A Simple Guide to Visiting the Black Canyon Of the Gunnison

Want to see something deep, dark and unusual this weekend? Black Canyon Of the Gunnison is waiting for your visit. It is perhaps one of the least known national parks but just because it’s not popular doesn’t make it unworthy of attention. The Black Canyon is located in Western Colorado a short 30 minutes drive outside of a town called Montrose. 

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is dedicated as a national park for its unique geological manifestation. The steep walls of the Black Canyon was formed over 1.7 billion years ago! Making it one of the oldest visible rock in North America. When the entire Grand Canyon erodes down in the next few million years, it will look very similar to the Black Canyon. By visiting this park, you get a glimpse into what the Colorado Plateau will look like in the future. The black canyon is tall, steep, and deep, making it one of the most surreal and picturesque places I’ve ever visited.


Where: Western Colorado, near Montrose, CO.

Google Maps coordinate: 38.554210, -107.686444 (South Rim visitor center)

Camping: 3 campgrounds (2 south rim; 1 north rim)

Accessibility: overlooks, campgrounds and visitor centers

Things To Do: Hike, auto tour, picnic, camp and climbing the big wall!

Which Rim To Visit; North or South?

Both! But, If you have a lot on agenda, maybe the South Rim is the better place to be. It is the more developed side of the park; it’s got a visitor center, restrooms, a developed campground, ranger programs, paved roads, and easily accessible overlooks and hiking trails along the rim. The north rim is less visited, less developed, and does not have a visitor center or programs but it also has less people! It takes nearly 3 hours to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim. The road in the North Rim is well maintained gravel/dirt road. The south rim is paved.

** Images on this post are taken from the South Rim.

** North Rim is closed in Winter approximately from November to April.

** South Rim is always open.

Best Time to Visit?

Summer & Fall (April to November) is the high season and also the best time to go. The South Rim road is open in its entirety from April to November and only to the Visitor Center in the Winter months. North Rim is closed in winter. I personally like late summer around the months of August and September because it has less people and the weather is more mild. Summer can be very hot here. Campground is open in the south rim year round and north rim campground closes in the winter.

What To Do?

Auto Tour Along The Rim: you can drive along north and south rim and stop at the overlooks. In the south rim, be sure to stop at Chasm and Gunnison overlooks for the best views of the canyon. This is probably the best way to see the canyon without actually going into it. Some overlooks are equipped with toilets and picnic table, so bring snacks and enjoy the amazing view!

East Portal Road: you can drive down this steep road (25% grade) into the canyon and camp next to the river, fish, or picnic. It takes maybe 30 mins to drive down but be sure to put your car on low gear or you will smell your brake. No reservation accepted for East Portal Road campground. No permit required to drive down the canyon.

Hike Along The Canyon: hiking in the Black Canyon is limited because the canyon walls are so steep and there’s no official trail that goes down the canyon unlike at the Grand Canyon and Canyonlands. The rim rock, the rock flat, and the upland trails will give you good looks of the canyon.

Hike The Inner Canyon: You can go down into the canyon (and i did! and it was more than worth it). It will require some minimal navigation (no compass/map skill required). There is also no official trail but the path down the Gunnison is beaten by dozens of visitors each day during the summer so the path is rather obvious. Be sure that you you are ready for this adventure because the hike requires you to descend down 2000 feet canyon in less than one mile. It is a steep way down; the rocks are slippery and loose and it’s even more tiring and long on the way up. It can also be 10 degrees hotter down in the canyon. But, it is a must do if you are physically capable because the inner canyon is just spectacular. You will need a wilderness permit to go down, so talk to a ranger about it.

Hikers chilling by the Gunnison river down in the inner canyon
View from one of the overlook

Where To Camp?

There’s one campground in each rim. North Rim campground is first time first served, the south rim campground is open for reservation and also walk-in. Campground is open in the south rim year round and north rim campground closes in the winter. There’s also a campground down the East Portal road; no reservation requires. More info on camping here.  Campgrounds don’t really get full but if you plan on going on the weekends, then reservation is recommended just in case. I visited the South Rim mid August and more than half the campground was open. 

Park Services & Amenities?

There are no restaurant and food services inside the park. The nearest food is the town of Montrose and that’s also limited because it’s a small town. There’s one small convenient store/gift shop 20 minutes drive outside the park. I recommend that you bring food if you plan on spending a day or more in the park.

There’s water at the campground and visitor center. The restrooms are vault. Summer ranger programs are available.

For more information about the park, please visit the official national park website.

I have visited all of the national parks in Utah and Colorado and the Black Canyon is definitely near the top of the list. It is one of the coolest and prettiest places i’ve ever been. Maybe it is because i’ve never seen any pictures of the canyon before actually visiting and that’s why it is so striking for me. It is hugely underrated and deserves more recognition and visitation! Tell all of your friends about this incredible geological landmark and plan a trip there!

Couple looking down into the canyon


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