Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the result of two million years of natural weathering. Bring your RV to see and experience what Mother Nature is capable of. Some of the steepest cliffs, craggiest spires, and oldest rocks in all of the Americas can be found right here in this Colorado park.

Summers here tend to stay between 55 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit and drop to 45 to 60 degrees at night. You won’t have to worry too much about heat exhaustion, but may want to be prepared for nightly thunderstorms. You can expect snow in the winters, with day temperatures only getting as high as 40 degrees and as low as 10 degrees. Be sure to pack and dress accordingly.

The best and most popular times to visit the Black Canyon in your RV is during the warmer months, but don’t let that make you think that summer is the only good time to visit. There is a wide array of things to do and different ways to experience the park when you come at different times of the year. Hike the trails - including the inner canyon itself - or take in the sights on a scenic drive. In the warmer months, go horseback riding, rock climbing, kayaking, fishing, and more. During the colder months, go cross country skiing or snowshoe trekking. No matter when you visit, you’ll be guaranteed a great experience when you bring your rig to Black Canyon.

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RV Rentals in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Transportation in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Driving

The South Rim is only 14 miles from Montrose and the North Rim is only 11 miles southwest of Crawford. South Rim Road is typically available for vehicles from early April to mid-November. During the winter, the road is mostly closed off with the exception of allowing access to Gunnison Point and the Visitor Center, and open completely for cross country skiing and snowshoeing when the weather allows. The North Rim and East Portal roads close completely for the winter months with no exceptions.

Parking

Keep in mind that while the drives are beautiful throughout the park, parking may be limited. If you do not intend to camp inside the park, it may be best to leave the RV outside and take a car to make driving and parking much easier. If you do bring your RV for camping, there are spots to pull in at the North and South Rims, but not at the East Portal.

Public Transport

There is no public transportation inside the park, so using a car to get around is ideal. There are also many places to walk and plenty of hiking trails to choose from, with difficulties ranging from easy to hard. You can also go horseback riding. You don’t need a permit to do this, but you will be limited to only riding on Deadhorse Trail on the North Rim.

Campgrounds and parking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Campsites in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Reservations camping

South Rim Campground

South Rim has a total of 88 sites to choose from. The campsites here are surrounded by the beautiful oak-brush forest, and allow up to two vehicles and eight campers to stay a total of 14 consecutive days in a 30-day period. Loop A is open year-round and Loop B offers 30 amp hookups for RVs in the summer. Water is available seasonally and you'll have access to vault toilets, but there are no water or sewer hookups. Keep in mind that the water that is brought in, so you won't be able to use it to fill your tanks. Reservations can be made for loops A and B, but must be made at least three days in advance. If you’re bringing your RV, making reservations for Loop B is the best option.

First-come first-served

North Rim Campground

North Rim offers a total of 13 sites that all offer wonderful shade from the Pinyon-Juniper Forest. These sites tend to fill pretty quickly, especially in the spring and fall, and sometimes in the summer as well. All of the sites here are first-come, first-serve, and are usually open from April to mid-November. You can bring up to two vehicles and eight people to camp for a total of 14 consecutive days in a 30-day period. These sites do allow for RV camping, but no hookups are available--just vault toilets and water trucked in during the summer.

East Portal

The East Portal Campground is located adjacent to the park in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Campsites are surrounded by plenty of box elder trees and are all first-come, first-serve. This camping area is usually open from May to mid-October, but is subject to change. Vehicles over the length of 22 feet are not allowed due to extremely steep grades and sharp curves, so RV camping is not recommended in this area. Wherever you decide to camp in or near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, keep in mind that you’ll be sharing space with wild bears. Be sure that all food and any scented products are locked away in bear-proof storage lockers or in a locked and enclosed vehicle. This will not only protect you, but also helps to protect the bears.

South Rim Campground

Though most of South Rim Campground is reservation-only, one loop is designated as first-come, first-serve. When you stay here in Loop C, you'll have have a picnic table and fire ring, plus access to water and vault toilets, but no hookups.

Alternate camping

Off-Park Campgrounds

If you’re looking for a place to stay with a few more amenities, There are plenty of options for camping in and near Black Canyon at the Gunnison National Park. You’ll be sure to find a variety of campgrounds that offer all the amenities that you could need, from full hookups and close proximity to the national park you’ve come to visit, to having free wifi, cable TV, a pool, a hot tub, and even a dog park. You can even find a few with laundry facilities and showers.

Seasonal activities in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Spring

Hiking the Inner Canyon

While hiking the inner canyon can prove to be quite a challenge, it’s a great way to immerse yourself and really learn to appreciate the canyon on a whole different level. There are no marked trails through the canyon, and this strenuous hike is only truly recommended for very experienced hikers. If you’re willing to take it on, you’ll need to get a permit. Be sure to bring a gallon of water and high energy snacks. Also be aware of certain common dangers such as bears and poison ivy.

Hiking the North Rim

There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from at the North and South Rims. Always tread carefully, as many of the trails are close to steep drop-offs and may have some rough terrain. The shortest and easiest trail that you can find at the North Rim is Chasm View Nature Trail, at ⅓ mile long round trip. For a more strenuous route at North Rim, head to Green Mountain by taking North Vista Trail - a trip totaling 7 miles.

Hiking the South Rim

The shortest trail at South Rim is Cedar Point Nature Trail at ⅔ mile long round trip. The most difficult trail you’ll find in this area is Oak Flat Loop Trail that’s only 2 miles round trip. All of the trails offered have breathtaking views that are totally worth the physical exertion.

Wildlife Watching

When you visit Black Canyon, you’re almost guaranteed to see some wildlife, no matter what time of the year you come. If you take the time and effort to seek the wildlife out, it can be a really neat learning experience. Learn about the different creatures that live here, and see different species at different times of the year. So wear neutral clothes that blend in with the environment, grab some binoculars, and shhh -- be still and see what you can find.

Photography

The spring time is the perfect time of the year to get some really great nature pictures here at Black Canyon. Everything is just beginning to come to life again with vibrant budding trees and colorful blossoms, so now is the time to get out that camera of yours out.

Summer

Kayaking

Kayaking the Gunnison River is a fun summer activity, but only for expert kayakers. Kayaking here is known to be highly challenging. People that choose to try it do so at their own risk - even the most experienced kayakers have lost their lives here. Don’t attempt to kayak here unless you know what you’re doing and you’re willing to take the risk. Poison ivy growing along the river’s edge is another concern to take into consideration.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is another activity in the park that is only recommended for experts. Climbing season starts mid-April and goes to early June, then from mid-September to early November. There is not a lot of information available on rock climbing, which means there are plenty of options for creating your own path. The canyon is deep and narrow, and climbing can prove to be extremely challenging. A permit is required to go rock climbing here.

Fishing

The Gunnison River is designated as Gold Medal Waters and Wild Trout Waters by the state wildlife commission due to the river’s impressive amount of wild trout and great fishing opportunities. This makes the Gunnison River a very popular place to go fishing. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the regulations - real bait is not allowed for use, and all trout catches are catch and release only. Lose yourself in the wonderful wildlife while you fish and relax.

Camping

If you’re trying to pick the best time of the year to plan your RV camping trip, think about reserving a spot in the summertime. The kids are out of school, there are lots of people to hangout with, and the weather is just wonderful during this time of the year.

Birdwatching

The summer is a great time to try to spot and identify the wide variety of birds that call this park their home. You might get to see the Peregrine Falcon - the world’s fastest bird. You can also see the Blue Grouse, different species of eagles and hawks, and even the Canyon Wren on early mornings.

Fall

Scenic Drives

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a beautiful place to visit, and driving through it all can be a relaxing experience. Take your time and set aside a few hours to drive on either South Rim or North Rim Road. South Rim offers 12 scenic overlooks that you can stop at - most of these are reached by hiking a small trail to get to them. Some of the best views to stop at during the drive are Gunnison Point, Painted Wall, Chasm View, and Sunset View. North Rim Road offers 6 overlooks and also has some of the best views that you could possibly wish for! If you’d like to follow the Gunnison River, you can take East Portal Road. Be aware that this road has some steep grades and sharp curves, so they don’t allow vehicles longer that 22 feet. Careful driving is highly encouraged on this treacherous road. All of these scenic routes are closed during the winter to make it safe for all drivers.

Night Sky Viewing

Due to the park being far out from city life, the nights are much darker than most of us are used to. This means that the stars shine brilliantly. In some areas of the park, you can see up to 15,000 stars, as compared to the 500 or so stars that most people can see in more urban places. You can stargaze on your own in the park, or attend a evening talk in the park by local astronomers between the months of May through September. The park even has a huge astronomy festival every June, where you can listen to guest speakers and participate in special activities.

Horseback Riding

Bring your horse to the National Park and ride Deadhorse Trail. Don’t let the name fool you though; this trail, totaling 5 miles, is rated easy to moderate. If you’re looking for more places to take your horse and ride, head to Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, just west of the park.

Exploring the River

The Gunnison River sure is a powerful one. After all, it is what carved out the Black Canyon that is now here for you to see, explore, and enjoy. But who wouldn’t want to see the source of the canyon itself? The fall is a great time to go exploring the river. Be sure to take precautions and check conditions before heading out.

Winter

Cross -Country Skiing

During the winter, South Rim Drive is closed off to vehicle transportation, but makes for an excellent trail for cross country skiing. Park at the South Rim Visitor Center and get started skiing the 6 mile trail. Enjoy the great overlooks while you’re out there.

Snowshoeing

In the winter, you can still experience some of the great trails at Black Canyon -- try going snow trekking. Oak Flat Look and Rim Rock are fantastic trails to start with. The views that you’ll find here are incredible, and you can immerse yourself in a winter wonderland. Be sure to wear enough to stay warm the whole time that you’re out.

Winter Backcountry Camping

For the serious campers out there, brave the winter by camping out along the closed South Rim Drive, beyond Pulpit Rock Overlook. You can only do this if you have a permit and if you’re willing to risk hypothermia and other dangers of the cold. The wilderness in the winter is a rough world but for the hardy, camping here is a rush.

Snowplay

There is so much that you can do in the snow that doesn’t even require extra things like snowshoes or skis. Simply get outside and let your imagination wander. Catch snowflakes on your tongue, make snow angels, build a snowman, or start a friendly snowball fight. Take advantage of the winter elements in an incredible setting.

Contemplation

The winter time is the perfect time for contemplating life and all that it has to offer. This time of the year creates a quiet and calm atmosphere, and you can enjoy it without walking outside of your RV. Curl up with a nice hot drink and let your mind wander as you watch the snow fall outside the window.

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