Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Located: Colorado  -  Established: October 21,1999

The Park:  Black Canyon is a “sleeper” park and must be experienced to be understood. To fully appreciate why Black Canyon has become a National Park, get to the rim and gaze down into the depths of this gorge. 

Two million years in the making, the Gunnison River has carved its way through the gneiss and schist of Black Canyon exposing steep cliffs of well over 2000 feet from rim to river below. This canyon is deep, dark and mysterious with beautifully marbled canyon walls. The river drops dramatically through the canyon at an average of 95 feet per mile compared to the Colorado River, which falls on average 7½ feet per mile.

 Marbled Wall of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Marbled Wall of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

At its narrowest point, the Black Canyon is only 40 feet wide. At its deepest point, from rim to river, the canyon walls measure 2700’. Because it is narrow and steep, sunlight has a difficult time penetrating into the depths of the canyon…thus the name “Black Canyon.” 

Getting thereLocated in western Coloradothe more developed south rim of the Canyon is located 15 miles northeast of the town of Montrose via US 50 and Colo. 347. The North Rim is an 80-mile drive from the south and the last 7 miles are on a dirt road. 

When to visitLike many parks, summer is the most popular time to visit; however the daytime temps can get a bit toasty. At approximately 8000’, evening temperatures can get a bit chilly and winter brings cold temperatures and snow that close the North Rim road. 

 What to doBlack Canyon offers hikers several well-groomed trails from which to explore the park. The trails along the South Rim are mostly rated easy to moderate. South Rim Trails worth hiking include the Rim Rock Trail, the Warner Point Trail, Uplands Trail and the Oak Flat Loop Trail. 

Hiking to the bottom of the canyon from the rim is an arduous experience. There are no marked trails down into the inner canyon and poison ivy is prevalent. A free permit is required for inter canyon day hikes.  

 Terry trekking the Mark Warner Nature Trail. Park visit  #10 .

Terry trekking the Mark Warner Nature Trail. Park visit #10.

What NOT to doAlthough tempting, rafting is not permitted in the raging waters of the Gunnison River and kayaking is for the highly experienced! Ironically, the first two people to successfully navigate Black Canyon did it on a rubber air mattress!

 Where to stayAlthough there are no lodging facilities within the park boundaries, there are three campgrounds to choose from. The South Rim Campground features 88 campsites situated in an oak-brush forest.  The 13 campsites in the North Rim Campground are all shaded within a Pinyon-Juniper forest. The East Portal Campground, located 2 miles downstream of the Crystal Dam is adjacent to the park and contains 15 tent sites.

WildlifeBlack Canyon is home to the fastest bird in the world, the Peregrine falcon. Scientists estimate that Peregrines can reach speeds of over 200 mph in an aerial dive. Other critters found here include Black Bear, Yellow Bellied Marmot, Elk, Big Horn Sheep Mule Deer and Eagle.

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Memorable moment: Hiking the Mark Warner Nature Trail.

Trivia: The Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado. From river to rim it stands 2250 feet, and is 1000 feet taller than the Empire State Building.  

 Black Canyon's Painted Wall

Black Canyon's Painted Wall

Banner: Colorful flowers of the Crimson Hedgehog Cactus.

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by the Park's Visitor Center
  • Hike the Warner Point Nature Trail
  • Hike the Rim Trails
  • Gaze at the Painted Wall   
  • Drive to the end of East Portal Road