Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
What to See and Do and Where to Stay When Visiting
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:
Get critical information, insider tips, and pictures, as well as ideas for where to stay when visiting this national park located in Western Colorado.
Details and Background
Address: 102 Elk Creek, Gunnison, CO 81230 Phone: 970-641-2337 Date established as a national park: October 21, 1999 Size: 30,385 acres
Visit the Official Park Service Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park site for park (which includes information such as entrance fees).
Special advisories: Permits required for all inner canyon routes; available at visitor center and North Rim Ranger Station.
10 interesting facts about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- The park contains one of the most dramatic canyons in the country, with sheer walls of gray stone rising more then 2,700 feet above the swift and turbulent Gunnison River, which took two million years to carve out the canyon. [NG]
- The canyon's rim is 8,000 feet above sea level. [NG]
- Since at least the beginning of the 20th century, people have tried to explore and tame the Gunnison River, including building dams and a tunnel.
- The canyon is deeper (half a mile) than it is wide in some place and so narrow that sunlight penetrates to the bottom only at midday. [NG] [KB]
- The metamorphic rocks exposed at the bottom of the canyon are nearly two billion years old, dating from the oldest era of the Earth. It is some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth. [NG] [NPS]
- The canyons walls are schist and gneiss. [NPF]
- The canyon and its rims are home to black bear, mule deer, golden eagles, and peregrine falcon. [NPF]
- Douglas firs, cottonwoods, and box elders grow in the canyon. [NG]
- No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. [NPS]
- The park's Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado. From river to rim it stands 2250 feet (685 meters), and is 1000 feet (304 meters) taller than the Empire State Building. [NPS]
10 tips for getting the most out of a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Summer (especially July and August) is the most popular time but can be very hot for hiking. Wildflowers peak mid-May to mid-June. Fall foliage peaks in late September. December and January are least crowded, but snow closes vehicle access to the North Rim. [NPF] [NG]
- Spend a day driving the 7-mile (each way) South Rim and exploring its 5+ miles of trails; then take a walk to the canyon floor. [NG]
- Extra time can be allotted to the 5-mile unpaved drive of the North Rim. [NG]
- Other activities include camping, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, kayaking (expert only), picknicking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, and wildlife viewing.
- The park holds ranger-guided and evening programs in the summer.
- Weather can vary greatly between the canyon rim and canyon floor. Summer daytime temperatures range between 60 to 100F (15 to 38C), nights 30 to 50F (-1 to 10C) Winter daytime temperatures range between 20 to 40F (-6 to 4C), nights -10 to 20F (-23 to -6C) Precipitation is minimal; brief afternoon thunderstorms occur during the summer. [NPS]
- The National Park Service suggests stopping at the South Rim Visitor Center for additional information, exhibits, introductory film, publications and Junior Ranger program for kids.
- Plan ahead since no food, lodging, gasoline or similar services are available at either rim. Full services are available in nearby communities. Water is available mid-May through mid-October. [NPS]
- The Black Canyon is known for crumbling rock, dizzying heights, and a lack of places to place protective equipment. Rock climbing is a challenge limited to highly experienced, expert climbers only. [NPS]
- The South Rim has more services, facilities and overlooks, and provides better views of the Painted Wall. The North Rim is accessed via a gravel road, has no visitor center, but does provide better views into the narrowest part of the canyon. [NPS]
Where to stay when visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Camping at the Park:
NORTH RIM CAMPGROUND -- Open from Spring to Fall. 13 sites in Pinyon-Juniper forest with vault toilets, tables and grills. Reserve online.
SOUTH RIM CAMPGROUND -- Loop A; open year round. Loops B & C; open Spring to Fall. 88 sites in oak-brush forest with vault toilets, tables and grills. Reservations may be made for South Rim Loops A and B only, and must be made at least 3 days in advance. Reserve online.
Cedar Creek RV Park, Montrose (outside park). Phone 970-249-3884 or 877-425-3884 Montrose RV Resort, Montrose (outside park). Phone: 888-249-9554
Best Western Red Arrow Motor Inn, Montrose, Colorado (outside park). Phone: 970-249-9641 Crawford Country Store and Motel, Crawford, Colorado (outside park). Phone: 970-921-5040
While you're visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Guide to sources:
NG = National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of the United States
NPF = National Park Foundation's The Official Guide to America's National Parks
KB = The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
AAA = AAA Guide to the National Parks
NPS = National Park Service Website