Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in the western part of the United States in the western part of the state of Colorado. The national park boundaries encompass an area 48 square miles (124.4 sq km) and follow 12 miles of the Gunnison River.
The canyon extends beyond the park boundaries in both directions, but the steepest, deeper, and more stunning features of the canyon occur in the national park area. There are parts of the canyon that only get 33 minutes of sunlight during the day, which is what led to the name of the park.
Author Duane Vandenbusche describes the canyon in this way, “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.” The walls of the canyon are steep and narrow making it hard for sunlight to reach down into the canyon.
Plantlife that visitors can expect to see include aspen, desert mahogany, Ponderosa pine, sagebrush, single-leaf ash, and Utah juniper. Predator wildlife includes black bear, bobcat, cougar, coyote, and then two species of eagles and eight species of hawks.
Other popular wildlife includes beaver, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, river otter, and raccoon.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Highlights
There are scenic drives that follow along US Highway 50, Colorado Highway 92, and the south rim with lookouts along the way. The incredibly steep, narrow, and daunting canyon walls are the pinnacle attraction of the national park.
There are several hiking opportunities that are not too long in the distance that afford spectacular views of Black Canyon and the Gunnison River below. The Green Mountain trail is one of the most strenuous in the park, but it provides the most picturesque panoramic views of the canyon and Gunnison area.
The park is easily rated for the more adventurous and more athletic outdoorsmen. Kayaking and rafting feature class III-V ratings and impassible places where challenging porting are expected. Those who are skilled and confident with kayaking and rafting are the recommended participants.
Trails of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The park is for the more adventurous and it is important to note that trails have access to the steep canyon walls. It is important to pay attention to where you walk and pay close attention to children.
Cedar Point Nature Trail: This south rim easy trail is short and provides visitors with a stunning lookout of the river below. The canyon walls reach heights over 2,000 feet (609.6 m) with the pinnacle sighting occurring at the renowned Painted Wall at 2,250 feet (685.8 m). The trail is two-thirds of a mile round trip. This is a south rim trail.
Chasm View Nature Trail: The trail meanders through pinyon and juniper forest which create opportunities to see some of the raptor species of birds. The end of the trail provides a scenic lookout of the canyon walls, in particular, a stunning view of Painted Wall and Serpent Point. This is a north rim trail.
Dead Horse Trail: This 5-mile round trip trail provides hikers with views of Deadhorse gulch and the East Portal. The trail ranges from easy to moderate and passes past a pond along the way. It’s another view of the canyon, however, this can be a longer hike that some may find challenging. This is a north rim trail.
North Vista Trail: This trail has an option to end at Exclamation Point which is 3 miles round trip or venturing on to Green Mountain which is 7 miles round trip. The journey becomes more challenging and can be rather difficult for many participants the further along the trail you go. However, the adventure is worth it with Green Mountain lookouts offering some of the most stunning panoramic views of Black Canyon and the Gunnison area.
Oak Flat Loop Trail: This trail is more challenging featuring steep slopes and narrow pathways. Adventurers can look forward to passing through aspen groves, rock outcrops, and oak scrub as they descend down to the river floor. This trail is 2 miles round trip and is more demanding on hikers. This is a south rim trail.
Rim Rock Nature Trail: This trail provides a series of lookouts out over the canyon walls and river below. The trail is fairly even path without much elevation change that is a 1-mile round trip journey along the south rim of the canyon. This is a south rim trail.
Warner Point Nature Trail: This is a trail allowing hikers to engage more of nature as you meander through mountain mahogany, pinyon pine, serviceberry, and juniper. A scenic view of the Gunnison River and Black Canyon await the end of the journey. Along the way, there are views of Bostwick Park, San Juan Mountains, and the Uncompahgre Valley. This is a south rim trail.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Highlights
- Scenic drive along the south rim
- Gunnison River
- Black Canyon
- Painted Wal
- Britannica, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, https://www.britannica.com/place/Black-Canyon-of-the-Gunnison-National-Park, retrieved March 2020.
- Colorado, Explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, https://www.colorado.com/articles/explore-black-canyon-gunnison-national-pa…, retrieved March 2020.
- National Park Service, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, https://www.nps.gov/blca/index.htm, retrieved March 2020.
- Vandenbusche, Duane, Images of America – The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Arcadia Publishing, March 2020.
- Visit Montrose, Black Canyon National Park, https://www.visitmontrose.com/outdoors/black-canyon-national-park/, retrieved March 2020.