Do you love national parks, but get tired of the crowds? Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a spectacular uncrowded gem that we visited this summer.
We passed through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on a road trip through Colorado on Highway 50. We visited on a weekday morning in the summer. There were a few other visitors, but we had most of the view points all to ourselves.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is deep, steep and narrow. The views from the top are pretty impressive and this small park is worthwhile even if you only have a short time to visit. We had to drive all the way through Colorado into Kansas that day, so we just took a couple of hours in the morning to visit the park. We were able to drive the entire road through the park and stop at several view points and the visitor center.
Here are my tips for making the most of your visit – whether long or short – to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
South Rim vs. North Rim
We visited the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The entrance is just off of Highway 50 and it has the park's visitor center, a campground and picnic areas. It is somewhat more developed than the North Rim, which has a campground and ranger station. The South Rim was not at all crowded, so I imagine that you'd have the North Rim pretty much to yourself. The drive from the South Rim to the North Rim is about two hours.
You can drive down to the Gunnison River from the South Rim Entrance Station. The drive will take you out of the national park and into the Curecanti National Recreation Area. We drove through parts of this recreation area along Highway 50 and it's beautiful. It looks like a fun place for boating, rafting and other water sports.
The best way to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison is to drive your own car and stop at view points along the way. There are about 10 view points along the South Rim. We took the advice of the park newspaper and stopped at a few of the recommended highlights.
There are few hiking trails in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park because the canyon is too steep. We enjoyed the short trail behind the visitor center. Some view points have short walks from the parking area to the cliff edge. These were not difficult walks and we thought they were worthwhile.
There is a two-mile walk to Warner Point at the end of the road, but we didn't have time for it. I'd like to try it another time.
We visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the morning, a few hours after sunrise, and found it difficult to take good pictures – or even fully appreciate the view – at the east-facing view points. The sun was shining brightly in our faces. Farther down the road, we found more views that faced west and I was able to do a little better with my limited photography skills.
Visit both in the morning and at sunset to get photos the canyon, if you have the time. Your admission is good for a full seven days, so you can come and go as often as you'd like.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an International Dark Sky Park, which means that it is a great place to see the Milky Way and constellations on a clear night. Light pollution makes that difficult in most cities and many rural national parks now protect the night skies as well as earthly natural wonders.
We stayed the night before in nearby Montrose, Colorado and I wished I had realized sooner that Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a good star gazing destination. We might have driven over in the evening after we checked in to our hotel.
Where to Stay
We stayed in Montrose, Colorado, which is about 15 miles from the park entrance. Montrose has a good selection of local hotels and national chains. We chose the Red Arrow Inn, which offers family-sized suites, an outdoor pool, a big lawn and complimentary hot breakfast for a moderate price. Our kids thought the small pool was too cold – even in July. Otherwise, we were satisfied with our stay at the Red Arrow Inn.
Want to check rates and availability at the Red Arrow Inn and other Montrose hotels? Click the button to see it now on TripAdvisor.
Good to Know
Where: The South Rim entrance is just off of Highway 50 in Colorado, about 15 miles from Montrose. The North Rim entrance is near Crawford, Colorado.
When: The park is open year-round, but some roads will be closed in the winter. The elevation is high and winter storms are common in the off-season. Temperatures were warm, but pleasant in the summer.
How much: The entrance fee was $15 per vehicle at the time of our visit. Check the park's website for current pricing. Admission is good for seven days. We got in free with my son's Every Kid in a Park Pass. Learn more about that in my post 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees.
How Long: 2+ hours
Amenities: Visitor center, gift shop, restrooms, camping, picnic areas. Most of the restrooms do not have modern plumbing, but they were fairly clean and had sanitizer pumps. There is no fuel or food sold inside the park.