Some argue that the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. Whether or not you agree, the precipitous canyon walls and wild black color make this Colorado national park a must see. Here are four tips to make the most of this hidden gem in your RV.
1. North Rim or South?
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is made up of two main areas. While relatively close in distance as the crow flies, they are separated by a vast canyon. By road, they are two hours apart. If you have time, both areas are unique and worth a visit, but if you’re pressed for time, you’ll want to choose one or the other. Part of your decision-making should take into account whether you are going to camp in your RV in the park. The North Rim offers fewer amenities in terms of hook-ups, so read on to learn more.
The South Rim is the more popular side of the canyon. The visitor center is here, along with a reservable campground. This side of the park is also closest to Montrose, Colo., the largest town nearby.
The North Rim is more remote and less visited. For many, this peaceful experience is a plus. The roads are unpaved and gravel, but RVs don’t normally have a problem navigating them. There is no visitor center, but there is a ranger station that is open as staffing allows in the summer. The views are what draw many to the North Rim. While the South Rim also has spectacular views, the walls of the North Rim are near perfectly vertical, making the views incredibly dramatic.
2. Where to Camp Your RV
Both the North and South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison have an RV-friendly campground.
The South Rim Campground is open year-round and reservations can be made at recreation.gov. Only Loop B offers 20 and 30 amp electric hookups. There are pit toilets at the campground, but there is no dump station. There is potable water available in the summer, but since it is trucked in, RV filling is not permitted. No generators are allowed in this campground. If you plan to bring your dog, be aware that pets cannot be walked or carried around the campground or on Rim Rock Trail between June 1 and Aug. 10 due to mother deer protecting their fawns. RVs over 35 feet in length are not recommended in the campground.
The North Rim has a small, seasonal 13-site campground that is first-come, first-served. There are no electrical hookups or dump stations. Pit toilets are available, as well as potable water in the summer, however you cannot fill your RV with the water. Generators are allowed. Maximum combined length of RV, car and/or trailer is 22 feet.
A highlight of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the South Rim Scenic Drive. Start at Tomichi Point and drive the seven miles to High Point. Make sure to stop at any of the 12 overlooks you want to visit on the way to High Point, as all overlooks are on the right side going this direction. This will keep you from having turn your RV across traffic on the way back. Each of the twelve pullouts holds its own beauty, but if you’re short on time, prioritize Gunnison Point (where the visitor center is located), Chasm View, Painted Wall and Sunset View. Make sure to give yourself 2-3 hours to explore, since most of the overlooks require a short walk to the viewpoint – you’ll also need ample time to take photos.
4. Tow a Car
If you want to experience the inner canyon, you’ll either need to tow a car or visit in an RV less than 22 feet in length. East Portal Road is breathtakingly steep at a 16% grade and includes many hairpin turns. Vehicles over 22 feet in length are prohibited, so leave your RV or trailer in the parking area near the South Rim Campground entrance and venture down to the Gunnison River where you can picnic, fish or just soak in the views.
Make it a Road Trip
When you think Colorado, visions of snow-capped peaks and herds of elk may come to mind. If you’re considering visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, you already know that this diverse state has much more to offer. Don’t end your vacation after you leave Black Canyon. Make it a road trip and consider visiting Colorado’s three other national parks and various other national park sites. From Black Canyon, head either five hours northeast to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Grand Lake Entrance (this is where you’ll find those iconic snow-capped peaks and elk herds), or four hours south to Mesa Verde National Park, home to cliff dwellings and Ancestral Puebloan history.