Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Western Colorado has some of the most dramatic vertical cliffs in the country. It was initially established as a National Monument in 1933 and then became a National Park 66 years later, in 1999.
The park stretches across an impressive 47-square-miles and offers 14 miles of scenic drives around the rim of the Canyon. It is the least visited park in Colorado, and one of the least visited National Parks in the country. This is mostly due to its distance from the closest international airport; it would take you about 5 hours to drive from Denver International Airport to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It is also one of the few parks that does not offer any type of accommodation inside the park itself.
All these “conditions” make it a perfect place to explore with less tourists, less light pollution and a whole lot of unobstructed views. This is also one of our favorite weekend trips from Denver since it’s reasonably close if you live in Colorado.
This post highlights the best things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and shares some tips to help you plan your stay here.
6 Cool Things to do in Black Canyon
Black Canyon in Colorado offers various activities not limited to just hiking!
Hiking Black Canyon Trails
Exclamation Point Trail
For an easy but rewarding hike, head over to the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and try out this 2.9 mile, mostly flat, in-and-out hike. Although there are views of the Canyon throughout the hike, the biggest reward here is definitely the final destination – Exclamation Point!
Chasm View Nature Trail
This is a shorter trail that I would classify as more of a lookout. It’s 0.3 miles and also starts from the North Rim of the Canyon. It has railings all around the lookout area, which is a huge relief when traveling here with kids!
Cedar Point Nature Trail
This trail starts at the South Rim of Black Canyon and is also a very easy 0.6mile trail with lots of informative signs about plants and scenery of the Black Canyon.
Best Scenic Drives at Black Canyon National Park
One of the best ways to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is by going on a South Rim or North Rim scenic drive, pulling over at the various lookout spots.
The South Rim Scenic Drive starts at the South Rim Visitor Center and goes all the way to High Point. There are about 10 lookout stops along this drive, so choose wisely! Or hit all of them if you don’t have bored toddlers in the car 🙂
Some notable best lookout spots at Black Canyon National Park:
Painted Wall View from the South Rim
Chasm View from the South Rim
The other scenic drive starts at the North Rim Ranger Station, about 1 hour and 40 minutes drive away from the South Rim. This is an unpaved road and takes you through about 4 different lookouts. Most of the stops here require some amount of hiking so make sure to budget time for that.
Stargaze at Black Canyon
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a designated Dark Sky Park, meaning the light pollution here is one of the lowest in the world and it has the clearest night skies! If you’re planning on heading here at night, this is an excellent time to brush up your Night Sky Photography skills in order to capture some of these magnificent dark skies.
The park stays open 24/7, so you can access it any point during the night to get your astrophotography fix.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you’re planning on seeing the Milky Way here, make sure to plan your visit during Milky Way season (between March to October) and check the moon phases before visiting.
Rock Climb Black Canyon National Park
If you’re an extreme adventure seeker, rock climbing at Black Canyon is sure to give you an adrenaline rush. These routes are geared towards expert rock climbers since the canyon is very steep, deep and narrow. There are 145 multi-pitch climbing routes varying in difficulty from 5.8 to 5.13. You must be prepared and carry enough gear to stay overnight if needed.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you’re planning on climbing here, make sure to get a permit for inner canyon and wilderness use. These permits are free and available at the South Rim Visitor Center and North Rim Ranger Station.
Kayak Black Canyon
Another extreme adventure is kayaking Gunnison River through the park. The river flow is quite strong so you must be an experienced kayaker if you attempt these rapids and go at your own risk.
GOOD TO KNOW: This also requires getting a permit to get inside the canyon. You have to get the permit the day before and they are distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.
Best time to visit Black Canyon
The park is open to visitors year round except for national holidays. The park doesn’t generally experience high volumes of crows so there’s no “peak season” to avoid. However, in the winter months, South Rim Road does close to vehicles past Gunnison Point.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Weather
Summertime temperatures during the day range from 55 to 90F (13 to 32C) and winter temperatures range from 15 to 40F (-9 to 4C). Just like anywhere else in Colorado, thunderstorms are very common in the afternoons in the summer, so be prepared for quickly changing weather.
Black Canyon Entrance Fee
Black Canyon of the Gunnison requires and entrance fee. If you have one of the lifetime passes such as America the Beautiful annual pass or lifetime entrance pass, you will not need to pay anything else.
If you do not have an annual pass you must pay
1-Day Vehicle Pass – $25.00 USD
1-Day Motorcycle Pass – $20.00 USD
1-Day Pedestrian Pass – $15 USD.
For more up to date information on passes and fees, check the National Park Service website.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Hotels
There are no hotels near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The closest accommodation you can find to Black Canyon is either in Montrose, CO or Crawford, CO.
Crawford Colorado Lodging
I would highly recommend looking at a Crawford guest house or airbnb to stay in. Here are some of our favorite Airbnbs in Crawford that we’ve stayed in while visiting Black Canyon
This airbnb was among our favorite Airbnbs in Colorado. The host was incredibly welcoming and accommodating and even greeted us with freshly baked cookies! Since Crawford is such a small town close to a Dark Sky Park, the night sky here is actually quite dark as well and the Milky Way is visible right from the backyard of this Airbnb.
There’s an outdoor patio with dining furniture, where we had all of our meals while deer walked around us and we enjoyed the view of Needle Rock.
Another great choice for an Airbnb in Crawford is this beautiful farm-style stay. The owners let our kids pet and feed the horses and were extremely accommodating with our arrival time. This place also has magnificent views of Needle Rock right from the bedroom window and the outdoor patio.
Hotels in Montrose CO
Montrose is a much larger town than Crawford, with a population of 19,500. You can find anything you need in this town and it has a lot more things to do than Crawford.
Canyon Creek B&B is an affordable choice for families looking to stay in Montrose to visit Black Canyon. Free parking is available on premises, as well as a hot tub and internet.
This 3-star hotel is located just a few miles from Black Canyon National Park, complete with a fitness center, indoor pool and free breakfast.
Black Canyon Camping
There are three campgrounds in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
South Rim Campground
South Rim Campground is located just one mile south of the South Rim Visitor Center, is the largest of the three campsites and the only one that offers electric hookups. There are 88 sites in total and the campsite is open year round. In the summer you need to make reservations at recreation.gov, but in the other seasons this campsite operates on a first-come-first-served basis.
East Portal Campground
East Portal Campground is a bit further away in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. This campsite is tent only and is at the bottom of the canyon by the Gunnison river. These sites cannot be reserved and the overnight camping fee is $16.00 per night.
North Rim Campground
North Rim Campground is the smallest of the campsites and sits just past the North Rim Ranger Station. This campsite is fairly remote, no electric hookups and no services. The sites are fairly spacious with lots of distance between campers. This campsite is also not reservable and costs $16.00 per night.
Other things to do near Black Canyon of the Gunnison
If you’re tired of the steep cliffs or just looking for something else to do while you’re in the area, you can check out the following places
Enjoy the beach at Crawford State Park
If you’re staying in Crawford, this is an easy destination and spot to cool off in the hot summer months. There’s a large lake where you can boat, swim or just dip your feet in. It does require a $9.00 day pass per vehicle to enter.
Needle Rock Natural Area
Needle Rock is a volcanic plug right outside Crawford that has an interesting formation. You can walk the easy 0.8 mile out and back trail for some scenic views of Crawford and surrounding areas.
Scenic Drive through Curecanti National Recreation Area
This is a windy road that takes you from the North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park all the way through Curecanti National Recreation Area. There are lots of pullovers along the way to get a better peek at Gunnison River. The end of this drive will take you to Blue Mesa Reservoir; a large lake perfect for swimming, boating and SUPing!
For more Colorado things to see, check out our favorite Mountain Towns in Colorado!