Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Location: Colorado

Park Tally: 7/59

Orientation: There are two main entrances to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – the South Rim Entrance (15-miles east of Montrose) and the North Rim Entrance (11-miles south of Crawford). The north rim entrance is closed during the winter.

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The Gunnison River is a total of 48-miles long, with 12 of those miles running through the National Park. The park contains the deepest and most dramatic sections of the Black Canyon. Author Duane Vandenbusche perfectly describes the park – “Several canyons of the American West are longer and some are deeper, but none combines the depth, sheerness, narrowness, darkness, and dread of the Black Canyon”.

Most iconic view:  Two of the most well-known viewpoints in the park are Gunnison Point (right by the Visitor Center), and Dragon Point (towards the end of the South Rim drive). Both provide picturesque views of the Black Canyon and Gunnison River.

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Accessible activity:  The 7-mile (one-way) South Rim drive provides ample opportunities to view the magnificent canyon and its cliffs and towers of stone. There are a few short and relatively easy trails that can be accessed along the South Rim drive. The Rim Rock Nature Trail (1-mile roundtrip) boasts sights of the Gunnison River, sheer canyon walls and a variety of plant life. Or check out the popular Cedar Point Nature Trail (0.6-miles roundtrip) for incredible views of the Painted Wall.

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For the adventurous:  Avid hikers can opt to traverse down to the bottom of Black Canyon. There are three trails that lead from the South Rim – Warner Route, Gunnison Route, and Tomichi Route. These hikes are challenging and very strenuous, with rangers recommending all attempting to be experienced. Free wilderness use permits are required for all backcountry and wilderness use (both day and overnight) including hiking the inner canyon on or off trails, rock climbing and river use.

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Best photo opportunities:  The deep canyon and sheer walls provide challenging photographic conditions at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Two interesting locations to take photographs are Painted Wall View and Sunset View.

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Quick facts

  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison was first established as a National Monument on March 2, 1933. It later became a National Park on October 21, 1999.
  • In 2016 the park had 238,018 visitors, an increase of 62,166 visitors since 2013.
  • The lowest elevation in Black Canyon of the Gunnison is 5,440 feet (at the Gunnison River) and the highest elevation is 8,775 feet (at Signal Hill).
  • The canyon is so deep that you could fit the Empire State building into it – not once but twice!
  • Many believe the park received its name due to the color of its rock. Rather, the canyon is so deep and narrow that sunlight only hits the bottom for a short period each day, hence remaining “black” most of the time.
  • The Gunnison River has the fifth steepest mountain descent in North America, dropping an average of 34 feet per mile through the entire canyon.
  • The first official account of the Black Canyon was provided by Captain John Williams Gunnison in 1853. He described the country to be “the roughest, most hilly and most cut up,” he had ever seen.
  • Wildlife in the park include black bear, coyote, pronghorn, muskrat, mountain lion, raccoon, beaver, elk, river otter, bobcat, and mule deer. Bird species include ravens, golden eagles and peregrine falcons.
  • The rocks exposed at the bottom of the canyon are nearly 2 billion years old, dating from the Precambrian, or oldest era of the Earth.