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The Ultimate Guide to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is known for its shadows. The canyon is steep and narrow, and for most of the day, it is shrouded in black and darkness, hence the name Black Canyon. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a place of mesmerizing geologic features, extraordinary wildlife, and an incredibly dark night sky.

Each year, nearly 300,000 tourists venture to this national park to explore and discover the natural beauty, history, and geology of the park.

How To Get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Where Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in west-central Colorado among 30,000 acres of rugged wilderness. This national park is divided into 2 regions, the North Rim and the South Rim. The North Rim is the most remote area of the park, while the South Rim has more overlooks and highlights of the park. 

Nearest Airports to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There are a few different options to choose from when planning to fly into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are regional airports near the park and larger international airports a little further in distance. Check out 3 airport options to see which will work best when you travel to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

Denver International Airport (DEN)

Denver International Airport is one of the further options for flying into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park area. This airport is 5 hours from the park but has lots to offer travelers. DEN offers direct flights to countless cities, both internationally and domestically. Some of the major airlines serviced by this airport include Aeromexico, Allegiant, American, and Southwest. 

Once arriving, you will need to rent a car, and there are several options for car rentals at this airport, including Alamo, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and Payless.

If you don’t mind a long drive to the park, flying to Denver International Airport may be the best choice for you. There are plenty of places to stop and sightsee along the way, should you want to add to your national park vacation. 

Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT)

Grand Junction Regional Airport is an option that is an hour and a half away from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This airport offers several flights a day to and from Dallas (DFW), Denver (DEN), and Phoenix (PHX). Grand Junction Regional Airport services several popular airlines, including Allegiant, American, and United. 

Renting a car for the rest of the journey to the park is a breeze; some of the rental car companies serviced by this airport include Alamo, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and National.

Grand Junction Regional Airport is an easy choice for those flying into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. GJT would be a perfect option for your national park vacation because of its convenience and a long list of flights and airlines. 

Montrose Regional Airport (MTJ)

Montrose Regional Airport is the closest option to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This airport is only 20 minutes from the park entrance. Montrose Regional Airport offers several flights a day from Dallas and Denver. The airlines serviced by this airport include American, Delta, Southwest, and United. 

Rental cars and agents are readily available at Montrose Regional Airport. Some of the companies that are featured include Avis, Dollar, Budget, Enterprize, Hertz, and Payless. If you are looking for the closest option for flying into Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, look no further than Montrose Regional Airport.

Driving to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There are 2 different parts of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: the North Rim and the South Rim. The route you take when driving to this national park will depend on which area you are visiting. For travelers arriving at the North Rim, Colorado Highway 92 to Black Canyon Road is the route that will be taken. Those coming to the South Rim will utilize Colorado Highway 347.

Bottom Line:

No matter which way you come, you can rest assured knowing that there will be phenomenal sights and scenery along the way.

Taking the Bus to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There is no public transport in the park, but there are bus stations that will get you close to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose, Gunnison, or Grand Junction. From the bus station, you are just a hop, skip, and jump from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A national park vacation by bus is a great way to sit back, enjoy the journey, and not have to worry about the stresses of traffic and navigation.

Getting Around Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The best way to get around Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is by private vehicle. There are scenic drives and the option to drive to the separate rims, so a private vehicle is a must. The National Park Service offers a wide variety of printable and interactive maps on its website to help you in planning your park outings and adventures. 

What To See and Do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There’s no shortage of things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. From incredible hiking trails to phenomenal fishing opportunities, and from stargazing in an incredibly dark sky to scenic drives, there’s something every visitor will enjoy. Let’s explore some of the most popular things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Fishing

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an angler’s paradise. There are streams and rivers that have high numbers of a variety of trout. Some of the fish that can be caught in this national park are rainbow trout and brown trout.

Some of the best fishing areas in the park include Smith Fork, North Fork, and in the Lower Gunnison area. If you love spending a day on the water and reeling in catch after catch, you will not want to miss the fantastic fishing opportunities at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

Hiking Trails

Hiking Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Image Credit: Victoria Stauffenberg via NPS

If you like to hike, you are in for a treat when visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are 7 hikes ranging from under a mile to 7 miles in this national park. There are 4 trails in the South Rim and 3 in the North Rim.

Some of the most popular trails include the Cedar Point Nature Trail, the Oak Flat Trail, and the Rim Rock Nature Trail. Hiking at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the ideal way to admire and catch a glimpse of the canyon as well as the wildlife and plants that call the park home.  

Scenic Drives

There are 3 scenic drives that wind through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The North Rim features North Rim Road, The South Rim offers South Rim Road, and there is also another road called East Portal Road. 

South Rim Road

South Rim Road is a 7-mile road that goes from Tomichi Point to High Point. This road has 12 overlooks along the way. Some of the most popular stops along the way include Painted Wall, Sunset View, Gunnison Point, and Chasm View. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to complete this scenic drive, which includes stopping at the different overlooks. 

North Rim Road

North Rim Road is a gravel road from the east end of the neighboring Crawford State Park. This road offers access to 6 different overlooks. It takes about 2 to 3 hours to drive this road and stop at the highlights. This road is closed during the winter.

East Portal Road

East Portal Road offers a way for visitors to drive to the Gunnison River. This road also leads to the Curecanti National Recreation Area, which is a popular point of interest for tourists who want to picnic, camp, and fish. East Portal Road is exceptionally steep and has many hairpin curves. Be prepared to drive slowly and with extra caution. During winter months, this road is closed.

Bottom Line:

A leisurely drive through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a great way to see the highlights of the park. Visitors enjoy stopping to enjoy breathtaking views and capture remarkable photos.

Stargazing

Stargazing is a popular activity at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This park has incredibly dark skies that are free of light pollution, making it a wonderful place to enjoy celestial objects.

There are stargazing opportunities in many places around the park, but some of the best spots for this activity include the overlooks in the South Rim, such as Sunset View, Chasm View, and Dragon Point. The Milky Way, constellations, and the International Space Station are all some of the incredible sights that can be seen at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

Visitor Center

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Visitor Center
Image Credit: NPS

There is 1 visitor center at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and it is located on the South Rim. This visitor center showcases informative exhibits about the history of the park and is staffed with park rangers who are eager to assist you during your visit. Guests can also watch the park film and shop in the on-site bookstore while at the visitor center.

There are 3 hiking trails that can be accessed near the visitor center as well as a path to Gunnison Point Overlook. A trip to the visitor center is a great way to start a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

Wildlife Watching

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a wonderful place for wildlife enthusiasts to visit. This national park has an abundance of animals that live within its boundaries. Walking or hiking throughout the park is one of the best ways to see the animals who call this place home.

Some of the animals that are often spotted in this park include the yellow-bellied marmot, mule deer, Colorado chipmunks, Great Basin gopher snakes, elk, ringtail cats, and mule deer. Other animals that can be spotted include black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats. For a better view of these incredible creatures, bring binoculars and wear clothes that blend into the surroundings. 

Winter Activities

Winter in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a magical time filled with snowy opportunities for adventure. This national park receives between 8 and 8.5 inches of snow each winter. Throughout the winter, visitors have opportunities to participate in cross-country skiing, snowshoe trekking, and winter ranger programs.

Winter activities are primarily available in the South Rim. Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during the winter is a great way to make incredible memories to last a lifetime. 

Best Times To Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

A visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is exciting and memorable, no matter what time of year you visit. However, if there are specific activities you are hoping to participate in, there may be a better time to plan a visit.

Best Time To Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for Wildlife

If you love to watch wildlife, you are going to love your trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Wildlife is abundant. The best month to visit to see the wildlife that calls this park home is in April. The roads throughout the park open in April, and new life can be found everywhere. 

Best Time To Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park To Avoid the Crowds

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Winter
Image Credit: NPS

A solitary visit to a national park is a dream come true for many visitors. If you want to avoid crowds at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, plan your trip for December. This is when there are the fewest crowds at the park.

The park is also blanketed in snow during December, so be prepared for some roads and attractions to be closed. There are extra perks of arriving in December other than fewer crowds. There are also lower rates for flights and hotels, and winter sports like snowshoeing and skiing are available. 

Best Time To Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for Ideal Weather

The best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for ideal weather is in September. During the month of September, there is a low chance of rain and comfortable temperatures, with highs in the low 80s and lows in the upper 40s. Once school is in session, there are also fewer visitors in the park, which is an added bonus of visiting in September. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Saving money while traveling seems impossible, but it isn’t. If you want to go easy on your wallet, plan to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during the month of December. This is the least busy time at the park. December rates on flights and hotels are typically reduced during this month as well. 

Annual Events in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park hosts activities and events regularly throughout each week, but there are also several events that take place on an annual basis. Check out some of the most popular events at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

Black Canyon Ascent

Black Canyon Ascent takes place each year in May at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This event is a 6-mile run and challenge walk throughout the park. The course starts at 6,500 feet in elevation, and participants climb nearly 2,000 feet to the rim of Black Canyon National Park. Not only is this a thrilling event that will give you a full body workout, but you will also be rewarded with incredible views of the canyon and park. 

Black Canyon Astronomy Festival

The Black Canyon Astronomy Festival is the most popular event that takes place in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This 3-day event is held each September and is an incredible time for astronomy enthusiasts to learn about and view the celestial objects on display in the incredibly dark skies of the park.

The event features guest speakers, activity tables, telescope viewings, and stargazing events each night. Participating in the Black Canyon Astronomy Festival will leave you speechless and in awe of the spectacular performance that happens in the night sky.

National Park Week

Each year in April, every national park in the U.S. celebrates National Park Week. It is an excellent idea to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during this week. All fees are waived when entering the park, and there are extra programs and activities held during this special week.

Where To Stay in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

When planning a vacation, one of the first things to plan is where to stay during your trip. Whether you choose to stay within the park’s boundaries or in one of the nearby towns, you can find exactly what you are looking for when visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Inside the Park

Camping is the ultimate way to discover and appreciate the natural beauty and wonder of this national park. The only option for lodging within the park’s boundaries is to set up camp in the great outdoors. The park has 3 established campgrounds as well as wilderness camping. Take a look at the different camping options at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. 

East Portal Campground

East Portal Campground
Image Credit: NPS

The East Portal Campground is located near the Curecanti National Recreation Area and accessible only from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This campground is at the bottom of the canyon, along the Gunnison River, surrounded by elder trees. Amenities at this campground include food storage lockers, fire rings, vault toilets, and picnic tables. There are 15 sites available at East Portal Campground and these are not reserveable. 

North Rim Campground

The North Rim Campground is in a remote area off North Rim Road. This campground has 13 campsites scattered among juniper and pinyon trees. Tent camping and RVs are permitted in this campground. Amenities at this campground include food storage lockers, fire rings, vault toilets, and potable water seasonally. All North Rim Campground sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

South Rim Campground

The South Rim Campground is a mile from the South Rim Visitor Center. This campground can be reserved online from the middle of May to the middle of September. The rest of the year, the campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis. South Rim Campground has 88 sites for tent campers and RVs. Drinking water is available during the warm months. Other amenities of this campground include picnic tables, food storage lockers, and fire rings. 

Wilderness Camping

If wilderness camping appeals to you, you are in luck when visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are plenty of opportunities for camping on the North Rim and the South Rim at this national park.

If choosing wilderness camping, being prepared is crucial. There are no maintained or marked trails for wilderness camping. The routes are called wilderness routes and involve lots of hiking and scrambling.

Wilderness camping is not for small children and is meant for campers in excellent physical condition. Those who choose this form of camping should be prepared for self-rescue, encounters with wildlife, and the imminent possibility of exposure to poison ivy.

Bottom Line:

Wilderness camping can be an experience of a lifetime, but this type of lodging is definitely not for the faint at heart.

Towns Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

For visitors who prefer to stay near the park, there are gateway towns on each side of the park. Each of these towns is less than 20 miles from the North and South Rim entrances. Let’s explore the towns near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and see which one will work best for your national park vacation. 

Crawford, Colorado

Crawford Colorado
Image Credit: Larry Lamsa via Flickr (license)

Crawford is the closest town to the North Rim. It is just 11 miles from the North Rim area of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This town makes an excellent choice for setting up a home base near the park, as there are plenty of options for lodging, dining, and recreation. There is an abundance of places to stay in Crawford. Quaint bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, lodges, rustic cabins, and budget-friendly motels are just some of the choices for accommodations. 

This town has a variety of family-owned restaurants you will want to try during your stay. There are barbecue joints, pizza parlors, and authentic Mexican restaurants scattered throughout Crawford. No matter what you crave, you will find your hunger solution in this town. 

Crawford is also home to many major attractions. Other than Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, visitors love to visit Needle Rock, Crawford State Park, and the West Elk Wilderness Area. There are amazing local shops around the town and plenty of opportunities for hiking, swimming, biking, and other kinds of water sports. 

One big draw to this town is Crawford Pioneer Days. The town has a parade, live performances, arts, and amazing foods to try to give visitors a glimpse of what life was like in the pioneer days. Visitors come from all around to experience the spirit of the Old West. Crawford is an amazing option for staying near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There is so much to see and do in this lovely town.

Montrose, Colorado

If you are planning to visit the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the closest option for lodging is Montrose. Located 14 miles from the South Rim entrance, this town has bountiful opportunities for accommodations, dining, and recreation. 

There is a wide variety of places to stay, from chain hotels to locally-owned bed and breakfasts and everything in between. Whatever your preference, you will find what you are looking for in Montrose.  

Food enthusiasts are in for a treat — from chain restaurants to locally-owned steakhouses, pizzerias, and cultural restaurants, there’s something for every traveler to enjoy. Outdoor adventure abounds in Montrose with endless opportunities for rock climbing, hiking, rafting, fishing, and mountain biking. The winter brings incredible snowshoeing and skiing adventures.

Bottom Line:

Montrose is the perfect option for visitors who want to set up a home away from home near the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Where To Eat in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There aren’t any restaurants in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but there are plenty of options just a few miles down the road. No matter what you find yourself craving, there’s a perfect hunger solution near this national park. Take a look at some of the top-rated restaurants near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Garlic Mike’s Italian Cuisine

Garlic Mikes Italian Cuisine
Image Credit: Garlic Mike’s Italian Cuisine

Garlic Mike’s Italian Cuisine is located in Montrose, about 8 and a half miles from the South Rim entrance. This restaurant serves Jersy-style Italian cuisine for lunch and dinner right on the Gunnison River. 

The menu features classic Italian favorites like lasagna bolognese, spaghetti and meatballs, eggplant parmigiana, salads, and appetizers. Guests rave about the spinach and pasta en brood soup and the Brodetto di Pesce seafood specialty — there’s something for every palate. 

For a meal you won’t forget, stop by Garlic Mike’s Italian Cuisine during your trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Your tastebuds will thank you. 

High Alpine Brewing Company

High Alpine Brewing Company is located in downtown Gunnison, about 10 miles from the South Rim entrance. This restaurant serves house-made beer and pizza for lunch and dinner daily. 

The extensive menu features creative appetizers, freshly-made salads, artisanal pizzas, and hot sandwiches. Some of the most popular menu items include the beet ‘n goat salad, the mountain brats, and the pig ‘n fig pizza. High Alpine Brewing Company has numerous options for diners with food sensitivities and has several menu items that are customizable for gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. 

When visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, be sure to stop by High Alpine Brewing Company for an incredible meal and a refreshing beer. This is the perfect place to refuel after a long day of exploring the park. 

Ol Miner Steakhouse

Nearly 10 miles from the South Rim entrance is an amazing restaurant called Ol Miner Steakhouse. This casual, family-friendly restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily and is a perfect addition to your national park vacation itinerary.

The menu at Ol Miner Steakhouse features classic American dishes that every customer will love. There are starters, salads, soups, signature steaks, specialty burgers, and seafood dishes to choose from. Some of the most requested meals include the barbecue rib plate, the mountaineer burger, the fish and chips, and the chicken fried steak. 

The restaurant is the perfect place to dine after a day of adventures at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. With a Western atmosphere and phenomenal specialties, you won’t want to miss the excitement and deliciousness of Ol Miner Steakhouse.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Facts

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Rock Faces
Image Credit: Victoria Stauffenberg via NPS

1. A New National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison was first established as a national monument in 1933. In 1999, it was established as a national park by Congress. 

2. Original People of the Land

The original people of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park area were the Ute Indians. This people group explored and lived only along the rims of the canyon as the rest of the area was too rugged and hostile to inhabit. 

3. International Dark Sky Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Park in September 2015. This park provides outstanding opportunities to observe the dark skies. The park has committed to preserving these dark skies and offering educational opportunities for the public. One of the most popular events is the Black Canyon Astronomy Festival which takes place each year in September.

4. What’s in a Name?

John William Gunnison led an expedition into the canyon in 1853. He was the first to lead an expedition in this undiscovered territory. Sadly, he never returned home. This park was named after Gunnison as a tribute to his bravery that paved the way for the discovery of this land. 

5. Tallest Cliff in Colorado

Painted Wall is located in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This is one of the highlight attractions of the park. Painted Wall is the highest cliff in the state of Colorado. It is also taller than many man-made structures. 

6. Sister Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has a sister park located in Serbia. Tara National Park partners with Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in order to help each other preserve their special land. 

7. An Abundance of Animals

There is an impressive variety of wildlife that makes its home in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Over 46 mammal species, 125 kinds of birds, and 12 types of reptiles and amphibians call this park home. Some of the animals that can be spotted in the park include black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, ringtails, river otters, Rocky Mountain bighorn rams, and short-tailed weasels. These animals are frequently spotted on the hiking trails and near the campgrounds. 

8. Least-visited Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the least-visited national park in the state of Colorado. It is also one of the least visited national parks in the U.S. 

9. Historic Cimarron

Cimarron is a historic town located in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park area. This town was first a ranching town and later became a railroad town. Today, the Cimarron area has a visitor center, picnic area, and campground that is maintained by the National Park Service. This historic town gives visitors a glimpse of the past and a great place to fish and boat on the Crystal Reservoir. 

10. Gold Medal Winner

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is designated as a Gold Medal Water and Wild Trout Water. This means that the waters in the park provide amazing opportunities for catching large trout. The areas of the park that have earned this award include Crystal Dam and the North Fork of the Gunnison River. There are over 9,000 miles of streams in Colorado that house trout and 168 miles are Gold River Waters. 

Final Thoughts

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a place that is calling your name. Spectacular landscapes, breathtaking views, and remarkable wildlife are just waiting for you to discover and appreciate. Hiking, climbing, fishing, and camping … this national park has no shortage of excitement. For an experience of a lifetime, book your trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and see what draws in 300,000 visitors each year from around the world. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

A standard entrance pass to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park costs $30 per vehicle. For visitors entering on foot, an entrance pass costs $15. This pass is valid for 7 days.

How many days should I plan to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

It is recommended to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for 1 to 3 days. This length of time will allow visitors to hike some trails, visit the overlooks, and tour each area of the park.

Can I bring my dog with me to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

Dogs are permitted in several places at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park if owners follow the pet regulations. Pets are allowed in picnic areas, parking lots, on paths leading to overlooks, campgrounds, and on roads that are open to vehicles. Some trails are pet friendly, including North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail and the Rim Rock Trail. Pets are to be always leashed and cleaned up after.

What is the weather like at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

The weather varies by season at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The coldest month is in January, with lows dipping to the upper teens. The warmest month is July, when the temperatures reach the 90s. Visitors can expect snowy conditions in the winter months.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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