The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the most impressive Colorado national parks. Located in western Colorado, the Gunnison River has carved one of the steepest and narrowest canyons in North America. The Black Canyon Colorado has earned its name because the cliffs on either side of the canyon are so steep that they are usually in shadow, making the rock appear dark. In addition, much of the rock is volcanic and black in color. For travelers, the primary attractions at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison are the many excellent hiking trails through the mountains, a scenic drive along the south rim of the park, as well as some excellent spots to do traditional rock climbing. Although it is one of the smallest Colorado national parks, it has much to offer nature-lovers.
The park is located near the Gunnison and Rio Grande national forests, and not far from the border with Utah. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park contains the steepest and most scenic portion of the river canyon itself. The best-developed way to approach the canyon is along the scenic drive on the south rim, which is paved and has several outlooks for travelers to grab a photo opportunity. From the scenic drive you will have walk a short distance to get to certain outlooks, and there are also several trails on which you can approach the canyon on foot. Be careful if you decide to follow a trail down into the canyon, as the terrain is quite steep and will require you to be in moderately good physical shape.
The narrowest part of the Black Canyon Colorado is appropriately named The Narrows. This is also the most dramatic place to view the Black Canyon, as the black cliffs are jagged, very steep, and shot through with zigzagging lines of white stone, which are colored discs of pegmatite, a type of igneous rock that’s also found around the Black Hills of South Dakota. If you continue on the South Rim Road you will eventually get to the end of the road at High Point. From here there is a good view of the canyon as it continues further west, but you will not be able to go any further as the rest of the canyon is a designated wilderness area.
If you wish to approach the canyon from the other side, the North Rim road is a well-maintained gravel road that has views as good as those on the South Rim. However, since the South Rim road is paved and easier to navigate, few visitors venture to the north.
The Black Canyon is one of the best Colorado national parks to visit if you are an experienced rock climber. The park offers many opportunities for technical climbing, meaning it’s not appropriate for novices, and bouldering. With the appropriate gear, experienced climbers will find many challenging climbs to tackle in the park.
For those interested in camping, there is a campsite at Black Canyon Colorado located just inside the entrance to the park. Backpacking in the backcountry is allowed with a permit, but the routes are difficult and many trails are not well maintained. Check with a park ranger before any backcountry treks, and make sure to bring enough food and water.