPS you can find information per park about the rules that apply there. The prices are generally between $ 10, – and $ 30, – for one car or camper with occupants. More than 80% of the admission fees are used for such things as hiking trails, setting up educational programs, protecting the animal life, and so on.
The admission tickets are usually valid for several days, and can often also be used for nearby parks. At some parks you can pay directly on entry, at other parks you have to go to a Visitor Center to purchase a ticket.
If you want to visit several parks during your trip, it might be better to buy an America the Beautiful Pass.