Deep, Steep and Narrow
Big enough to be overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.
My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s national parks! I’ve been to 50 of our 61 national parks — and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has much to offer! You can hike the inner canyon, kayak the Gunnison River, rock climb, ride horses or explore the night sky! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!
Located in western Colorado and managed by the National Park Service, the park itself contains the deepest and most dramatic section of the canyon, but the canyon continues upstream into Curecanti National Recreation Area and downstream into Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The Gunnison River drops an average of 34 feet per mile through the entire canyon, making it the 5th steepest mountain descent in North America. By comparison, the Colorado River drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile through the Grand Canyon. The greatest descent of the Gunnison River occurs within the park at Chasm View dropping 240 feet per mile. The Black Canyon is so named because its steepness makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate into its depths. As a result, the canyon is often shrouded in shadow, causing the rocky walls to appear black. At its narrowest point the canyon is only 40 ft wide at the river.
The main attraction of the park is the scenic drive along US Highway 50 and Colorado Highway 92, as well as the south rim. The east end of the park, where it meets Blue Mesa Reservoir at Blue Mesa Point, is the area most developed for camping, as well as canyon tours, hiking, fishing and boat tours. The west end of the park has river access by automobile, as well as guided tours of the canyon. A short hike at Blue Mesa Point Information Center heads down to Pine Creek and the Morrow Point boat tours, boating, fishing and hiking. At the south rim there is one campground for tent and RV camping, one loop of which has electrical hookups, and several hiking and nature trails. The north rim is also accessible by automobile and has a small, primitive campground.
Best Things To Do at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Hiking Trails Trails for all abilities are available on both South and North Rims. Routes to the river are extremely strenuous due to steep drop offs, loose rock, and prolific poison ivy.
Hiking the Inner Canyon Extremely strenuous hikes to the bottom of the canyon in steep, unmaintained and unmarked gullies.
Scenic Drives Gorgeous scenic routes are available along the rims and down to the river.
Fishing The Gunnison River within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is well known for outstanding trout fishing.
Kayaking This stretch of the Gunnison River is only for the most experienced kayakers.
Rock Climbing All the climbs in the Black are multi-pitch traditional routes and not for the faint of heart.
Wildlife Watching Black Canyon provides a unique vertical environment for wildlife.
Horseback Riding The Deadhorse Trail on the North Rim is the ONLY area open to horses or pack animals for day use/recreational riding in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Explore the Night Black Canyon offers night sky viewing opportunities throughout the year.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Poster is an original work by Robert B. Decker and is also part of the Colorado Collection. The poster was created in the style of the Works Program Administration of the 1930s and 1940s, when the Federal Government started the Works Progress Administration (or the Works Program Administration), and commissioned hundreds of artists to create thousands of posters designs from which literally millions of prints were made. At that time, there were only 26 National Parks. And only 14 parks had posters created during the WPA. At that time, Black Canyon of the Gunnison was not yet a National Park!