This was my third trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and I was hoping for a little sun this time. The first two trips were cold, rainy, and windy, but still totally worth it. This time it was warmer but still not quite sunny. It was just a quick visit with some spare time we had in Grand Junction.
We stopped at the overlooks again and it still just blows my mind that this place is real. So today I decided to share why Black Canyon of the Gunnison is totally worth visiting on your next Colorado road trip.
1. Pictures really don’t do it justice
Like, for real. This place looks like a painting in pictures and I still can’t get over that. The only way to really get how deep the canyon is to be there and see it in person. It may not have hundreds of miles of hiking trails like Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but the views more than make up for it.
There are tons of overlooks along the south rim scenic drive for you to see the river roaring below, literally roaring because you can hear it from the top. I love it.
2. It’s the least visited national park in Colorado
That means fewer people and more of the park to yourself, I mean, who doesn’t like that? With just 308,962 visitors in 2018 (compared to Rocky Mountain National Park with 4,590,493!) you’ll feel like you’re the only one there. Well, almost. It’s not as remote as Great Sand Dunes but it’s not particularly close to anything else people go to Colorado for.
It’s just over an hour from Grand Junction and worth the side trip. I would maybe just check the weather to make sure it won’t be too foggy or rainy. If it’s your only chance to visit the park, go anyways because it may clear up. If not, you could have some spooky pictures. Consider calling the park ahead of time to check, mostly if you’re limited on time.
3. It’s an International Dark Sky Park
That means you’re going to have some stellar (see what I did there?) star gazing opportunities. If it’s anything like the sky out here in Bullfrog, you’ll want to make sure you have some time here in the dark. The best way to experience the night sky will be to camp in the park, but don’t fret if you’re not a camper. You can always stay down in Montrose, the closest town, and drive up once it’s dark to admire the Milky Way in all its starry glory.
4. It’s great if you like extreme activities like rock climbing and kayaking (and happen to be an expert)
If you’re an expert kayaker, this is a great place for you to get on the water. The rapids in the park are considered Class V and some are unrunnable. It is very technical and includes numerous long, dangerous portages. Rafting is not an option in the part due to the difficulty and portages. Rock Climbing is popular here, but again, only for the experts. Check out the park website for more detailed information on climbing Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
If those aren’t quite you’re speed, don’t worry. There is still plenty of hiking to do and you can also go fishing in the river.
5. There are two rims and a portal you can explore
Similar to the Grand Canyon, there are two rims to explore, the North and South. The South Rim is the more popular area as it is open year-round. The road is closed in the winter after the Visitor Center but you can snowshoe or cross country ski past it. The North Rim is closed late-November to mid-April.
The North Rim has six overlooks and is accessed by taking a gravel road from the east end of Crawford State Park. The walls are almost vertical and offer some of the best views in the park. Plan 2-3 hours for a leisurely drive along the North Rim.
The East Portal takes you down into the canyon so you can be up close to the river. This is also closed in the winter. The drive down is steep but not as scary as the visitor center makes it sound. You can fish and walk along the river down here.
6. It’s awesome to visit anytime of year
The best weather will be summer, especially if you want to do any hiking, go down to the river, try fishing, or see most of the overlooks. If you’re more of a winter person, I bet snowshoeing here is amazing, just know there is a lot less access to most of the park.
There isn’t much for fall foliage in the park itself, but the weather would still be perfect. I also just love fall road trips. It can get windy and pretty cold here though, so bring layers. Trust me on this one. I bet the drive in from Montrose is great in the fall and if you’re driving from here to Great Sand Dunes. We did that drive in November and I remember loving it a lot.
7. There is nothing else like it out there
I mean, maybe there is somewhere but I haven’t seen it yet. It’s no Grand Canyon, but I actually think I’m more impressed by Black Canyon. At least for now. Plus, you have a chance to see bears here, which is awesome!
So, there you have it, seven awesome reasons to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. It’s definitely an underrated national park and one I think everyone should visit eventually.
Have you been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison? Do you want to go? What did you think of it?