Love national parks? Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado is a spectacular uncrowded gem.
We passed through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on a family 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 viewpoints 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 viewpoints and the visitor center.
Here are my tips for making the most of your visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
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 a 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.
Click the button below to see current rates and reviews for the Red Arrow Inn and other Montrose hotels on TripAdvisor.com.
Camping is available inside the park on both the South and North Rims.
When to Go
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. In the summer, temperatures were warm but pleasant.
The entrance fee for Black Canyon of the Gunnison is currently $30 for a private vehicle for 7 days.
We got in free with my son's Every Kid Outdoors pass. This free national parks pass is available to every 4th grader in the United States. Learn more ways to save on national park fees – including annual pass options – in this popular post: 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees
- Tips for Visiting Mesa Verde National Park
- Tips for Visiting Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Where to Eat
There are no restaurants or convenience stores inside Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Pack a picnic, snacks, and drinks for your day in the park.
Restaurants, fuel, and other services are available in the towns of Montrose and Gunnison – both 15+ miles from the park.
Mobile phone service is spotty or non-existent inside Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There is no Wifi inside the park.
South Rim vs. North Rim
We visited the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The entrance is just off 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 the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is to drive your own car and stop at viewpoints along the way. There are about 10 viewpoints along the South Rim. We took the advice of the park newspaper and stopped at a few of the recommended highlights.
There are not many 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 viewpoints 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 viewpoints. The sun was shining brightly on our faces. Farther down the road, we found more views that faced west and I was able to get better photos.
Visit both in the morning and at sunset to get photos of 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. Many rural national parks now protect the night skies as well as earthly natural wonders.
Check the park's official website to learn about astronomy festivals and other stargazing opportunities.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison was impressive, and it's definitely worth a stop if you are traveling on Highway 50 through Colorado.
You can hit the highlights of this park in as little as 1-2 hours, or stay longer and dig deep. It's uncrowded and low-stress. Stay in Montrose or Gunnison nearby.
We had a great time at this national park and hope that your family will too.