National Park Units

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: The Route

What is a route you might ask? Well, ask at the Ranger station if there is a hike down to the river. No, they will tell you, there are no maintained trails down to the river. But if you are up to the challenge there is a way down, but they are not exactly your typical hiking trails.

The Route

They refer them as “routes” and the easiest of these strenuous adventures is the Gunnison Route. You start at the sign and go pretty much straight down.

Be prepared to do lots of rock hopping;

go down a steep section only doable because there is an 80 foot chain;

and then navigate a slope of scree. 

Your reward – relaxation in the quiet of the inner canyon alongside the Gunnison River.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

You don’t have to go to the bottom to be awed by the majesty of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. Often called the grand canyon of Colorado, the Gunnison River carves through this 2,722 foot canyon. On average, the river drops 43 feet per mile, making it steeper than the Colorado River as it drops through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Kayakers beware!

Established as national moment in 1933 and re-designated to be a National Park in 19991, Black Canyon of the Gunnison boasts some of the oldest exposed rocks, steepest cliffs and craggiest rock formations in the west. 

The centerpiece of this 47 square mile national park is the canyon but over half of the park is designated wilderness area. It includes 14 miles of the Gunnison River and one of the steepest portions. At Chasm View, the river drops 240 feet in a mile!

The park also boasts the tallest rock wall in the state of Colorado. At 2,250 feet from river to rim, Painted Wall is almost as tall as the Empire State building (1250 feet) and the Eiffel Tower (1063 feet) combined. 

Things to do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Most visitors will go to the South Rim. (You can get to the North Rim, but the last several miles are on dirt road.) The south rim hosts the visitor center and offers a number of fairly short scenic trails. Walk the Rim Rock Nature Trail (2 miles) for great views of the river and the amazing rock formations. 

There is also a nice scenic drive on the south rim with pullouts and small hikes out to observation points. If you like to bicycle, it’s a really nice ride.

You can drive down to the river, but it is steep – 16% grade at it’s steepest.

If your car (and nerves) are up to the steep switchbacks, the East Portal Road offers river access for fishing and picnicking.

There is a really nice campground at the park, walking distance from the visitor center along the rim and quiet. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Colorado’s least visited national park; with about 1/2 the people you would find at Mesa Verde National Park and 2/3rds of the visitors to Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Fun Fact: Why is it called “Black” Canyon? As narrow as 1100 feet across from rim to rim, there are places in the canyon that get as little as 33 minutes of sunlight a day. 

Nearby Attractions

When you visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison, you may also want to visit Curecanti National Recreation Area’s Blue Reservoir. It’s only 36 miles away and is one of the 3 reservoirs along the Gunnison River. Known for salmon and trout fishing, it is a great place for any type of water based recreation. There is also nice hiking and camping available. 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is in southwestern Colorado. If you are planning a trip to Mesa Verde or Great Sand Dunes, or driving across Colorado on the I70, it is well worth a detour.

Need Help Planning Your Visits?

If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.

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