Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Location: Western Colorado
Getting there: The Canyon is located about 13 miles from the nearest town of Montrose, CO and will take about a half hour getting there by car. The short drive does go into the southern entrance of the park where you can access the visitors center as well as South Rim and East Portal Roads. North Rim Road on the opposite side of the canyon will be an additional few hours from Montrose and about 16 miles SW of the nearest town of Crawford, CO.
- There are tons of accommodations in the nearest town and finding directions and information about the park is fairly easy to find.
- Check the weather conditions here if traveling in the winter! Roads to the canyon may be closed depending on the time of year and you’ll need cross-country ski’s, shoe spikes, or snowshoes to get around South Rim Drive if there is accumulation.
- Black Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park and open 24/7. There is a reason why one of the slogans of Black Canyon is “Half the Park is After Dark”.
Popular Features: There are tons of mini hikes around South Rim Drive, which is where we spent our time at Black Canyon. Painted Wall has an amazing view of the north side of the canyon and has the most obvious signs of the volcanic ash that make the interesting designs on the canyon walls. Dragon Point and Sunset view are also popular stops along South Rim that offer great views. Black Canyon also has hundreds of climbing routes up the steep walls if you have the time and equipment as well as fishing and experienced-level kayaking. If your visiting during the peak seasons and are up for a steep drive down the canyon, check out Easy Portal Road for quicker access to the Gunnison River.
Although Black Canyon is not the most popular National Park at just 250,000 people per year, it is extremely beautiful and worth-while! Comparatively, Arches National park is a mere 3 hour drive away and host more than one million people each year. Personally, I had not even heard of this canyon until we looked into doing this road trip and it was a fantastic first National Park pit stop.
Photography: I really underestimated how hard the canyon would be to photograph. Perhaps it was the time of day we found ourselves there or the crazy amount of clouds rolling across the sky. It is really hard to capture the magnitude of this place and just how deep the canyon really goes. Make sure to bring a wide angle lens if you have one and get creative with angles!
If you can manage to get to Black Canyon on a clear day, make it a priority to stay as long as you can. Once the harsh light falls on the canyon, the effect is magical. If not, the good thing about the canyon during the middle of the day the sun may reach the bottom of the canyon for a brief period of time. This is also a popular spot for astrophotography if you can visit the canyon on a clear night.
- Painted Wall in Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Colorado’s highest cliff at 2,250 feet. The Empire State Building is 1000 feet shorter than the Painted Wall.
- Black Canyon has some of the oldest Precambrian rock exposed in the world in its walls
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not named for the color of its rock. The canyon is so deep and narrow that sunlight only hits the bottom for a very short period each day, hence it being “black
Saying that Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is “a nice pit stop” is a monumental understatement. Among all the parks I have gone to in the past month, Black Canyon is one of my top spots to go back. Why? I feel that there is so much I still need to see in this canyon.
Unfortunately, during our tour, Black Canyon was one of the stops that we did not get to see to the fullest extent. Despite all the planning and weather checking that went in to this visit, and calls we made to the parks visitors center to check conditions, the first snowfall fell on the same day of our trip. And with snowfall, the roads had closed. All of them. Just goes to show that no matter how hard you plan for something, nature always has it’s own way of doing things.
If re-visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison is truly a possibility, then I ask myself: “what? what comes next?” Well for starters, I would love to see the canyon during the spring or summer; when wildflowers and wildlife are at its peak. Capturing photos of the Painted Wall and some viewpoints around South Rim Drive are also on my list, as well as possibly going down into the canyon and seeing if getting a climb in can be written in the books!
To learn more about Black Canyon of the Gunnison and its wonders, browse the National Parks website here.
Originally posted January 19th, 2018