Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in western Colorado. It’s a little off the beaten path, especially if you are driving through Colorado to get to the Utah parks, or if the only thing on your radar in Colorado is the Rocky Mountain National Park. However, it is worth your time and effort to visit this park. At around only 150,000 visitors a year, this is a great stop that is never crowded.
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison was recommended to me a while back by a native Coloradan as a “must see.” It was on my list of places to see “at some point,” but since it wasn’t in the vicinity of our original, intended itinerary, I didn’t think we’d get there on this particular trip. However, when the forest fires of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado drastically changed our plans, places like Black Canyon of the Gunnison were suddenly more “available” to us, so we headed on over.
We made our way there from Ouray, Colorado, and weren’t entirely sure what to expect to be honest. While the park had been recommended to me, I didn’t have much more information than that, so a quick Internet search was in order. Online, the park looks nice, but honestly, there is just no way the pictures could ever do the canyon justice.
While the Grand Canyon is horizontally stunning, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is vertically stunning. You will be able to stand on overlooks that abruptly drop off 2,000 feet to the Gunnison river below. You’re basically standing on a sheer rock cliff and it’s truly breathtaking.
We entered the park from the south, by way of Highway 347, and stopped off at the lookouts on our way to the visitors center. At the visitors center, you’ll find all the information you need for the park, including the park video that is a staple at every national park visitor center. The kids worked on their Junior Ranger certifications, and then we took advantage of the lookouts located at the visitors center.
Do you have kids who love the Junior Ranger program? We have one who is obsessed, two who enjoy it, and one who could not care less. We always make a point to give the kids plenty of time to fill out their booklets and talk to the rangers. It really helps their understanding of each park and fosters a deeper appreciation for these national treasures.
Even though it was June, it was quite cool. A welcomed relief after the heat we had already experienced on the trip. The breeze at the top of the canyon coupled by the overcast skies made it downright chilly. Having said that, it’s always smart to travel with a fleece or jacket.
From the visitors center, we continued down South Rim Road, stopping at the other lookout points along the way. At one point, I saw a perigean falcon! That was a treat I was not expecting. The kids enjoyed using the binoculars at each lookout and I relied on the telescoping lens of my camera.
There are other things to do at the park: you can hike the rim, or raft the river below. There is camping on the south and north rims, as well as the East Portal. They also have great opportunities to star gaze, and had the weather made that possible, we would have stayed the night and taken advantage of it. However, because the clouds didn’t look like they were going anywhere, we decided to continue on. If we ever have the chance to go back, I’m going to book a rafting trip in advance. We saw a few rafters from our perch high above, and I’m not going to lie–I was a little jealous of them!
Have you ever been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? Where did you stay? What did you do? Join the conversation in the comments section below!