Canyon Walls That Drop Vertically
to the Gunnison River Below
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located about 250 miles southwest of Denver. There are two entrances to the National Park; the South Rim is about 15 miles east of Montrose and the North Rim is 11 miles south of Crawford.
Keep in mind that there is no bridge across the canyon between the North and South Rims and it will take about two to three hours to go between the two sides of the canyon wall by car.
The steep walls of the Canyon were formed about 1.7 billion years ago and then the Gunnison River began to run through the canyon about 15 million years ago. At that time, the river’s flow was much heavier than it is now, so it was able to carve through the rock rather quickly in geological time. This is part of the reason why the canyon walls are so steep today.
One of the best reasons to visit the Park are the spectacular views that will surround you when you’re driving along the beautiful South Rim.
Along this rim, you will find two campgrounds and there are several miles of hiking and nature trails. The North Rim is different because it is much more remote and only has a small, primitive campground.
You can get to the Gunnison River, at the bottom of the canyon, either by car or on foot. Cars can use the East Portal Road at the South Rim. This road has a very steep grade.
Hikers can reach the river by following steep, unmaintained trails which begin on the North or South Rim. If you choose to hike, plan on taking about two hours to hike down and two to four hours to hike back up. Most of these routes have campgrounds once you get down to the river.
One of the main activities that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is known for is rock climbing. However, this is not a place for beginning climbers. These are very difficult climbs and should only be attempted by advanced climbers.
There is also rafting on the Gunnison River, but the stretch that runs through the Park is technically very difficult and can be dangerous if you don’t have advanced skills.
In the winter, the two most popular recreation activities are cross-country skiing on the paved South Rim Drive, which is closed to traffic in the winter.
The other activity enjoyed in winter is snowshoe trekking. Great places for snowshoeing include the upper part of the Oak Flat Loop and the Rock Rim Trail. The views from these trails in the winter are just spectacular.
When planning your trip, be aware that the East Portal and North Rim Roads are closed for the season during the winter. In addition, the South Rim Road is open only to Gunnison Point.
Even though those roads are closed in the winter, there is still recreation in the Park. You can go cross-country skiing on the closed part of South Rim Road, which provides a paved surface and a great space with no vehicle hazards.
Another great choice would be to go snowshoe trekking on the upper part of the Old Flat Loop and Rim Rock Trail.
All in all, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a unique canyon environment with steep walls that extend deep into a narrow gap where you will find the Gunnison River.
While you’re there, enjoy the recreation and enjoy the breathtaking views.