Explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Diana Rowe

National parks are the perfect vacation, no matter who you travel with or how you get there…and that’s why I’m a fan of national parks.

Lucky for me, my backyard of Colorado has four national parks, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

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Photo by misterfarmer from Pixabay

Day Trip from Montrose, Colorado

Montrose is in the heart of the Grand Valley, surrounded by high passes and road-trip-worthy highways and byways.

Located 20 minutes from its downtown, the perfect day trip is a visit to the natural wonders of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Taller than the Empire State Building and the Great Pyramids of Egypt at 2,700 feet deep and 48 miles long, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park might not rival the mighty Grand Canyon’s dimensions, but its dramatic views will take your breath away.

That's why here in Colorado, we like to call "The Black" our “mini Grand Canyon."

No other North American canyon combines such a wide range of ecosystems.

Your scenic drive through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison 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.

This is definitely one side trip worth a visit.

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Photo Credit: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

History of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Compared to other parks, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is relatively small, covering less than 50 square miles.

Declared a National Monument in 1933, in 1999, it was upgraded to national park status. The entire canyon is about 48 miles in length, and the park includes 12 of the most dramatic miles.

Beginning in Curecanti National Recreation Area at Blue Mesa Dam, the canyon continues west through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, ending downstream in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area.

No matter where you explore this Colorado national park, you’re going to love the view — and stop often for photos.

Learn more about this park's history and the surrounding area by stopping at the lodge-like South Rim Visitor Center & Ranger Station.

And be sure to get your park passport stamp at the visitors' center.

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Photo Credit: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

The South Rim

The South Rim offers spectacular views of the Black Canyon and 12 viewpoints.

Some of these scenic points are close to the road, while others require a short walk. Don’t miss Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View.

Traveling east on U.S. 50 from Black Canyon, take the short detour to Cimarron Canyon & Visitor Center, its railroad exhibits, and a view of Morrow Point Dam.

Continue on Highway 50 for unique views of geologic formations and vistas of the surrounding mountains.

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Photo Credit: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

The North Rim

The North Rim Drive is the road less traveled.

A gravel road opens late March through mid-November (weather dependent), this drive offers six exceptionally stunning overlooks of the canyon.

East Portal Road

The observation deck of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.

Now for the fun Colorado drive, the 6.5 mile East Portal Road down to the bottom of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

East Portal intersects the South Rim Drive in Black Canyon National Park at the entrance station.

Don’t let this paved road fool you.

It has steep grades up to 16% with lots of switchbacks, simply spectacular scenery, before dead-ending at the bottom of the Canyon at the East Portal dam and camping area.

NOTE: Vehicles over 22 feet in length, including trailers, are prohibited. The road is closed from early November to mid-April.

Dog-friendly Places to Visit in Black Canyon National Park

Yes, this is one of the dog-friendly national parks to visit. Leashed dogs are permitted in several areas of the park. Here is an excerpt of their pets in the park policy:

Dogs on leash are allowed on roads, in the campgrounds, at the overlooks, on Cedar Point and North Rim Chasm View Nature trails, and on the Rim Rock Trail. Pets are not allowed on any other hiking trails, inner canyon routes or in the wilderness area....* From approximately June 1 to August 15, dogs are allowed in campsites, but may not be taken on walks (even on leash), and may not be carried around the South Rim Campground or on the Rim Rock Trail due to potentially aggressive deer protecting their fawns.

Want more views of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

Located on Colorado’s pristine West Elk Mountains, the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway unites three very different mining communities.

You'll see four diverse wilderness areas, and your drive can include stops in mountain towns like Crested Butte, Gunnison, Montrose, and Carbondale.

Swinging to the south, you'll pass those spectacular views of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park between Montrose and Gunnison.

When you take the West Elk Loop, not only is a scenic view of the National Park but there is no entrance fee.

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Photo Credit: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

How to Get To Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Montrose: From Denver, take the scenic drive south on US 285 through Fairplay and Buena Vista. Then head south on US 24 to the junction with US 50 (just before Salida). Drive west on US 50 over Monarch Pass and through Gunnison to Montrose.

Where to Stay Near Black Canyon?

Montrose offers several affordable, family-friendly, and biker-friendly accommodations, including the Hampton Inn Montrose; Country Lodge, and Canyon Creek Bed and Breakfast.

Or you could continue on to Ouray (about a 45-minute drive) for a hot springs vacation at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs.

Prefer camping?

Choose from several campgrounds around Blue Mesa Reservoir, South Rim, North Rim, and East Portal Campgrounds.

But book early as Colorado campgrounds tend to sell out especially with views like this!

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Photo Credit: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

Explore more Colorado National Parks

Perfect for family travel: Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Road trip for families: Family Friendly Rocky Mountain National Park

Motorcycle road trip: On Top of the World: Rocky Mountain National Park

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Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe wants to open the conversation that Life after 50 is not the end — it’s the beginning! She'll talk real lifestyle stuff like juggling work, marriage, caregiver for elderly parent, relationships with adult children, grandchildren, and blended families, what works what doesn't, but when all else fails, she bakes! She'll share her favorite recipes, especially baking! her favorite traveling partners are her grandkids — and sometimes she even lets their parents tag along! She wants to inspire other grandparents to travel with their adult children and grandchildren to create new and lasting memories as a multigenerational family. Seriously! The. Most. Fun. Ever.

Denver, CO
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