Peeking deep into the marbled walls of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an otherworldly experience. This 30,000-acre national park, 70 miles southeast of Grand Junction, is just one of Colorado’s many treasured landscapes. It offers some great, no-frills RV camping and you can search for an RV in Montrose County to start the adventure. If you love adrenaline, this is the perfect place to visit for kayaking, rock climbing, and hiking.
Black Canyon got its name from the 2,000-foot deep canyon that only receives a half hour of sunlight each day in some places. It’s one of the younger national parks, established in 1999, but is home to some of the oldest exposed rock in the world. These walls give us a glimpse of this area’s geology dating back two billion years. The canyon was carved out by the Gunnison River, which is one of the fastest-flowing rivers in North America. The park headquarters are on the south rim, though both the north and south rims are equally worthy of exploration.
Black Canyon has endless hiking opportunities, though many of them are not recommended for novices. Inner canyon trails are dangerous and should only be attempted by experienced hikers, like the two-mile strenuous Oak Flat Loop, which takes you below the canyon rim for entrancing views downstream. Most other routes to the inner canyon aren’t maintained and are unmarked. Don’t fret, many other great, easy hikes don't put you in precarious situations, some of which can be accessed right from your RV campsite. One such trail is the one-mile Rim Rock Nature Trail that affords spectacular views down the canyon’s unique walls.
The Gunnison River offers many exciting recreational opportunities, though it’s not for everyone. Kayaking on this portion of the Gunnison is world-class, but should only be attempted by expert kayakers capable of self-rescue. The steep decline of the river creates fast flows and rapids; swimming and wading are dangerous. There are easier guided rafting opportunities available nearby. Fishermen have it a little easier; this section of the Gunnison has been designated Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water for its excellent trout fishing. There are many rules in effect; be familiar with them before heading out.
Other outdoor activities include driving both the north and south rim roads, which offer several fantastic overlooks. North Rim Road has some of the best jaw-dropping views in the park. Wildlife watchers can look out for yellow-bellied marmots, mountain lions, elk, bighorn sheep, and bobcats. And finally, experienced climbers can attempt the routes going up the 2,000-foot high cliff walls.
Camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
There are two RV campgrounds at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Neither of them has water fill or dump stations for your RV, and only vault toilets are available. Every site does have a picnic table and fire ring with grill, however. All pets must be kept on a leash and at your campsite at all times. When you’re looking at rental RVs, the park recommends a maximum vehicle length of 35 feet due to tight roads and spaces.
The South Rim Campground has 88 sites, two of which are wheelchair-accessible. This is the only campground open year-round; during winter one of the loops remains open, but there are no services. This gorgeous campground is situated in an oak brush setting above 8,000 feet in elevation and can get chilly at night, even in the summer. Generator use is prohibited in the South Rim Campground year-round, but one of the loops does have 30-amp service available during the summer. The other campground is the smaller North Rim Campground, a 13-site seasonal campground among pinyon and juniper trees. Portions of the road to North Rim Campground are unpaved, and water is only available during peak summer months.
Exploring the Area
Visitors camping at Black Canyon National Park are presented with endless summer opportunities. The south rim features daily ranger walks to learn about the natural history, human history, and wildlife. Nighttime activities include campfire programs and stargazing; the open, black skies make this area perfect for watching the night sky. Similar programs are available at the many other attractions nearby, including Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, and several other state parks and recreation areas.
The nearby town of Montrose is your best bet for fuel and supplies. This small town near the south rim has a cute downtown area with galleries, small shops, cafes, breweries, and great BBQ joints. It's also an excellent base for checking out other nearby recreation opportunities like hiking, rafting, and horseback riding. Summer events include organized bike rides, cultural events, and live music. You won't find much on the north rim of the park, mostly miles and miles of beautiful mountains and wilderness. It’s beautiful country to drive through if you’re heading to Denver, which is 250 miles to the northeast.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO is the perfect spot to start your next road trip.
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