Below you’ll find a complete guide to Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, including things to do, when to visit, hiking trails, and much more.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers the opportunity to gaze in wonder over the canyon walls, enjoy epic hiking trails, camp in the park and enjoy an International Dark Sky Park.
About Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
While it may not be the deepest, the longest, or the most visited canyon in the country, few places are as awe-inspiring (and vertigo-inducing) as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
The Black often flies well under the radar compared to other Colorado parks. Still, those who make the journey will be rewarded with incredible views of the canyon, dynamic hiking trails, and excellent stargazing opportunities - all without the crowds!
Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park worth visiting?
I completely loved Black Canyon of the Gunnison! The fall colors alone between here and Curecanti National Recreation Area were some of the prettiest anywhere.
Then the canyon was pretty incredible too! I personally would love to go back and spend more time exploring this park.
History of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The foreboding canyon walls, the impressive depth, and the rugged terrain surrounding it all make the Black Canyon of the Gunnison a challenging place to conquer.
As early as 1853, crusades and expeditions were led in an attempt to penetrate the Black, though few were brawny enough to succeed in these endeavors.
From railroad companies looking to expand further west to farmers searching for a way to bring water to thirsty crops, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison has seen many expeditions come and go throughout modern history.
This 48-mile stretch of Black Canyon has been a protected area since it gained National Monument status in 1933, and in 1999, congress elevated the Black to a National Park.
Things to know before your visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
7-day single-vehicle park pass - $30
7-day individual park pass - $15
7-day motorcycle park pass - $25
Annual Park Pass - $55
Valid for one year through the month of purchase. Admits one private, non-commercial vehicle or its pass holder.
Planning a National Park vacation? America the Beautiful/National Park Pass covers entrance fees for an entire year to all US National Park Sites and over 2,000 Federal Recreation Fee Sites.
The park pass covers everyone in the car for per vehicle sites and for up to 4 adults for per-person sites.
Buy on REI.com and REI will donate 10% of pass proceeds to the National Forest Foundation, National Park Foundation and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities.
Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.
Free Entrance Days -Find the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
MST - Mountain Standard Time
Pets on leash may be walked on roads, in campgrounds, to the overlooks, and are allowed on the Cedar Point Nature Trail, North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail, and Rim Rock Trail.
Boarding services in the area include:
Stoney Hill Pet Lodge, 59049 Ida Rd, Olathe, CO (970) 323-5060
Iron Will Dog Lodge, 18077 6500 Rd, Montrose, CO (970) 596-8709
San Juan Vet Clinic, 822 Spring Creek Rd, Montrose, CO (970) 249-4490
Pearl's Pet Lodge, 13989 6900 Rd, Montrose, CO (970) 250-8932
Montrose Veterinary Clinic, 2260 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO (970) 249-5469
Critter Sitters and Outfitters, 98 County Road 17, Gunnison, CO (970) 641-0460
Cell service at Black Canyon is very poor and often non-existent.
The park is open 24 hours a day, every day, and no entry reservation is needed.
There is no Wi-Fi available within the park
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water. We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
There are no restaurants located within the park.
The nearest restaurants are in Montrose, CO, or Gunnison, CO.
There are no gas stations available within the park.
The closest gas stations are in Montrose, CO, or Gunnison, CO.
Drones are not allowed within National Parks.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Black Canyon NP is part of the 2012 Passport Stamp Set.
Electric Vehicle Charging
South Rim Campground has NEMA 14-50 outlets,
There are also EV Charging stations in Montrose, Colorado
Details about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Size - 30,779 Acres
Black Canyon NP is currently ranked at 56 out of 63 National Parks by Size.
Black Canyon was founded as a National Monument in 1933.
It was upgraded to a National Park in 1999.
In 2021, Black Canyon NP had 308,910 park visitors.
In 2020, Black Canyon NP had 341,620 park visitors.
In 2019, Black Canyon NP had 432,818 park visitors.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Address
South Rim Visitor Center
9800 Highway 347
Montrose, CO 81401
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Map
We like the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps of the park. You can buy the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Map on Amazon.
Where is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
There’s a reason why Black Canyon of the Gunnison is among the country's least-visited national parks. Far from big city lights, major airports, and busy interstates, the Black is, without a doubt, well off the beaten path.
The South Rim sits about 14 miles from the city of Montrose. The North Rim is located about 11 miles southwest of the city of Crawford.
Unfortunately, there is no bridge road between the rims inside the park. So if you want to explore both areas, you can expect a 2-3 hour road trip between the rims.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Telluride, Colorado - 78 miles
Colorado Springs, Colorado - 157 miles
Denver, Colorado - 168 miles
Albuquerque, New Mexico - 245 miles
Scottsdale, Arizona - 417 miles
Phoenix, Arizona - 424 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park - 200 miles
Arches National Park - 179 miles
Canyonlands National Park - 191 miles
Mesa Verde National Park - 160 miles
Rocky Mountain National Park - 278 miles
Bryce Canyon National Park - 370 miles
Zion National Park -434 miles
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
The park’s only visitor center is located near the South Rim and offers incredible lookouts over the canyon.
There is also a gift shop, restrooms, and a water refill station located at the South Rim Visitor Center.
Getting to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Montrose Regional Airport (MJT) - 17 miles
Denver International Airport (DEN) - 288 miles
Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) - 343 miles
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) - 359 miles
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) - 561 miles
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS) - 588 miles
Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) - 80 miles
Laramie Regional Airport
7 miles north on CO Highway 347 from the intersection with U.S. Highway 50 east of Montrose.
Best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
While there is no bad time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, some of the main roads are closed during the winter, including South Rim Road, North Rim Road, and East Portal Road.
For this reason, it is recommended to visit between April and November.
However, the park is open 365 days a year, and true adventurers can always access the park via snowshoes or skis.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Weather and Seasons
Spring is one of the best times to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The temperatures are mild, the crowds are sparse, and the vegetation is beginning to bloom again.
This is a perfect time to visit if you are interested in hiking, thanks to the moderate climate and fewer hikers on the trails.
Summer is by far the busiest time of year at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, specifically the month of July.
Temperatures soar between the low 80s all the way past 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so be sure to stay hydrated if you visit in the summer!
The autumn is another shoulder season that sees fewer crowds and lower temps, so this is a great time to visit the park if you’re seeking solitude.
Keep in mind that snow can come to the Gunnison as early as mid-November, so stay up to date on road closures and conditions before making your way to the park.
Few people have gotten to experience the magic of winter at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and it’s no coincidence that this time of year sees the fewest numbers.
Roads leading into the park are usually closed between late November and early April, so getting to the park can pose a real challenge.
However, if you’re hardy enough, you can snowshoe or ski into the park, and you’ll be rewarded with incredible winter views of the canyon and most likely the trails all to yourself!
One of the best parts of visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is you get to decide what you want to do during your visit. From driving to each of the scenic overlooks to hiking out to an overlook or down into the canyon you can decide just how much you want to do in the park.
Thanks to its remote location between two protected areas, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is home to a wide variety of critters.
No matter what time of year you visit, wildlife watching is one of the best ways to pass the time in the park. So be quiet, have some patience, and keep your eyes peeled as you make your way through the park.
Common sightings at the Black include Yellow-bellied Marmot, Mule Deer, Mountain Cottontails, Elk, and Colorado Chipmunks.
If you’re lucky, you may even spot some Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep along the canyon.
While sightings are scarce, you may catch a glimpse of a Mountain Lion, also known as the “ghost of the Rockies.” Black Bear and Bobcat sightings are also uncommon but not unheard of.
Birding enthusiasts will also have plenty to look forward to at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Spring and summer are the best time for birdwatching, and one of the most exciting species seen in the park is the fastest bird in the world the Peregrine Falcon. If you have your heart set on finding one of these beautiful creatures, head to the Painted Wall.
Other noteworthy birds you might catch sight of inside the park include Blue Grouse, a variety of Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Golden Eagles, and Canyon Wren.
If you’re visiting the park with young ones in tow, be sure to sign them up for the Junior Ranger Program.
They will learn all about the park’s history, flora and fauna, and other interesting facts from a park ranger. Once they complete the program, they’ll receive a cool badge for their hard work!
One of the best ways to see the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is by driving to the scenic lookouts.
While the Black is on the smaller side compared to some of the state’s other national parks, driving is the best way to see all the sites.
There are over 20 scenic lookouts around the park, and visiting the overlooks is the best way to experience the canyon’s grandeur up close.
There are scenic overlooks at both the North Rim and the South Rim, though the South Rim lookouts are undoubtedly more popular.
However, the North Rim is arguably the most dramatic of the two, and you’re more likely to have the views to yourself on this side of the park!
If you want to see the Gunnison River from up close, you can drive the East Portal Road.
Warning: this road is dangerously steep with numerous hairpin curves, so large vehicles and trailers are not recommended on this route.
Thanks to its designation as an International Dark Sky, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the best places in the country for stargazing.
If you’re staying the night, be sure to sit back and tilt your head skyward for incredible views of the night sky, thanks to the minimal light pollution of the surrounding area.
The park also hosts an annual astronomy festival to celebrate the twinkling night skies.
Hiking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes inside of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and whether you’re looking for a casual stroll with great views or a challenging trek down to the canyon’s basin, there is a trail for you.
South Rim Trails:
Warner Point Nature Trail - 1.5 miles - Out & Back - Easy
This self-guided nature trail is located just off the High Point Overlook and features 14 sites of interest that you can read all about in the illustrated walking guide pamphlets. You'll also get stellar views of the Uncompahgre Valley and the San Juan Mountain Range.
Rim Rock Nature Trail - 1.5 miles - Out & Back - Moderate
The Rim Rock Nature Trail is another great option for those looking for an easy trail with incredible vistas of the Gunnison. The route is mostly flat, making it a favorite for families.
Oak Flat Top Loop - 1.3 miles - Loop - Moderate
If you’re interested in hiking the inner canyon but don’t want the challenge, then add the Oak Flat Top Loop to your bucket list. The trail starts from the South Rim Visitor Center and descends about 450 feet into the canyon and then back up. Hiking this loop counterclockwise will give you the best views and the easiest terrain.
North Rim Trails:
North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point - 3 miles - Out & Back - Easy
Many visitors find that Exclamation Point offers the best views in the park. To get there, you’ll need to follow an easy, 1.5-mile trail along the rim. The path is mostly flat and shaded, making it a popular route. If you have time for just one hike while in the Black, make it the North Vista Trail to Exclamation Point!
Green Mountain Trail - 6.8 miles - Out & Back - Moderate
The Green Mountain Trail is a bit longer than some of the other rim trails, and while strenuous at some points, this trek is manageable for most. The views of the canyon are impeccable the whole way, but there is little shade on this route - so be prepared to start hiking early in the day and bring plenty of water with you!
Deadhorse Trail - 4.1 miles - Loop - Moderate
This loop starts out by leading you away from the rim into the desert. After a while, you come to an overlook of the Gunnison in all its glory. Because much of the trail is through the brush, this route is less popular than others in the park, making it an excellent choice for those looking to find some solitude.
Chasm View Nature Trail - .6 miles - Loop - Easy
Chasm View Nature Trail is one of the shortest and easiest routes in the park. Don’t count it out, though. While the trail itself may not be noteworthy, the views are just as great as the ones you get from some of the more challenging treks. The best part? This hidden gem is one of the park’s best-kept secrets and rarely sees large crowds!
Inner Canyon Trails:
Venturing into the inner canyon is not for the faint of heart. These steep trails are both technically and physically demanding, so only seasoned hikers are recommended to attempt these descents.
Some routes are more challenging than others, so be sure to do your research before you pick a trail.
*Note that inner canyon trails require a backcountry permit. Permits can be acquired from the South Rim Visitor Center or the North Rim Ranger Station. Limited numbers of permits are available each day.
South Rim Inner Canyon Hikes:
Gunnison Route Trail - 1.8 mile - Out & Back - Hard
Tomichi Trail - 1.3 miles - Out & Back - Hard
Warner Route - 4.3 miles - Out & Back - Hard
North Rim Inner Canyon Hikes:
Long Draw - 1.7 miles - Out & Back - Hard
S.O.B Draw - 2.1 miles - Out & Back - Hard
Slide Draw - 1.2 miles Out & Back - Hard
How to beat the crowds in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Colorado’s least visited national park, so if you’re looking to beat the crowds, the Black is a great option year-round.
Add the somewhat remote location to the fact that the park is sandwiched between other protected lands (the Curecanti National Recreation Area and the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area & Wilderness), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for solitude.
The busiest time of year at the park is the summer (specifically July), so skip the warmer months if you want to avoid the crowds.
May, September, and October see fewer visitors, and if you really want to the park all to yourself, come back in the winter when the main roads are closed. Note that you will have to snowshoe or cross-country ski in.
Another great way to avoid large crowds is to visit the North Rim. The South Rim is more popular, and most parkgoers spend their time driving along the South Rim Road and taking in the views.
However, one of the park’s best-hidden secrets is the North Rim. A small fraction of visitors make their way north, but the views are just as dramatic, and you won’t have to worry about sharing the scenery.
Where to stay when visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
There are no National Park Lodges within the park.
The nearest hotels are in Montrose, CO, or Gunnison, CO.
Stay Wise Inns Montrose - Consider a stay at Stay Wise Inns Montrose and take advantage of a terrace, laundry facilities, and a fireplace in the lobby. For some rest and relaxation, visit the hot tub. In addition to a 24-hour business center, guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Red Arrow Inn & Suites - Red Arrow Inn & Suites provides amenities like free continental breakfast and laundry facilities. Guests can connect to free in-room Wi-Fi.
Click on the map below to see additional hotels and vacation rentals near Black Canyon.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Camping
For a fun adventure check out Escape Campervans. These campervans have built in beds, kitchen area with refrigerators, and more. You can have them fully set up with kitchen supplies, bedding, and other fun extras. They are painted with epic designs you can't miss!
Escape Campervans has offices in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Orlando
The South Rim Campground is one of the best in the park, especially if you’re RV camping. There are three loops with a total of 88 sites.
East Portal Campground
East Portal Campground, within the canyon by the river, is accessed through the park but within the boundary of Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Backcountry camping within the inner canyon Wilderness is also allowed, but Wilderness Use Permits are required.
Parks near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Dinosaur National Monument - 207 miles
Currecanti National Recreation Area - 36 miles
Hovenweep National Monument - 217 miles
Natural Bridges National Monument - 234 miles
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument - 200 Miles
Colorado National Monument - 90 miles
Dinosaur National Monument - 207 miles
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site - 294 miles
Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site - 352 miles
Check out all of the Colorado National Parks along with neighboring National Parks in Wyoming, Utah National Parks, Oklahoma National Parks, National Parks in New Mexico, National Parks in Nebraska, Kansas National Parks, and Arizona National Parks.
National Park Service Website