The state of Colorado is home to four National Parks, with Black Canyon of the Gunnison being one of the least visited. Once you arrive here you'll wonder why, as the park is full of dramatic cliffs, "painted" rock, and stellar mountain views. The park itself is located in western Colorado and is home to 30,000 acres of pure wilderness bliss with something for every outdoor enthusiast. If you've never spent much time in the wilderness but you're ready to make the leap, this park is the perfect introduction to the great outdoors. The best the park has to offer can all be marked off of your bucket list in just one or two days. You really can't go wrong with any of the trails here!
When to Visit
Summer is the most popular time for any National Park, but especially here due to its geographical location. Elevation within the park ranges from 5,440 - 8,775 feet, meaning ever-changing weather conditions thanks to the surrounding cliffs and mountains. The summers are typically warm with a high possibility of afternoon thunderstorms, with mild spring and fall seasons, and harsh, snowy winters.
Note that the North Rim Road, ranger station, as well as the main road on the South Rim are closed from November until Mid-April. If you plan to visit in the winter months, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski on the closed roads for a unique experience of the park that few people have ever done.
7-Day Permit by Car, $20.00
America the Beautiful Annual Pass, $80.00 Unlimited admission to America’s National Parks, valid for 12 months from the date of purchase. Rule of thumb: if you know you will visit three National Parks (or one NP three times) this year, just buy the annual pass to save some dough.
2019 Fee-Free Days, FREE Mark your calendars, because Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park participates in fee-free days throughout the year. Fair warning: expect heavy traffic! April 20 - First Day of National Park Week August 25 - NPS Anniversary September 28 - National Public Lands Day November 11 - Veterans Day
What to Pack
If you’ve never adventured outside, don’t fret. Click here for a complete list of necessary gear for an outdoor adventure. In addition to the items on that list, here are a few other suggested items to bring along on your trip:
- Camera. Make sure to bring a spare battery or a charging case for your mobile devices if that will be your primary source for photographs.
- Binoculars. This one isn’t a necessity, but if you happen to have a pair lying around then you should definitely pack it. The canyon boasts dramatic cliffs that stand 2,000 - 2,250 feet above the Colorado River, so binoculars make for an easier view of the river below.
Local Outdoor Retailers
10 S. Selig Avenue Montrose, CO 81401
2201 S. Townsend Avenue Unit-A Montrose, CO 81401
2151 S. Townsend Avenue Montrose, CO 81401
15 miles from park entrance
Airlines: Allegiant, American, Delta, United
Car Rentals: Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz, National/Alamo, Payless, Thrifty
62 miles from park entrance
Airlines: American, United
Car Rentals: Avis, Budget, Hertz
65 miles from park entrance
Airlines: American, Delta, United
Car Rentals, In Terminal: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Go Rentals, Hertz, National
Car Rentals, Off Terminal: Enterprise
80 miles from park entrance
Airlines: American, Delta, United
Car Rentals: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National
288 miles from park entrance
Airlines: Aeromexico, Air Canada, Alaska, Allegiant, American, Boutique, British Airways, Cayman Airways, Copa, Delta, Denver Air Connection, Edelweiss, Frontier, Icelandair, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Norwegian, Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country, United, Volaris, WestJet
Car Rentals: NOTE that all rental car companies are off-site at DEN. To catch the free shuttle to your rental car service desk, go to Level 5, Island 4. Advantage, Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, E-Z, Enterprise, Fox, Hertz, National, Payless, Thrifty
Have you downloaded the ID90 Travel app to save at least 20% on your hotel bookings? If this is your first time booking a hotel through the app, you can save an additional $10 off your first booking by signing up through that link. You like free money, right? Here are six hotels that are closest to the park and offer an ID90 Travel discount:
- Hampton Inn
- Stay Wise Inns
- Quality Inn & Suites
- Days Inn
- Holiday Inn Express
- Super 8
Camping in the Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is home to two campsites, South Rim and North Rim, with additional camping available adjacent to the park in East Portal.
South Rim: Loop A - $16.00 per night + $3 if reserved online Loop B - $22.00 per night + $3 if reserved online Loop C - $16.00 pr night. First come, first serve. Click here to reserve a campsite online.
North Rim: $16.00 per night. First come, first serve.
East Portal: $16.00 per night. First come, first serve.
Outdoor junkies, rejoice! From fishing and kayaking to climbing and hiking, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is sure to make your heart race with a newfound love of adventure. The sheer size and magnitude of this park will stop you in your tracks before you ever leave your vehicle, so just imagine the possibilities once your feet hit the ground running.
Hiking in North Rim
Chasm View Nature Trail. 1/3 mile roundtrip For big views with little effort, this is the trail to follow. You'll get close to the rim of the cliffs with a stellar view of Painted Wall, the highest point in the park and steepest cliff in Colorado.
North Vista Trail, To Exclamation Point 3 miles roundtrip
This trail has an incredible view that will leave you breathless. I recommend hiking in at sunset to watch the sunlight transform the canyon as it sets.
North Vista Trail, To Green Mountain 7 miles roundtrip
Follow this trail for panoramic views of the five surrounding mountain ranges and a bird's eye view of the canyon. This trail will be strenuous, so come prepared if you intend to complete the seven mile journey.
Dead horse Trail, 5 miles roundtrip
Calling all bird enthusiasts, this is the spot to take in the many varieties of birds that live in the area. If you're not into birds, don't worry, you can also catch killer views of Deadhorse Gulch and East Portal.
Hiking in South Rim
Rim Rock Nature Trail, 1 mile roundtrip
This trail is mostly flat and offers encounters with a variety of vegetation and views of the Gunnison River.
Oak Flat Loop Trail, 2 miles roundtrip This is a moderate hike below the rim of the canyon that does not require a permit. Be aware of your physical condition and outdoor experience before attempting this trail, as there are many narrow and steep slopes that can be dangerous.
Cedar Point Nature Trail, 2/3 mile roundtrip This is a wonderful trail with beautiful views of Painted Wall and the Gunnison River.
Warner Point Nature Trail, 1.5 miles roundtrip Pick up a trail guide at the High Point Overlook or the South Rim Visitor Center, or download it here before your trip. Along the trail are markers that coincide with points in the guide to give you a glimpse into the history of the area and information about the various trees and plants that grow here.
Hiking the Inner Canyon
Let's be real, here. You should only attempt this hike if you are an expert outdoorsman/woman. The trail is not marked or maintained and hikers are expected to self-rescue if necessary. A permit is required and available on a first-come-first-serve basis, which can be obtained here.
The Gunnison River has been named a Gold Medal Water and Wild Trout Water area thanks to the populous trout in the water. Note that all fishing in these areas is catch and release. For additional information about regulations, fish species, and fishing locations, visit the NPS website.
You can also book guided fishing tours with a local tour group. Montrose Anglers comes highly recommended and highly rated for their unique tours and extensive knowledge of fishing in and around Montrose. You can also rent fishing gear from this outfitter if you prefer to blaze the water on your own. If you're looking for an unrivaled experience, check out Rigs Fly Shop and Guide Service for booking a three day "float and fish" guided trip in the Gunnison Gorge, known as the best fishing trip in the whole state of Colorado.
Kayaking and White Water Rafting
The Gunnison River hosts some wild water for the more experienced kayakers and rafters, with rapids ranging from Class II to Class V throughout the runs. Expect chilly water temperatures that linger in the 50 degree Fahrenheit range year round. Local guide and tour companies offer a variety of trips for every skill level. Gunnison River Expeditions has something for every budget and skill level, from half-day trips to two-day excursions. Wilderness Aware Rafting lets you search for a rafting trip that's meets the duration of your trip and your skill level. If you have the experience and equipment to do so, you can opt to kayak on your own. Just make sure to pick up a wilderness permit for the water before you take on the rapids.
Skip on by this recommended activity if you're a beginner-level climber. Climbing in Black Canyon of the Gunnison is for experienced climbers only. Within the park are 145 climbing routes to get your adrenaline pumping, with routes ranging from 5.8 - 5.13, all of which are multi-pitch. Climbing requires a permit, which can be obtained at the South Rim Visitor Center or the North Rim Ranger Station. During the off-season, you can self-register at those locations. Definitely speak with a Ranger to get a look at route information that is available at the time of your trip.
Have you been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? We want to know! Drop a comment below to share about your experience!