Colorado 2015: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park


Day 4: August 4, 2015

Have you ever heard of the Gunnison River and Black Canyon of the Gunnison? I don’t blame you if you haven’t – I really hadn’t either until a couple of years ago. But after hearing about a canyon that rivals the Grand Canyon in terms of its awe-inspiring beauty – I knew I had to see it.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has two main roads, one on each rim of the canyon. Driving to the other rim is about a 90 minute trip, because you have to go outside the park and drive around. We chose to visit the South Rim, based on what worked for our trip route, which has a Rim Road that is about 6 miles long with several viewpoints along the way.

A view of the Gunnison River

A view of the Gunnison River

We went to the Visitor’s center, which has a fabulous view of the Canyon from an overlook. Jon and I also went on a 2 mile hike, the Oak Flat Loop Trail, which took us through stands of Gambel Oak trees, and descends a short distance into the canyon. It gave a great perspective on what the canyon walls look like from below. At one point of the trail, there is a sheer wall of granite – you can look up and see the sparkly rock, and see the swifts leaving and returning to their nests high above.

A butterfly on the Oak Flat Loop Trail.

A butterfly on the Oak Flat Loop Trail.

After our hike, we did the scenic drive, and stopped at several of the viewpoints, which have overlooks between 100 and 600 yards from the parking areas. Each viewpoint has a sign marking how far the walk is. Each overlook offers something different, showing various features of the geology of the canyon.

Rock formations at Black Canyon

Rock formations at Black Canyon

The Pulpit Rock Overlook has a unique rock formation jutting out into the canyon, giving a great view of the river.  Another of the overlooks, the Painted Wall overlook, gives a view of the Painted Wall to those who are willing to walk the 200 yards, which at 2,250 feet is the tallest cliff in Colorado, and 1,000 feet taller than the Empire State Building.

The Painted Wall with its unique features.

The Painted Wall with its unique features.

The view of the river below the Painted Wall

The view of the river below the Painted Wall

The last overlook on the South Rim Road is at Warner Point; it offers a 1373 yard hike (about 1.5 miles round trip), to a panoramic viewpoint.  In one direction, you can see the canyon, in the other, you get a spectacular view of the farmland outside the park.  Jon and I really enjoyed ourselves on this hike, and we were virtually alone the whole time!

A view of distant farmland from the Warner Point Trail

A view of distant farmland from the Warner Point Trail

After hiking the overlooks, we decided to take the 5 mile road down to the Gunnison River.  The road is extremely steep, with over a 16% grade, so we had to shift into low gear and take it slow (it did take us a little while to figure out how to get the rental car into the lowest gear).

Once at the river, we sat for a little while and relaxed, watching a fly fisherman further up the river.  Only catch and release is permitted.  We also saw a small branch floating down the river, and when it got just past us I realized it was actually a river otter!  I didn’t get any pictures though, because I was caught completely by surprise.

A fly fisherman in the Gunnison River.

A fly fisherman in the Gunnison River.

We had a fabulous day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, taking in the amazing views, and spending some time hiking along the rim.  Jon would like to see the south rim as well, but that will have to wait for another trip.

We couldn’t stay at the park too late, because we still have quite a long drive ahead of us – we were going to be visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park the next day.  We had dinner on the road, at the Blue Mesa Grill in Gunnison, which had an assortment of dishes.  I mixed and matched my dinner, with a Philadelphia sushi roll with mango and a cup of Baked Potato soup.  Jon had a Tuna roll, and shared his dad’s burger.  It hit the spot!

My Philadelphia Roll and Baked Potato Soup at the Blue Mesa Grill

My Philadelphia Roll and Baked Potato Soup at the Blue Mesa Grill

Obligatory pic at the Continental Divide

Obligatory pic at the Continental Divide

On the rest of the drive, we saw lots of magpies and rabbits, plus two bighorn sheep!  No photos though, as it was dusk and we were moving at a good clip along the highway.  What a great day!

Total driving distance on Day 4: 195 miles – Montrose – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Alamosa
Hotel for the night: Super 8, Alamosa – dated, strange room configuration, smokers right outside our window (YUCK!), decent breakfast.  

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5 thoughts on “Colorado 2015: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

  1. So difficult to photograph the canyon but you did a wonderful job! That 16% grade killed my brakes a few years ago (literally – I had to get new ones) so I’m glad you got that car into low gear! If you ever make it back, might I recommend a visit to the adjacent Curecanti National Recreation Area?

    • Thank you! It is one of those places where the photos don’t really do it justice. Luckily, Jon’s parents were with us, and he figured out how to get the car in low gear, because we were really burning the brakes at that point too! I hate that rental car companies don’t leave the owner’s manual in the glove box! We both hope to make it back and do more exploring in the area – I’ve put Curecanti on my list! It looks amazing too.

  2. Pingback: West 2016: Badlands NP Wildlife | Wine and History Visited

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