Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a smaller, less crowded version of the Grand Canyon. You can enjoy the views along both rims, hike the rim trails, or go on a real adventure by hiking below the rim.
The park preserves the narrowest and deepest section of the Gunnison Gorge. It’s often described as being deep, steep, and narrow.
Of the four national parks in Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the least visited. Crowds here tend to be low, even during the busy summer months, making this park a delight to visit.
For some of the best views of the canyon, you can simply drive from overlook to overlook along both rims. It’s easy to get breathtaking views of the Black Canyon with very little effort. But for those who seek adventure, take your pick from the challenging trails that descend from the rim to the Gunnison River, go rock climbing, or go white water rafting.
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON
Founded: October 21, 1999
Annual Visitors: 300,000 in 2022, making it the 16th least visited national park that year.
Size: 31,000 acres
Top Experiences in Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Visit the overlooks on South Rim Road. South Rim Road runs along the top of the South Rim. This road is 7 miles long and has 12 viewpoints. Some of our favorite viewpoints are Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Cross Fissures View, Pulpit Rock Overlook, Painted Wall, and Cedar Point Nature Trail.
Hike a trail on the South Rim. There are several short trails on the South Rim that lead to more overlooks of the Black Canyon. These include the Oak Flat Loop Trail, the Warner Point Trail, and the Rim Rock Nature Trail.
Hike an Inner Canyon Route. For the ultimate adventure in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, hike below the rim to the Gunnison River. There are trails on both rims that lead to the Gunnison River. We hiked the Gunnison Route and it was our favorite experience in the park.
Drive East Portal Road. East Portal Road leads from the South Rim to the Gunnison River, so it’s a great option for those who want to get up close with the Gunnison River without hiking an inner canyon route.
Go stargazing. In September 2015, Black Canyon of the Gunnison was designated as a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. The best time to view the night sky is during the new moon phase or when the moon rises late in the night.
Exclamation Point. This is the best viewpoint in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. To get here, it is a 3-mile round trip hike on the North Rim.
Drive North Rim Road. North Rim Road leads to several overlooks on the North Rim. It is a 4.5-mile unpaved road, but it is suitable for all vehicles.
Hike Green Mountain. This 7-mile round trip hike takes you to the top of Green Mountain for panoramic views of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Walk the Chasm View Nature Trail. This very short and easy hiking trail is located on the North Rim and gives you one of the best views of the Painted Wall.
This park preserves the narrowest and deepest section of the Gunnison Gorge.
On the rim, the distance between the South Rim and the North Rim is only 1,100 feet in the narrowest section. From the rim, the walls of the canyon plunge 2,000 feet almost straight down to the Gunnison River. Down by the river, the canyon is only 40 feet wide at its narrowest spot.
It is called the Black Canyon because in some spots, the canyon is so narrow that there are sections that only get 33 minutes of sunlight per day. The shadows on the rock walls make them appear black.
Learn More about Black Canyon of the Gunnison
How to Get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in the southwest quadrant of Colorado.
The closest major airport is in Grand Junction. From here, it takes just over an hour of driving to get to Montrose, the closest town to the South Rim.
Most people visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on a road trip through Colorado. If you have 10 days, you can do a loop around the state, stopping at the national parks along the way. With the multitude of scenic highways and by-ways, it is a beautiful road trip.
Best Time to Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The best time to visit the South Rim is from April through early-November, when South Rim Road is open. May, September and October and great months to plan your visit, with pleasant weather and low crowds.
During the summer months, expect warmer conditions. Average summer temperatures linger around the low 80’s (Fahrenheit) but it can occasionally hit the low to mid-90’s.
South Rim Road closes to cars in mid-November once the snow begins to fall. However, it remains open for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing.
The North Rim is closed during the winter months, from late November to mid-April.
If you want to visit both the North and South Rims, plan your visit from May through October.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park appears in our Best US National Parks Month-By-Month series as a great park to visit in May and September.
How Many Days Do You Need in Black Canyon of the Gunnison?
In order to visit both the North and South Rims, you will need two days.
On the quickest of visits, you can visit the South Rim in about 4 to 5 hours, simply by driving South Rim Road.
With one full day, you have enough time to add in the drive on East Portal Road and hike on or two of the short trails on the rim.
If you want to hike an inner canyon route on the South Rim, you will need about two days. On day 1, attend the ranger talk and get your wilderness use permit. On day 2, hike the inner canyon route. For those who plan to camp next to the Gunnison River (which you can do with a backcountry permit to hike the inner canyon), you will need a total of three days.
How to Plan Your Time
One Day on the South Rim:
- Morning and midday: Drive South Rim Road and visit the Overlooks; hike one of the short trails on the rim
- Early afternoon: Drive East Portal Road to the Gunnison River
- Late afternoon: Return to Montrose or continue your Colorado road trip
Two Days in Black Canyon of the Gunnison (North & South Rims):
- Day 1: Follow the one day itinerary above
- Day 2: In the morning, drive to the North Rim (1.5 hours); hike to Exclamation Point and maybe continue up Green Mountain; visit the North Rim overlooks (this takes roughly 2 to 3 hours); continue to your next destination
Two Days on the South Rim (+ an Inner Canyon Route):
- Day 1: Drive South Rim Road and visit the Overlooks; hike one of the short trails on the rim; in the afternoon, attend the ranger talk and get your wilderness use permit
- Day 2: Inner canyon hike
USA Road Trip Idea
With 10 days, visit all four national parks in Colorado (Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Great Sand Dunes) in one epic road trip.
Our 10 day Colorado itinerary links these four national parks with scenic drives and visits to several beautiful towns located in the Rocky Mountains. In addition to the four national parks in Colorado, Aspen, Snowmass, Pikes Peak, and Garden of the Gods also make the to-do list.