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  • Writer's pictureBrian Childress

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - Colorado

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

(Post and photos by David Miller, Ernie Blankenship, Scott Davis, and Brian Childress)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Parkis an American national park located in western Colorado and managed by the National Park Service. There are two primary entrances to the park: the south rim entrance is located 15 miles east of Montrose, while the north rim entrance is 11 miles south of Crawford and is closed in the winter. The park contains 12 miles of the 48-mile long Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. The national park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, but the canyon continues upstream into Curecanti National Recreation Area and downstream into Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The canyon's name owes itself to the fact that parts of the gorge only receive 33 minutes of sunlight a day, according to Images of America: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. In the book, author Duane Vandenbusche states, "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.

Coversations/Things we learned:

This is another national park you definitely want to go out of your way to visit. The canyon name fits because as our photos reflect, much of the canyon was dark because of the lack of sunlight.

When driving through or hiking in Black Canyon, you have the opportunity to see a lot of different kinds of wildlife: elk, coyotes, bears, magpies, eagles. But by far one of the most elegant and visible animals is the mule deer. Mule deer are amazing animals.

The park has many hiking trails but keep in mind many pass by steep dropoffs, so be cautious and keep a close watch on children. Hikers should be aware that limited cattle grazing is permitted on the North Rim. Please keep cattle gates closed should you encounter them.

Trails on the south rim include:

Rim Rock Nature Trail - Moderate - 2 miles round trip. As its name implies, this self-guided nature trail takes you along a relatively flat path following the rim of the canyon.

Oak Flat Loop Trail - Strenuous - 2 miles round trip. This trail offers variety to the hiker who would like to explore below the rim without taking on the challenge of hiking to the river. Parents should be aware that the trail is narrow in places and traverses some steep slopes.

Upland Trail - Easy - 1 mile each way This connector trail links the Rim Rock Trail (near the campground) to the upper Oak Flat Loop Trail near the South Rim Visitor Center.

Cedar Point Nature Trail - Easy - 2/3 mile round trip. An excellent place for one to brush up on the local flora, this short, sunny, moderately sloped trail offers guideposts describing the various plants along the way. At the end are two overlooks offering breathtaking views of the river over 2,000 feet below. Also visible is the famous Painted Wall, the tallest cliff in Colorado (2,250 ft.), as well as rock islands jutting up from the depths of the canyon.

Warner Point Nature Trail - Moderate - 1.5 miles round trip. You can pick up a trail guide at the High Point Overlook or the South Rim Visitor Center. Along this trail you will find shady benches which allow you to rest among mountain mahogany, serviceberry, pinyon pine, and juniper. Looking south you can see the San Juan Mountain Range, Uncompahgre Valley, and Bostwick Park. To the north look for the West Elk Mountains, and at the end of the trail enjoy the views of the Gunnison River and the Black Canyon.

Trails on the south rim include:

Chasm View Nature Trail - Moderate - 1/3 mile round trip. This trail is located at the end of the one-way campground loop. After a short distance, the trail breaks out of the pinyon/juniper forest at the North Chasm View, some 1800 feet above the river. Continuing near the rim, the trail reaches a second overlook with excellent views of Painted Wall and Serpent Point.

North Vista Trail - Moderate to Exclamation Point - 3 miles round trip Strenuous to Green Mountain - 7 miles round trip.

Deadhorse Trail - Easy to moderate - 5 miles round trip. This trail enters the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness Area offers good views of Deadhorse Gulch and East Portal on the Gunnison River, as well as good birding.

Contact information:

102 Elk Creek

Highway 347, Montrose, CO Gunnison, CO 81230

Phone:(970) 641-2337 x205


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