7 Things To Do in Black Canyon of The Gunnison (Camping, Hiking + Map)

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Last Updated on August 21, 2022

If you’re driving on Highway 50 and heading to either Montrose or Gunnison in Colorado, you’ll pass the entrance to one of the Nation’s least visited and lesser known National Parks, Black Canyon of The Gunnison. Whether you have only a few hours, one day, or looking to go camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison for a weekend, one thing is for sure, fantastic views await you. From scenic drives to hiking and overlooks, there is easily a full day of things to do in Black Canyon of The Gunnison.

Covering a total area of 30,385 acres, Black Canyon of The Gunnison was made a national park on October 21, 1999. While you may think Black Canyon of the Gunnison is named for the color of its rocks, you’d be incorrect. The canyon actually got its name due to the fact it is so deep and narrow that sunlight only hits the bottom for a very short period, hence it being “black”.

Alright, let’s get to it! A full planning guide to get you prepped for your visit to Black Canyon of The Gunnison is just below!

Planning Tips For Your Visit To Black Canyon of The Gunnison

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Where is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of four national parks located in Colorado, is located in southwestern Colorado. Depending on which side of the rim you want to explore, the closest town to Black Canyon of The Gunnison varies. If you’re looking to explore the South Rim (the more developed side), then the closest town is Montrose, some 20 minutes away.

However, if you’re looking to head to the more remote and secluded North Rim, then Crawford would be the closest town to the North Rim, some 11 miles away. If you’re not familiar with where Crawford is, it’s about 1.5 hours from Gunnison and 1 hour from Montrose.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison North or South Rim?

First, understand that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is broken up into three sections:

  1. The South Rim
  2. East Portal
  3. The North Rim

The South Rim and East Portal are near each other (same side) and both can easily be explored in the same day. If you are looking to explore all three sections of the park, you’ll need a minimum of 2 days, at the North Rim entrance and South Rim Entrance are 2.5 hours drive away from each other. Yup, no bridge connects either side, you’ll need to drive all the way around.

So, what’s the difference between the two rims?

  • South Rim: More popular. More developed. More facilities like a visitor center.
  • North Rim: While only 1,000 feet across the Canyon, it is a night and day difference from the South Rim. Fewer people, more remote and rugged, and different views of the Canyon as you would see on the South Rim.

Both sides have a road you can drive on (North Rim is gravel / South Rim is paved) and plenty of overlooks for you to gaze from. Each side offer hikes and excellent star gazing. At the end of the day, selecting one over the other comes down to personal preference. Whichever you choose, you won’t fall short on amazing Canyon views!

Gunnison River and pulpit rock overlook

How To Get To Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park (North & South)

Airports:

If you’re not doing a Colorado road trip, you’ll need an airport to fly into, won’t you? The closest airport to Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Montrose Regional Airport. If you are looking for a larger airport to fly into, Denver Airport, while not close, is about 5-5.5 hours away from the South Rim & North Rim entrance of Black Canyon of The Gunnison.

From either airport, you’ll need to rent a car to get yourself not only the rest of the way to Black Canyon of the Gunnison but around the National Park too.

Driving:

Black Canyon’s South Rim is about 14 miles from Montrose and 63 miles from Gunnison, the two closest large towns. From highway 50, travel 7 miles north on CO Highway 347 to the entrance of the Park.

The North Rim is around 11 miles southwest of Crawford. You’ll take Highway 92 and head west on Black Canyon Road until you’ll arrive at the park entrance. Just follow the signs 🙂

If you are already in Colorado and want to know the distance from popular nearby places, check out the miles just below…

  • Denver – South Rim: 250 miles, 5 hours | North Rim: 253 miles, 5 hours
  • Colorado Springs – South Rim: 228 miles, 4.5 hours | North Rim: 242 miles, 5 hours
  • Crested Butte – South Rim: 90 miles, 2 hours | North Rim: 103 miles, 2.15 hours
  • Telluride – South Rim: 77 miles, 2.75 hours | North Rim: 129 miles, 2.75 hours
  • Ouray – South Rim: 48 miles, 1 hour | North Rim: 99 miles, 2 hours
  • Durango – South Rim: 118m miles, 2.5 hours | North Rim: 170 miles, 4 hours
  • Great Sand Dunes NP – South Rim: 215 miles, 4 hours | North Rim: 228 miles, 4.5 hours

TIP: If you type in “Black Canyon of The Gunnison” into your GPS, you’ll automatically be taken to the South Rim. For those wanting to visit the North Rim, use 7295 Black Canyon Road, Crawford as the GPS address.

jesse looking out at cedar point overlook

How Many Days in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison?

If you are just passing through the area and want to stop at Black Canyon of The Gunnison to drive the South Rim Road, you could spend as little as a few hours in the park and see some amazing views. However, if you’re wanting to do a few hikes, drive the South Rim Road, check out some overlooks, and drive down East Portal Road, then you’ll need one full day.

If you are wanting to see it all, South Rim, East Portal Drive, and North Rim, you’ll need no less than two days. Plus, if you say the night, you’ll see some amazing skies and Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Dark Skies certified!

When to Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Because Colorado can get loads of snow, late spring to early fall is the best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Think May to late September or early October.

While summer is considered its peak month in terms of visitors, you wouldn’t know it. We visited the park in August and had no problems whatsoever finding parking spots and enjoying overlooks to ourselves. Given the park ranks among the least visited National Parks in the United States, mass crowds won’t be a problem.

Once mid-November hits, park roads close until mid-April and are only open to winter activities like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing

gunnison overlook

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Camping + Where To Stay

Unlike other National Parks in the United States, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, outside of campgrounds, has no hotel or lodging options inside the park. If you are looking for nearby hotels, Montrose is your closest option.

Montrose Hotels: Blue Bungalow | Double G Ranch | Hampton Inn | Holiday Inn

For more Montrose accommodations, check out the latest pricing and availability here.

Camping:

If you are wanting to stay within Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park, you’ll need to plan to make campsite reservations at one of the following campgrounds.

Things To Do in Black Canyon of The Gunnison South Rim

1. Stop By The Black Canyon of the Gunnison Visitor Center

Who doesn’t love a good visitor center? We sure do. Just passed the first overlook, Tomichi, you’ll find the Visitor Center. Plan to fill up your reusable water at their potable water fill station, use the restroom, shop for a souvenir or two, and learn all about the Black Canyon’s history, wildlife, and geological features.

Plus, there are Park Rangers inside that can answer any questions you have. What’s nice is located on the back side of the Visitor Center is the trailhead to Oak Flat Trail and access to Gunnison Point overlook.

2. Drive The Black Canyon of The Gunnison South Rim Road & Check Out The Overlooks

The South Rim Drive is a beautiful drive that takes you along the perimeter of the South Rim of the Black Canyon. The Rim Drive is 7 miles (one way) from Tomichi Point (first overlook) to High Point (last overlook).

The South Rim drive in total will take you past all 12 overlooks on the South Rim. Outside of Warner Point, all overlooks are reached by walking a short trail to the canyon rim. Each overlook shows you the same Canyon but at different viewpoints and angles so if you have the time, seeing each is all well worth a quick stop.

That being said, our favorite overlooks were Gunnison Point, Cedar Point, Pulpit Point, Chasm View, and Painted Wall.

South Rim Overlooks:

  1. Tomichi Point
  2. Gunnison Point
  3. Pulpit Rock Overlook
  4. Big Island
  5. Devils Lookout
  6. Chasm View
  7. Painted Wall View
  8. Cedar Point
  9. Dragon Point
  10. Sunset View
  11. Warner Point
  12. High Point

Note: Park Roads are open from April to Mid-November and close to vehicles for the remainder of the year due to weather. While cars are prohibited snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are permitted on Park Roads during snowy months.

3. Be Sure to Experience Black Canyon of the Gunnison at Night

Certified as an International Dark Sky Park in September 2015, if you want to see the milky way and thousands of stars in the sky, make sure you stay one night near or within Black Canyon of The Gunnison. We’re told it’s absolutely phenomenal!

Since the park does not close, you’re allowed into the part at night for sky viewing. Overlooks that are far from the road are the best places to look at the stars. Overlooks like Chasm View, Dragon Point, Cedar Point, and Sunset View are good options to consider.

4. Enjoy A Few Black Canyon of the Gunnison Hikes (Rim & Inner Canyon)

One of the great things about Black Canyon of the Gunnison is you don’t have to walk far to see amazing views of the canyon and its Rim’s. The walks to the overlooks are relatively flat and easy, making them enjoyable for most abilities.

If you are wanting to take it up a notch, or just spend more time walking the Rim, a Black Canyon hike is for you! Below we have the hiking trails in Black Canyon that are available on the South Rim. If you’re looking for North Rim hikes, keep reading! They’re just below.

South Rim Hikes:

  • Warner Point Trail: 1.5 miles | out and back trail | rated as easy
  • Oak Flat Loop Trail: 1.3 miles | loop trail | rated as moderate
  • Rim Rock Nature Trail: 1.5 miles | out and back trail | rated as moderate

Inner Canyon Hikes

Please note, that the below routes require Wilderness permits in order to hike these routes. The trails listed below should only be tackled by experienced hikers as hikers are expected to find their own way and be prepared for self-rescue.

  • Devils Backbone: 1.3 miles | out and back | rated as strenuous
  • Warner Route: 2.75 miles | out and back | rated as strenuous
  • Tomichi Route: 1 mile | out and back | rated as strenuous
  • Gunnison Route: 1.5 miles | out and back | rated as strenuous
Cedar Point Trail to Overlook

5. Take a Boat Ride On the Gunnison River

Run by the National Park Service, join a park ranger for a 1.5-hour boat tour on the Morrow Point Reservoir. The boat tour will take you to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and along the way, you’ll learn about the geology, wildlife, early inhabitants, and more.

Boat Tours run at 10 am and 1 pm every day, except Tuesday, from June to mid-September, and cost $25 for adults and $13 for children 12 and under. You can make reservations at Recreation.gov.

Note: Be sure to check if this service is available. The boat rides are only offered when water levels are at appropriate levels. If the water levels are low, these boat trips will not be offered.

6. Drive Down East Portal Road

If you are wanting to get to the inner part of the canyon, without hiking down, driving East Portal Road to the Gunnison River is something you need to put on your list of things to do. However, due to the steep grades (up to 16%) and hairpin curves that wind you to the Canyon below, vehicles over 22 feet {including RVs and trailers} are not permitted on this road.

Once at the bottom, the road ends at the Gunnison river where you can go camping, have a picnic, and do a little fishing.

Note: The East Portal Road, like the Park Roads, is only open from April to Mid-November due to inclement weather.

7. Go Fishing

For all you anglers, make sure to bring your poles! The Gunnison River within the Black Canyon is one fantastic place to go trout fishing. So much so that it is designated as Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water. 

When planning to fish here understand that you can only artificial flies or lures only (no bait), all rainbow trout are catch and release, brown trout you can keep, and a Colorado fishing license is required.

Have More Time Than One Day? Explore The North Rim of The Black Canyon

For us, we only spent one day in Black Canyon of The Gunnison, so we didn’t get a chance to make it over to the North Rim. But, if you have the time, you definitely should! If you have more than a few hours or one day to spend in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, add the North Rim to your list! Below is a list of things to do on the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Things To Do On The North Rim of Black Canyon of The Gunnison

  1. Drive the North Rim Road
  2. Check out the Viewpoints
    • The Narrows
    • Balanced Rock
    • Big Island
    • Island Peaks View
    • Kneeling Camel View
  3. Hike North Vista View Trail to Exclamation Point
  4. Hike the Chasm View Nature Trail and Deadhorse Trail
  5. Take a hike into the Canyon via the S.O.B Draw, Long Draw, or Slide Draw Trails

Things To Do In Black Canyon Of The Gunnison Map

Note: Purple icons are overlooks/things to do on the South Rim. Blue icons are overlooks/things to do on the North Rim. Red icons indicate hiking trailheads.

What To Bring With You To Black Canyon Of The Gunnison?

  • Snacks: There are no restaurants in the park so be sure to pack any food or snacks you may need. Bringing a cooler along is also a great idea!
  • Comfortable Footwear: Comfortable sandals like Choco’s or Teva’s are great options, especially for summer! If you’re going on any trails, tennis shoes with tread are a must or opt for a good pair of hiking boots.
  • Sunscreen: The sun is no joke. If you can, go the eco-friendly route to protect not only your skin but the beautiful places you’re visiting from sunscreen chemicals.
  • Binoculars: A clutch item that comes in handy for wildlife and canyon views.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Please avoid plastic bottles. Go the reusable route and fill up along the way.
  • First Aid Kit: You never know when you’ll need one. There is nothing more than a time suck to try and hunt down a bandaid or some headache medicine.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison with Dogs

While National Parks tend to not be dog friendly, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, while having its limitations, is a really wonderful park to bring your dog to! Outside of being able to go on certain hiking trails and into the Visitor Center, our pup Huey was able to tag along with us to all the overlooks, which was really nice!

Your dog is allowed on:

  • Cedar Point Nature Trail
  • North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail
  • Rim Rock Trail
  • Overlooks
  • Campgrounds

If you opt to bring your dog, they will need to be on a 6ft leash at all times. Also, please pick up after your pup and bring a portable doggie bowl with you for water! PLEASE DO NOT leave your pet in your car or camper. Temperatures rise drastically leaving your dog to quickly overheat and die, even with the windows cracked.

Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison worth it?

In our opinion, absolutely! While nowhere near comparable to the size and grandeur of the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is still a spectacular National Park to visit. With the park seeing far fewer crowds, it’s a wonderful and carefree place to just enjoy the outdoors and not have to shoulder your through people to get to see overlooks and vista views.

Our only tip, if you’re visiting Colorado, don’t make this your soul trip. It’s a perfect stop on a road trip or on your way to/from Telluride, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Crested Butte, or wherever your southwestern Colorado trip takes you.

Beautiful views at Black Canyon

Black Canyon of The Gunnison Facts + Important Planning Information

  • Entry Fee: Vehicle $30 | Motorcycle $25 | Bicycle $15
  • Hours & Days of Operation: 365 days a year, but roads are closed in the winter to cars
  • Restaurants & Gas Stations: There are none, so be sure to fill up on food and fuel before entering
  • WIFI/Phone REception: It’s intermittent, so download any maps, music, etc before entering
  • How Deep is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison: At the deepest section, 2,722 feet (829 m)
  • Length Of The Canyon: 14 miles (22.5 km) within the National Park, 48 miles total
  • How Was Black Canyon of the Gunnison Formed: Volcano eruptions and erosion from rivers

WANT MORE INFORMATION?

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For more travel tips, guides, and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our site, follow us on Instagram @wanderingstusPinterest, and Facebook. Oh and if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer. Or, just leave us a positive note!

Happy Travels,

– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Wandering Stü’s)

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