Where is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Deep in the heart of western Colorado lies a rugged expanse of gorges and cliffs carved by the Gunnison River - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The wilderness of Black Canyon is impressive and awe inspiring. The park lies west of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is surrounded by other key parks, including Uncompahgre National Forest, White River National Forest and Rio Grande National Forest. Grand Junction, Colorado is about an hour and a half away. Montrose is just 20 minutes west.
How Big is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park stretches across 47 square miles. The park encompasses dramatic gorges and towering cliffs. Black Canyon itself is 48 miles long. The deepest section of the park is Warner Point at 2,722 feet. The Narrows are the skinniest section of the park, only 40 feet wide at the river. Painted Wall, a natural icon of the park, is the highest cliff in Colorado at 2,250 feet. It’s taller than the Great Pyramids, Eiffel Tower and Willis Tower.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Weather
You’ll quickly notice there is a stark difference in temperature at the park between the rim and river elevations. However, most visitors stay at rim level. The temperature and forecast can be found on the park’s website so you can know what to expect and how to dress before venturing out. The US National Park stays mostly dry year-round, although precipitation is possible. Summer brings the occasional thunderstorm. Winter can bring snow and ice, which can quickly accumulate if temperatures remain cold. May through September is the warmest time of year. Temperatures average around 80 °F, peaking into the 90s during July. In December and January, expect daily temperatures around 38 °F. Spring and fall are cool, with days around 55-66 °F.
When did Black Canyon of the Gunnison become a National Park
Black Canyon started out as a National Monument in 1933. On October 21, 1999, President Bill Clinton signed legislation re-designating the area into a National Park. It’s one of the youngest National Parks in Colorado. In 2017, the park signed a Sister Park Agreement with Serbia’s Tara National Park. They work together to build the best practices and solve issues.
Things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
There’s a lot to take in at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Here’s our National Parks Visitors Guide top ten list of park attractions to help you decide what to do first!
The massive marbled rock that is Painted Wall is as awe inspiring as it is iconic. It is the tallest cliff in the state! Take the trail and get an amazing view easily. Or go the hard route and scale Painted Rock (with a permit).
To reach the Gunnison Point Overlook you make a short trek over a boardwalk along the rim, high above the rushing waters of the Gunnison River. Take in 360° views of Black Canyon. There’s a good chance you will see peregrine falcons and bighorn sheep.
East Portal Road
East Portal Road runs along the raging Gunnison River inside Black Canyon. The winding road leads to the Curecanti National Recreation Area, a popular camping and fishing destination. Vehicles longer than 22 feet are prohibited on East Portal Road. The road is closed in winter.
South Rim Road
South Rim Road is 7 miles long, stretching from Tomichi Point to High Point. The road features 12 overlooks with breathtaking views of the south side. Overlooks include Gunnison Point, Chasm View, and Painted Wall. The drive with several stops will last 2 to 3 hours.
North Rim Road
North Rim Road shows off the north side of Black Canyon and features 6 stunning overlooks. A leisurely tour down the road lasts for about 2 or 3 hours. The road is open throughout the summer, with occasional closures. It is closed during winter.
Inner Canyon Wilderness
The Black Canyon rim and depths are two different worlds. Those that want to experience the wonder of the Wilderness can get a permit to trek through the backcountry and sleep under stars. Permits are free, but only a limited number are handed out daily.
Animals in Black Canyon
Black Canyon is home to an abundant wildlife population. It’s home to the Peregrine Falcon, a bird that is able to swoop down on prey as fast as 200 mph. Other animals in the park include bears, elk, bobcat, otter, bats, salamanders, snakes and more!
Expert rock climbers from around the world come to Black Canyon to scale the cliffs. Most climbing takes place around North and South Chasm Walls. There the canyon is 1,820 feet deep. The Narrows, Warner Point, and Painted Wall are also popular climbing locations.
The Gunnison River inside the park is designated as Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water. It has some of the best Brown and Rainbow Trout fishing in the world. Anglers and fly fishers alike generally have no problem catching large hauls.
There are 7 different day hikes and miles of Wilderness backcountry trail to explore. Most of the trails are rated moderate to strenuous. Use caution when hiking as many trails pass by incredibly steep drop offs. Bears also live in the park, so come prepared.
When to go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers something unique for guests every season. The best time to visit the park is up to you. It depends on what activities you’re interested in. Summer is the most popular season for visitors. It’s an excellent time for hiking, climbing and camping. Spring and fall are less busy. The weather is nice but on the chilly side. The North Rim roads and main South Rim road are closed November to mid-April due to snow and ice. There are still plenty of trails and places to climb in the park. Winter is a time of tranquility. The crowds are gone and many trails are wide open. The park offers ample opportunities for skiing and snowshoeing.
Must-Have things to bring to Black Canyon of the Gunnison
A trip to Black Canyon is best when you’re prepared. You should bring the proper gear so you can make the most of your trip. Here’s List of Parks quick must-have list:
There are only a few places to get potable water at Black Canyon. If you want to adventure out on the trails, you’ll need to bring your own water, preferably in refillable bottles. You can also bring a hydration filtration device for in the Wilderness.
There are no places to buy food at the park. If you plan on spending the day or longer at the park you’ll need to supply yourself. Bring a cooler for foods that will spoil. Snacks like trail mix and jerky are great for hiking.
The Black Canyon is a rough place, especially out in the Wilderness. Don’t get caught without a map. Be sure you have a physical copy, not just a one on your phone or GPS. Print ahead of time or pick up at the Visitor Center.
The rocky and rugged terrain of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is harsh on feet. Cuts and sprains can easily happen without the proper footgear. Bring sturdy hiking boots. If you don’t have any, invest in some and break them in fully before your trip.
While rainstorms don’t frequent the park, they are not uncommon. Bring a good rain jacket with you. You want something that is waterproof rather than just resistant and is highly transportable. Keeping dry is key to staying warm and avoiding hypothermia, especially at higher elevations.
The sun is bright, especially on the Rims. You’ll want protection from the powerful rays. Firstly, always wear sunscreen, even on overcast days. Opt for SPF 35+. Reapply sunscreen often, especially if you get in the water. You should also wear sunglasses and a hat.
The best way to prepare for the weather at Black Canyon is to bring some layers, especially in the spring and fall; like a light jacket, sweatpants and extra socks. In the winter time, you’ll need light and heavy layers to adventure in the snow.
The Black Canyon gets extremely dark at night. It is one of the best places in the country for stargazing. Rather than tripping and stumbling around camp at night, bring a flashlight or a headlamp. Some back up batteries are always a good idea too.
The best way to spot peregrine falcons diving in the canyon is with binoculars. They will also help you spot climbers on the cliffs and other animals from a safe distance. If you plan on bringing them hiking, invest in a lightweight but powerful pair.
While bugs aren’t a huge problem at the park, you’ll still want to come protected against ticks and mosquitoes, especially if you plan on spending time by the river or in the wilderness. If you don’t like spray there are other repellents on the market.
Where to stay in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
There are two beautiful campgrounds at the park, one on each Rim. There is also a campground by the river in Black Canyon. Those looking for a more rugged experience can do some backcountry camping within the inner canyon Wilderness. However, you will need a permit. Unfortunately, there are no lodges at the park. However, visitors can find lodges, cabins, hotels and other places to stay in the nearby towns surrounding the park, like Gunnison.
Food Nearby Black Canyon
There are no restaurants or eateries inside Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. However, there are ample options in the nearby towns of Montrose or Gunnison, Colorado. Most people that plan on spending the day or longer at the park bring their own food. Non-perishable items like trail mix and granola bars are great for out on the trail.
Airports near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The closest airport to Black Canyon is Montrose Regional Airport. It is only 15 miles from the South Entrance. Grand Junction Regional Airport is the next closest option. It is about 80 miles from the park. The closest major airport is Denver International Airport, which is 280 miles from Black Canyon. All of these airports also feature car rental agencies.