Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
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Introduction

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the result of two million years of natural weathering. Some of the steepest cliffs, craggiest spires, and oldest rocks in all of the Americas can be found right here in this Colorado park. Large yet intimate, this area offers blood pumping recreation, scenic vistas, breathtaking rivers, and brilliant night skies. Bring the whole family to see and partake in what Mother Nature created.
No matter the season, RV camping at the Black Canyon is a comfortable experience. Summers here tend to stay between 55 and 90 degrees 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 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 enjoy the park during all four seasons. Choose your adventure by hiking the trails—including the inner canyon itself—or taking in the sights on a scenic drive. In the warmer months, go horseback riding, rock climbing, kayaking, fishing, and rafting. 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. Whether you're a seasoned van dweller, or just renting an RV from nearby, there are plenty of areas to set up camp, unwind, and reconnect with nature.

Park Alerts (1)

[Park Closure] Road Closures

South Rim Drive is currently open but could close again if winter conditions exist. East Portal Road is closed for the winter.

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 open for vehicle traffic from early April to mid-November. During the winter, the road is mostly closed off except to allow access to Gunnison Point and the Visitor Center. The road is open for cross country skiing and snowshoeing when the weather permits. The North Rim and East Portal roads close entirely 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 Campground inside the national park has a total of 88 sites. The beautiful oak-brush forest surrounds the campsites here, and the campground allows up to two vehicles and eight campers to stay a total of 14 consecutive days in 30 days. Loop A is open year-round, and Loop B offers 30-amp hookups for RVs during the summer. Water is available seasonally, and you'll have access to vault toilets. Keep in mind that the water that is brought in, so you won't be able to use the water 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.

Grand Junction KOA

Surrounded by red-rock structures, desolate canyons, eroded mountains, miles and miles of white-knuckle hiking, ATV and mountain biking trails, and a surprising number of vineyards and wineries, Grand Junction, CO has everything for the nature lover and outdoor enthusiast. Located amid numerous national parks and forests, including the Black Canyon, this is the perfect campground for those looking to get close to nature without leaving the comforts of home behind. The pet-friendly Grand Junction KOA is centrally located to the many activities in the area, with plenty of deluxe patio sites complete with full hookups and up to 50-amp service, or water/electric only sites for rigs up to 75 feet. Stay connected with cable TV and Wi-Fi, and keep fit at the pool, play mini-golf, or take advantage of the on-site bike rentals. Propane and firewood are available for purchase.

Ouray KOA

Welcome to Ouray KOA, nestled near the Uncompahgre River and the San Juan Mountains. Here, you’ll have easy access to the rugged reaches of southwestern Colorado, including the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The campground rests at an elevation of around 7,250 feet. Come and enjoy a dip in the natural hot springs or sauna. The Creekside Cafe is a popular place to grab a bite to eat before heading out for a hike. If you’re in the mood for some live music and barbeque, stop by the KOA’s bar on the creek. Are you feeling adventurous? Rent a Jeep for the day and take it out to tour the old mines and ghost towns. Sites at the Ouray KOA offer 50-amp service and can accommodate rigs of up to 80 feet in length.

Montrose / Black Canyon Nat'l Park KOA

Head out to southwestern Colorado and experience the beauty and diversity of nature at high elevations that will make your head spin. Montrose/Black Canyon Nat'l Park KOA is near natural sites like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and the San Juan Mountains. This KOA is close to areas that are perfect for hiking, rafting, golfing, skiing, and so much more. Montrose/Black Canyon Nat'l Park KOA also has reliable amenities like Wi-Fi, cable TV, a pool, a hot tub, and large pull-through sites that can accommodate rigs of up to 75 feet. If you're looking to be up close to the action yet stay close to comfort, this is the campground for you.

Gunnison KOA

Kick-off your shoes and feel the water beneath your feet in the state’s most sought after water landmark. At the Gunnison KOA, stay close to fishing, boating, and swimming with Blue Mesa Reservoir only eight miles away. As the name suggests, the campground is close to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Fry up your daily catch from the campground’s very own trout pond and gather the family beneath the pavilion. Kids and parents alike will love the furry friends at the weekend petting zoo. Whether you’re tired after a day of picking wildflowers in the nearby town of Crested Butte, or from exploring one of the 2,700 foot Black Canyon waterfalls, you’ll find rejuvenation nestled on a grassy, 50-amp serviced site. Other amenities at this RV campground include Wi-Fi, a Kamping Kitchen, and firewood and propane are both available on-site for purchase.

First-come first-served

North Rim Campground

North Rim offers a total of 13 sites that all provide wonderful shade from the pinyon-juniper woodland 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-served, and the campground is usually open from April through mid-November. You can bring up to two vehicles and eight people to camp for a total of 14 consecutive days in 30 days. These sites do allow for RV camping, but no hookups are available. Generator use, however, is permitted within designated operating hours. RVs and rigs with a maximum length longer than 35 cannot be accommodated. Vault toilets are available, and water is 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 all of the sites are all first-come, first-served. This camping area is usually open from May to mid-October, but operating dates are subject to change. Vehicles over the length of 22 feet are not allowed in this campground due to extremely steep grades and sharp curves, so RV camping is not recommended. 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 a locked and enclosed vehicle. Bear safety will not only protect you, but it 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-served campers. When you stay here in Loop C, you'll 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 RV 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 proximity to the national park you’ve come to visit, to having free Wi-Fi, cable TV, a pool, a hot tub, and a dog park. You can even find a few parks 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 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 experienced hikers. If you’re willing to take this rigorous trek on, you’ll need to get a permit. Be sure to bring a gallon of water and high energy snacks with you, and while hiking, be aware of common dangers such as bears and poison ivy.

Photography

Rock, water, and sky come together to create the perfect backdrop not only for RV camping but also for some prime-nature photography. The springtime is the ideal time of the year to capture nature here at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Everything is just beginning to come to life again with vibrant budding trees and colorful blossoms, so your pictures seem to spring to life.

Wildlife Watching

When you visit Black Canyon, you’re almost guaranteed to see some wildlife, no matter what time of the year you visit. If you take the time and effort to seek the wildlife out, it can be a fun and exciting experience. Learn about the different creatures that live here, and see different species at different times of the year. Wear neutral clothes that blend in with the environment, grab some binoculars, and shhh—be still and see what you can find. For the safety of you and the animals, keep a distance of at least 100 feet from any wild animal, no matter how friendly they may seem.

Hiking the South Rim

The shortest trail at South Rim is the Cedar Point Nature Trail. The path is a .65-mile round trip hike. The most challenging trail you’ll find in this area is Oak Flat Loop Trail, and that’s only two-miles round trip. All of the trails, regardless of the difficulty, have breathtaking views. So whatever path you take, prepared for some fantastic scenery along the way.

Hiking the North Rim

There are plenty of hiking trails to choose from at both the North and the 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 path that you can find at the North Rim is Chasm View Nature Trail, a .35 mile-long round trip. For a more challenging route at the North Rim, head to Green Mountain by taking North Vista Trail—a trip totaling seven miles.

Summer

Rafting

If you're looking to cool off in the summer months, consider taking a ride on a raft. Although rafting is not available on the tumultuous Gunnison River, some private outfitters offer guided trips in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, just west of the park. Pack your swimsuit and sense of adventure with you in the pop-up camper, and plan a camping and rafting adventure.

Kayaking

Kayaking the Gunnison River is a fun summer activity, but only for expert kayakers. If you're a pro that's up for the challenge, lock down the kayak on top of the rig and prepare for a bumpy ride. 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 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, so keep your eyes peeled, and don't brush up against any brush.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is an adventurous activity, usually only recommended for experts. Climbing season starts mid-April and goes through early June, and then it picks up again from mid-September through 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 excellent fishing opportunities. The award-winning waters make the Gunnison River a popular place to go fishing, so don't forget to pack your gear in the Airstream before you hit the road this summer. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the regulations—real bait is not allowed, and all trout catches are catch and release only. What is better than losing yourself in the beautiful 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, nature is calling you out of doors, and the weather is pleasant during the summer. Camping in the western portion of Colorado is a popular summertime activity, so it's best to plan your trip early to secure the best reservable campgrounds.

Birdwatching

The summer is a great time to try to spot and identify the wide variety of birds that call this park their home. If you are patient and head to the appropriate areas of the park, 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. If you are an early riser, dawn is one of the best times to look for the canyon wren.

Fall

East Portal Road

If you’d like to follow the Gunnison River, you can take East Portal Road. It may be a good idea to leave the Airstream at the campground because this road has some steep grades and sharp curves, and doesn't allow for vehicles longer than 22 feet. Careful driving is highly encouraged on this treacherous road. The Curecanti National Recreation Area is an excellent place to start this scenic stretch and offers fishing, camping, and picnicking facilities. The East Portal Road is not open during the winter months.

North Rim Road

If you're itching to get away from the campground, head to the North Rim Road. You may want to leave the pop-up back at camp; however, as part of this route is gravel. This scenic drive offers six overlooks and presents you with some of the best views in the entire park. The tour usually takes around three hours, depending on how long you stop to take in the views at the overlooks. More information about this drive can be found at the North Rim Ranger Station, which is open intermittently during the summer months. Both Ranger Station and the North Rim Road are closed during the winter.

South Rim Road

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a beautiful place to visit, and seeing everything through the window of your camper can be a relaxing experience. Take your time and set aside a few hours to drive the South Rim Road. South Rim offers 12 scenic overlooks that you can stop at—with most of the overlooks easily reached by hiking a small trail. If you can't make it to all 12 overlooks, prioritize Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View.

Stargazing

Because the park is far from city lights, the nights are much darker than they are in the populated areas of Colorado. The isolated location means that the stars shine more brilliantly here. 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 settings. You can stargaze on your own in the park, or attend an evening talk in the park by local astronomers between May and 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

If you have horses, and you want to explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison on your horse, consider visiting the park during the most colorful season, the fall. The Deadhorse Trail is a favorite riding trail for both horses and riders. Don’t let the name fool you though; this trail is five miles long and 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. The crisp fall air makes for a uniquely refreshing ride, and without the summer crowds, it's easy for both you and your horse to feel at peace out on the trails.

Exploring the River

The Gunnison River is a powerful source of water. After all, the river is what carved out the Black Canyon, creating the majestic landscape, steep walls, and picturesque vistas. Who wouldn’t want to see the source of the canyon itself? If you wish to get closer to the river, Rim Rock Trail is an easy hike that rewards you with stunning views of the Gunnison River. The trail starts near your campground at Loop C of the South Rim Campground. The fall is a great time to go exploring the river as the leaves change color. 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. If you don't have cross country ski gear, rent your equipment at one of the outfitters in either Gunnison or Montrose, and then bring your rig to the South Rim Visitor Center. The six-mile skiing trail will take you across the rim and past some of the more stunning viewpoints in the park.

Snowshoeing

In the winter, you can still experience some of the trails at Black Canyon by spending your time outside snow trekking. Pack your snowshoes, trekking poles, and your cold-weather gear and head to either Oak Flat Loop or Rim Rock Trail. During the winter, the canyon's rim is one of the more scenic places to snowshoe because as you trek along the rim, the snow-covered rocks create a stark contrast of light and dark throughout the canyon. The views that you’ll find here are incredible, and you can immerse yourself in a winter wonderland. While leashed dogs are generally permitted in the park, it's best to leave your furry friend at home during the winter.

Playing in the Snow

There is so much that you can do in the snow that doesn’t even require you to pack extra things in the RV 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. Don't forget to bring your cold-weather gear, because you won't want to be outside without gloves, hats, thick socks, and plenty of layers of clothes.

Relaxing

The wintertime at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is the perfect time to visit if you prefer to visit parks during the offseason. Without the noise of people coming and going, winter is the ideal 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 the calm even without stepping foot outside of your RV. Curl up with a nice hot drink, bring a deck of cards or a good book, and let your mind wander as you watch the snowfall outside the window.

Winter Backcountry Camping

For the serious campers out there, brave the winter by tent camping out along the closed South Rim Drive, beyond Pulpit Rock Overlook. You can only camp here 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.

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