See Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Colorado’s Own Grand Canyon
You’ve most likely heard of the Grand Canyon right? Millions of people travel across the globe to see Arizona’s most popular national park. While the Grand Canyon is nothing short of epic, many haven’t heard of the other legendary canyon sitting right next door in Colorado.
While not as large as the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an absolute wonder to see.
It’s has an incredible depth of 2,722 ft and stretches about 48 miles long, it’s easy to see why many visitors consider this as Colorado’s own personal Grand Canyon.
Quick Geology of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
So what’s the deal with this canyon? And why is it named a black canyon? Well, let’s throw some facts at you!
The Gunnison river, which runs through the canyon, drops an average of 34 ft per mile. (Compared to the Grand Canyon at only 7.5 ft per mile) Making this the 5th steepest mountain/river descent in all of North America!
This intense steepness causes the canyon walls to be dramatically tall. Making it difficult for sunlight to ever enter inside. Sometimes the canyon sees sunlight for as little as 35 minutes per day!
This results in the canyon being often covered in shadows, giving the appearance of dark, black walls.
The constant display of darkness eventually lead to the naming of the canyon, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Another contributor to the canyon’s steep facade is the rocks extreme durability. Lining the walls of the canyon is old metamorphic rock aged around 1.7 billion years old.
This remarkably strong rock keeps the canyon standing tall and incredibly narrow compared to other canyons. Just about enough width for the Gunnison River to carve right through.
If this isn’t already enough to entice you, then I don’t know what will.
How to Get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located on the western side of Colorado, just 20 minutes from the city of Montrose. Head north on Highway 347 from Highway 50 to reach the parks entrance.
If you’re in need of nightly accommodation, food, or supplies, Montrose is your go to place. Being so close to the park makes this the best spot for convenient trips to and from the park!
Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park During A Government Shutdown
Surprisingly, Black Canyon of the Gunnison was just recently established as a national park in 1999. Making it the 6th youngest national park in the US! However, during our recent visit in January 2019, the national park was closed due to the U.S. government shutdown.
While the park technically kept their gates open, there were no government operations available. Meaning closed visitor centers and unplowed roads, leaving much of the park inaccessible due to heavy snow.
Although, we were still able to fit in a hiking trail and see a couple viewpoints with the limited options we had!
Because of the road closures we were only able to drive as far as the South Rim Campground and the Visitor Center.
From these 2 points, you can access Rim Rock Trail, Tomichi Point, and Gunnison Point. We found a way to incorporate all three into one easy hike!
Hiking Rim Rock Trail – to Tomichi & Gunnison Point
After parking off the side of the snowy road, we trekked through the South Rim Campground in thick snow just to reach the trailhead.
Of course, this will probably be a completely different experience for you since you’ll most likely be here when the government is open!
Strangely, it was still a fun experience visiting in these conditions. Slightly apocalyptic feeling having no one around along with the unmaintained park.
Also one of the many perks to visiting national parks in winter! You basically have the whole park to yourself.
- Length: 1.5 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 187 ft
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time to Complete: 1-2 hours (depending if you see both viewpoints)
- Trail starts in South Rim Campground and ends at the Visitor Center
- While it’s an easy trail, we still recommend proper hiking shoes for comfort and safety
Starting the trail from the campgrounds means you’ll hike slowly down towards the canyon. From the beginning, you can’t see any views of the Black Canyon just yet but they quickly come into view soon enough.
Follow the trail down then left into a small section of small trees.
Basically a cute little bush forest that’s dense enough to where you can’t see through it. Kind of reminds me of a portal you have to go through before you reach the canyon.
It was so beautiful seeing all the branches coated in soft white snow!
Stay right at a small junction within the bush forest to stay on Rim Rock Trail.
After this portion, continue along the path down a slight decline, winding your way near the canyon’s edge. You’ll notice the canyon coming more and more into view as you approach Tomichi Point.
We were here in the middle of winter which meant a completely snow covered wonderland. It was a cool 10°F with slight snowfall. A bit rough at times, especially with wind, but otherwise comfy with the proper gear.
If you’re considering visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in winter, be sure to check out our post on our top 12 Articles of Cold Weather Clothing. Enough to keep me (the most cold person ever), warm enough to handle the outdoors during winter.
After a good .5 miles of hiking, you’ll reach Tomichi Point. This is your first great viewpoint of the Black Canyon.
Holy s**t this canyon is MASSIVE! They weren’t kidding about the steep walls either. Tall, black, slick, jagged walls covered in snow makes this one of the most unique canyons I think I’ve ever laid eyes on.
You can either see Tomichi Point from this spot along the trail or head up and around to stand on the large wooden platform behind you. The platform lets you see the canyon from a higher vantage point. (Not like you really need to!)
Technically you can drive to Tomichi Point from the main road. This platform is where you would stand if you chose to drive rather than hike.
Standing up here from this viewpoint feels a little sketchy with such a straight drop just a few feet away. Keep your distance and be smart, that Instagram photo isn’t worth your life.
Continue along Rim Rock Trail for another .25 miles to reach the Visitor Center and Gunnison Point. Both also accessible by car if you wish to drive.
To see Gunnison Point, head towards the back of the visitor center to a short trail that takes you down to the viewpoint. It’s a quick 3 minute walk to reach the platform overlooking the canyon.
Now, I was still shook from the last view, but I have to say, I think Gunnison Point made me literally gasp for breath. This platform is surrounded by a thick wooden barrier (for good reason) making it more comfortable to enjoy the view.
From this spot, you can see down through the canyon as it curves and bends along the river. Of course, it’s still a little stomach dropping peering over the edge and seeing a dizzying vertical drop.
Despite the fear some may have from heights, Gunnison point is an intoxicating view! From here, you’re further immersed into the canyon as part of it creates a peninsula in which the platform is built on.
Once you’re on the platform you have over a 180 degree view of the canyon. One that honestly leaves you breathless and wanting more.
Looking left, you can really see all the layering of rocks and individual slabs that make up the canyon walls. Looking right lets you see further into the canyon, providing an amazing perspective of just how grand it really is.
We spent a good 25 minutes just standing and gawking at the absurd view in front of us. No matter how much time you have, I highly recommend including this stop on your next trip. That is if you’re stomach can handle the heights.
Once you’re ready, head back to Rim Rock Trail and take the trail back the way you came.
An Unforgettable Sight & Experience at Black Canyon of The Gunnison
From just the small amount we saw of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we were still blown away by the impressive canyon scenery. It’s absolutely insane the things nature can create. Such monumental landscapes that form over time from the combination of just wind and water.
Never before have we seen such a steep, dark, and ominous canyon. The blackish walls of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison really add to the beastly vibe of this dangerous, but astonishing landscape. An intimidating natural wonder that you most certainly want to exercise caution with.
Undoubtedly, we hope to visit another time when there is no government shutdown in place. There’s tons more to see and do here and once again, we feel like we barely scratched the surface.
Wanting more crazy canyons? Check out our post where we hike down into The Grand Canyon along South Kaibab Trail in Arizona!
Have you been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison before? Maybe you had better luck and saw much more than we could. What was your favorite thing to do? Tell us in the comments below!
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