With incredible sheer black cliffs, a history-filled past and abundant plants and wildlife, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Colorado’s most under-rated destinations in our opinion! Only have 48 hours to explore this breathtaking Colorado national park? We’ve got you covered!
Sunrise at the North Rim
Get up early to see the sunrise from one of the North Rim’s beautiful overlooks. Less developed than the more popular South Rim, you won’t find a visitor center on this side of the park, but you’ll find fewer people and even more dramatic views. Note that the last few miles to the North Rim are unpaved.
Sample the Uncompahgre Valley
It’s a two-hour drive from the Canyon’s North Rim to its south, so break up the drive by hitting Colorado Wine’s Olathe Wine Trail (coloradowine.com) between Delta and Olathe. Did you know that Colorado’s 300-plus days of sun and cool nights make for excellent grape-growing conditions? You’ll experience three of Colorado’s Western Slope wineries on this route.
Fish at East Portal
Stop in Montrose to get your Colorado fishing license and head down to East Portal from the South Rim entrance. Leave your RVs at the top and take your personal vehicle down the steep, switch-backed road into the canyon. You’ll find the Gold Medal Waters of the Gunnison River at the bottom.
Camp at East Portal
Pitch your tent at the East Portal Campground to really get away from it all. There are only 15 first-come, first-served tent sites, so get there early to claim your own slice of heaven. Spend the evening hiking, fishing or attending one of Black Canyon’s many free ranger programs, including dark-sky programs!
Experience the South Rim
Spend your morning exploring Black Canyon’s South Rim. Stop by the visitor center to learn about the history, geology and ecology of the park, visit one of the 12 beautiful overlooks, or go for a hike!
Tip: Our favorite overlooks are Chasm View, Painted Wall, Pulpit Rock and Sunset View.
Looking for a hike that’ll get you into the canyon? Oak Flat Loop trail descends 400 feet from the rim, giving you a taste of the inner canyon. Be warned, this trail is short but strenuous!
Boat through the Canyon
Head to Curecanti National Recreation Area (Black Canyon’s sister National Park Site) for the 12:30 p.m. boat tour. This 1.5-hour ranger-led boat tour will bring you down the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon as you learn about the history, geology and wildlife of the area. Prepaid reservations are required and can be made by calling 970-641-2337. Cost is $24 for adults and $12 for children. Please note that the dock is approximately a one-hour drive from the South Rim Visitor Center. For more information visit www.nps.gov/cure.
Take a Pitstop in Time
On your way back to Montrose, stop by Cimarron, a once bustling rail town that now offers a window back in time through its visitor’s center and rail yard. You can also view the area’s last standing truss bridge.
Wondering where to head next?
Mesa Verde National Park is just four hours from Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Download an official Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park map for basic road and attraction locations. Want a detailed topographical map of trails in the park and beyond? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park at REI.com. The map notates trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, river access and much more printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material. Coverage also includes Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, Blue Mesa Reservoir, parts of Gunnison National Forest and West Elk Wilderness, Montrose, Paonia and Hotchkiss.