Exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Located just 15 miles east of Montrose, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers great outdoor activities for all ages while providing postcard-worthy scenery in all directions.
Taking a recent trip down Interstate 70 before jumping onto U.S. 50 East, my fiancee, Karlie George, our friend Saige Snyder and I went to explore the Black Canyon, which was a place Karlie and I had never heard about until Saige brought it up as a possible weekend getaway.
The trek to the park is roughly two and a half hours from Glenwood Springs, but the drive is pretty simple.
Prior to the trip, I did some research and found out that the canyon has “black” in its name due to the lack of sunlight the canyon gets each day. According to the book “Images of America: The Black Canyon of the Gunnison,” by Duane Vandenbusche, parts of the gorge receive only 33 minutes of sunlight a day. In the book, Vandenbusche says, “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.”
Sounds terrifying, right? Wrong. It couldn’t be more beautiful.
Upon arriving, the 360-degree view was unbelievable. With the use of our selfie- stick, the three of us were able to snap photos of everything we did, from hiking along the two-mile Oak Flat Loop Trail, to standing out on the observation decks high above the Gunnison River flowing below.
Upstream from the park is the Curecanti National Recreation Center, and the river flows downstream into the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. Despite being at the base of the canyon, the river roars loud above the noise of excited tourists at the beginning of the canyon.
At one point, I thought there might have been a waterfall nearby, but it was just the flow of the river that I heard.
While at the park, the three of us enjoyed the leisure hike on the Oak Flat Loop Trail, but for more experienced hikers there are plenty of trails to hit up.
There’s the 2/3-mile Cedar Point Nature Trail, which takes you to the highest cliff in Colorado (2,250 ft.) or there is the 3-mile North Vista Trail, which starts out at the old ranger station at the park. This trial is designed for experienced hikers due to the difficult terrain.
Outside of hiking, the Black Canyon National Park offers some terrific rock climbing, but it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. 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 climbers, which I certainly am not. Plus I wouldn’t dare try it due to my fear of heights.
If neither of those activities sounds fun, the park offers some beautiful camping areas for families to spend time outdoors. Currently, the park offers 116 campsites, with 101 of those offering lots for RVs.
But much like anywhere in Colorado, bears are certainly a hazard and are known to venture into the campgrounds if food isn’t properly tucked away.
If you’re looking to go down for a day and want to include some education in your trip, the park has a few events on the docket in the coming weeks that could be of interest.
This Saturday, May 21, the park is holding the Centennial Speaker Series, where two adventurers will talk about their trip in which they visited all 59 national parks in 59 weeks. The following week (May 27), the Park will host the Astronomy Evening Program, where Sky Rangers and astronomers from the Black Canyon Astronomical Society will present an illustrated program in the South Rim Campground Amphitheater followed by Night Sky Observation by telescope.
Also on the 27th, the park will host the Chasm Ranger Talk, in which a park ranger will explore more of the Black Canyon, from plants and animals to geology.
For more information on the park and upcoming events and activities, visit https://www.nps.gov/blca/index.htm.
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