The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, located in Montrose, Colorado, offers breathtaking views and unique geographical features that attract visitors worldwide. This awe-inspiring canyon, with its sheer black cliffs and steep drops down to the Gunnison River, is a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.
If you only have one day to explore this natural wonder, don’t worry – it’s possible to experience the highlights of the North and South Rims in a single day.
We’ve created the ultimate plan to experience Black Canyon’s best in a single day. This includes hitting the hidden gems and must-see items that the casual traveler might miss.
To make the most of your time, visit the South Rim, which offers numerous hiking trails and picturesque overlooks. Don’t miss the chance to take in the panoramic views along the South Rim Scenic Drive, including several stops at overlooks and points of interest.
Before heading to the North Rim, we’ll have you drive down one of the steepest roads in the country to get to the bottom of the canyon. This is the perfect place to bring lunch and enjoy the canyon’s depths.
After exploring the South Rim, visit the North Rim to experience even more scenic viewpoints and hiking opportunities.
As night falls, take advantage of the park’s Dark Sky Park designation and experience some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country.
Keep reading below to see our complete day at the Black Canyon.
- A one-day itinerary at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison should include visits to the North and South Rims.
- Take advantage of the numerous hiking trails and scenic drives on both rims for stunning views of the canyon and its surroundings.
- Don’t miss the opportunity for stargazing at this designated Dark Sky Park for a truly memorable experience.
Visiting the South Rim
The South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers a variety of captivating viewpoints and activities for visitors. Begin your day at the South Rim Visitor Center, where you can gather information about the park and get oriented. Ample parking is available at the visitor center, and be sure to pick up any souvenirs and a park map.
There is also a short film that plays on repeat that goes over the history of the canyon, early explorers, and some of the natural wonders. This plays every 10 or 15 minutes and is worth seeing even if you jump in late.
One of the first overlooks you will encounter is Gunnison Point, just behind the Visitor Center. This overlook provides a stunning glimpse of the canyon’s depth and beauty. The Black Canyon is one of the steepest and most narrow canyons in the entire US.
Another must-see viewpoint is Chasm View, offering a unique perspective of the canyon’s narrow and steep walls.
After exploring the viewpoints near the visitor center, embark on a scenic drive along the South Rim Road. This 7-mile-long road features 12 viewpoints, each offering a different vista of the canyon’s remarkable landscape.
Be sure to stop at the Painted Wall View, where you can marvel at the intricate patterns and colors on the canyon’s walls.
The South Rim is located at an elevation of approximately 8,000 feet. As such, be prepared for cooler temperatures and occasional altitude-related issues.
In summary, a one-day trip at Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s South Rim should include a visit to the South Rim Visitor Center, stops at Gunnison Point and Chasm View, a drive along South Rim Road with visits to Painted Wall View and other overlooks, and an awareness of the park’s entrance fee and elevation.
South Rim Hiking Trails
Rim Rock Nature Trail
Rim Rock Nature Trail offers a moderate 2-mile round-trip hike along the canyon’s rim. The self-guided trail features a relatively flat path that allows hikers to enjoy various plant life, including sagebrush, Gambel oak, pinyon pine, and Utah juniper.
Warner Point Trail
Warner Point Trail is an enjoyable hike offering spectacular canyon views. Spanning 1.5 miles round trip, this trail allows hikers to witness the park’s diverse vegetation, such as pinyon pine, juniper trees, and scrub oak. It also offers the breathtaking San Juan Mountains and the Uncompahgre Valley vistas.
Cedar Point Nature Trail
Cedar Point Nature Trail is a short, 2/3-mile round trip hike that starts from a viewpoint and offers two overlooks of the Gunnison River. This trail is perfect for those interested in learning about the canyon’s unique geology and the surrounding environment. Informative signs along the trail provide insights into the formation of the canyon and its various ecosystems.
Oak Flat Loop Trail
The Oak Flat Loop Trail is a moderately strenuous 2-mile round trip hike that descends from the South Rim into the inner canyon. This trail offers an excellent introduction to the canyon’s rugged terrain and provides striking views of the Painted Wall and other notable rock formations. Hikers should know that parts of the trail can be steep, so proper footwear and caution are advised.
South Rim Scenic Drive
The South Rim Scenic Drive is a must-visit attraction for travelers exploring the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The road is 7 miles long and offers breathtaking canyon views from 12 different viewpoints. Visitors should prepare to spend 2-3 hours at the park to experience the beauty it offers fully.
Viewpoints of Interest
Tomichi Point: As the starting point of the scenic drive, Tomichi Point is your first introduction to the canyon. From this vantage point, you can appreciate the remarkable depth and width of the Black Canyon.
Tomichi Trail is one of my favorite trails into the canyon for fishing; however, it is not for the faint of heart. The steep trail keeps most hikers away from the trail, but the fishing is fantastic.
Pulpit Rock Overlook: This popular overlook is 134 yards away from the parking area and takes 10 minutes to reach on foot. The Pulpit Rock Overlook offers a sweeping view of the Black Canyon, showcasing how narrow and deep it is.
Exclamation Point: Visitors need to hike 3 miles round trip on the North Vista Trail to access Exclamation Point. This viewpoint provides a close-up look at the dramatic chasm as it stretches out below you. The trip to Exclamation Point is worth the effort for those seeking an immersive experience of the canyon’s awe-inspiring landscape.
High Point: This viewpoint is located at the end of the South Rim Scenic Drive. It offers unique views of the surrounding area and is a great spot to take in the park’s natural beauty as a whole.
When planning your visit to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, be prepared to stop often, as you don’t want to miss the opportunity to drive the South Rim Road and experience each breathtaking views it offers.
East Portal at the Black Canyon
East Portal is a must-visit destination for anyone spending a day at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Accessible by the East Portal Road, this scenic route offers stunning canyon views and leads to the canyon base, where the Gunnison River flows.
The East Portal Road is a 5-mile-long, paved two-way road that takes about 20-45 minutes to drive in one direction, depending on your comfort levels with steep roads and your vehicle. Expect steep gradients and windy curves, making for a thrilling experience.
Upon reaching the East Portal, visitors are greeted by the majestic Gunnison River. The river features crystal clear waters and towering black canyon walls. The area offers various recreational activities.
One of the most popular activities among visitors is fishing. The Gunnison River is home to rainbow trout, brown trout, and cutthroat trout, making it an angler’s paradise.
In addition to fishing, East Portal is an excellent location for picnics, bird-watching, and photography. The combination of the striking landscape, the flowing river, and the diverse wildlife create a unique and unforgettable experience for park visitors.
Make your one-day itinerary at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park truly memorable, including a trip down the East Portal Road, where you’ll discover breathtaking landscapes, indulge in some tranquil river activities, and make lasting memories.
Visiting the North Rim
The North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers stunning views and a more primitive, quieter experience than its South Rim counterpart. You’ll need to use the North Rim entrance to access the North Rim. The entrance is more remote, providing a peaceful environment for visitors. It is essential to remember that services are limited on the North Rim, so come prepared with necessary supplies and check for updates on seasonal road closures.
Once you’ve entered the park, you’ll want to head down the North Rim Drive Road, a 4.5-mile unpaved gravel road suitable for all vehicles. This scenic route takes you to several spectacular overlooks, with five main overlook points and access to several hiking trails.
One must-see spot on the North Rim is the Chasm View Overlook, which offers a breathtaking view of the Painted Wall from the North Chasm View Trail. This overlook is an excellent opportunity to take photos and soak in the visual splendor of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
If you’re interested in exploring the inner canyon, know there are no maintained or marked trails. Instead, wilderness routes, or unmarked scrambles, lead to the river. These routes are challenging and only suitable for individuals in excellent physical condition.
In summary, a one-day itinerary at the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is all about the scenic drive, astonishing overlooks, and adventurous, intrepid wilderness routes. Be prepared, enjoy the views, and take in the unique beauty of this lesser-visited side of the park.
North Rim Hiking Trails
Chasm View Nature Trail
The Chasm View Nature Trail offers a wonderful introduction to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This short, 0.5-mile loop trail provides spectacular views of the canyon and the Gunnison River below. It is an easy hike, suitable for all ages and skill levels, making it a popular choice for families visiting the park.
To access the trailhead, drive along the North Rim Drive and turn off at the Chasm View Overlook. The trail itself is well-marked and maintained, making it easy to follow. As you walk, take in the breathtaking scenery, including dramatic cliffs and the raging Gunnison River far below.
Green Mountain-Uplands Trail
The Green Mountain-Uplands Trail is another excellent option for hikers looking to explore the North Rim of the canyon. This moderately difficult trail is 7.8 miles round trip, offering stunning views of both the Black Canyon and the surrounding Gunnison National Forest.
The trail begins at the North Rim Campground and takes you through a series of well-defined switchbacks as you climb Green Mountain. At the top, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the Black Canyon and the opportunity to take a break in the peaceful Uplands area.
Remember that the Green Mountain-Uplands Trail is more challenging than the Chasm View Nature Trail and may not be suitable for young or inexperienced hikers. However, this trail is an excellent choice for those seeking a more adventurous hike with incredible rewards.
Dark Sky Park and Stargazing
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not only known for its striking landscapes but also its status as an International Dark Sky Park. This designation acknowledges the park’s commitment to preserving the natural night skies and providing visitors with exceptional stargazing opportunities.
One of the best times to view the night skies is during the new moon phase or when the moon rises late at night. With little to no light pollution, visitors can enjoy unobstructed views of the Milky Way and up to 5,000 stars throughout the night. This spectacular sight is a rare experience in today’s world, where urban environments usually allow for the visibility of fewer than 100 stars.
The park offers a variety of stargazing programs to enrich your experience. For instance, Astronomy Ranger programs are led by knowledgeable guides who provide fascinating insights into celestial objects, planets, and constellations. These programs typically include telescope viewing sessions, allowing visitors to look closer at distant stars and galaxies.
Younger visitors can also partake in the Junior Ranger program, which aims to educate and inspire the next generation of astronomy enthusiasts. This program offers engaging activities encouraging kids to learn about and appreciate the night sky.
Seriously make sure that you take time to do the star gazing. You’ll be shocked and not realize that you can see that many stars.
Incorporating stargazing into your one-day itinerary at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a must-do activity. The park’s remarkable dark skies and informative ranger programs create a truly unforgettable experience under the stars.
History and Wildlife
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a stunning national park in Colorado with a rich history and diverse wildlife. The park was once home to Ute Indians, who lived in the area for centuries before European contact.
The canyon was later explored by John Gunnison, an American military officer, with his expedition team in the mid-19th century. It was eventually designated a national park in 1999 after being deemed worthy of protection due to its unique geological features and biologically diverse ecosystem.
Wildlife in the park ranges from large mammals, such as elk, to smaller creatures, like the camp robber bird, also known as the gray jay.
The canyon provides a rugged habitat for these species, allowing them to thrive despite the challenging environment.
The park is also home to various plant species, including juniper trees, which contribute to the area’s unique landscape.
Visitors to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison can learn about the region’s deep history while immersing themselves in the breathtaking natural beauty of the park. The wildlife and plant species that inhabit the area are a testament to the perseverance of nature and the importance of preserving such places for future generations to enjoy.
One-Day Itinerary Plan
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a stunning national park in Colorado that offers breathtaking views and unique geological features. Visitors who have just one day to spend in the park can make the most of their time by following this efficient itinerary plan.
Morning: South Rim Drive
Start your day by grabbing delicious coffee at The Coffee Trader and a giant cinnamon roll from Backstreet Bagel in Montrose to prepare you for a full day. This is perfect to consume during the short 20-minute drive to the South Rim Visitor Center to pick up a map and any necessary information.
From there, embark on the South Rim Drive, which offers numerous overlooks along its 7-mile stretch. Each stop provides a different canyon perspective, so take your time and enjoy the views at Gunnison Point, Pulpit Rock, and Cross Fissures.
After completing the South Rim Drive, head towards the Oak Flat Loop Trail. This moderate 2-mile loop takes approximately 1 to 1.5 hours and offers a mix of canyon views, lush vegetation, and the chance to see wildlife. Alternatively, if you’re up for a physical challenge and more time, consider the Warner Point Nature Trail, a 1.5-mile round trip showcasing various ecosystems and breathtaking scenery.
Afternoon: East Portal Road
Once you have completed your chosen hike, go down the steep, winding East Portal Road. Here, you’ll find the Crystal Dam, Gunnison River, and opportunities for fishing and picnicking.
Remember that the road is narrow, and large vehicles and trailers are prohibited. The temperatures are lower than the rim, and there are fewer people than on the rim drive.
Be sure to bring a fly rod or a fishing pole to relax in the water, take in the views, and catch a gold medal trout.
Late Afternoon: North Rim Drive
If time permits, consider exploring the North Rim of the Black Canyon. Drive for 1.5 hours to reach the North Rim entrance. Be prepared for dirt roads and fewer crowds. Key overlooks are Balanced Rock, Chasm View, and Kneeling Camel View. However, if visiting the North Rim is not feasible due to time constraints, you can use this time to revisit your favorite spots on the South Rim.
Following this one-day itinerary, visitors to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison can fully appreciate the natural beauty and geological wonders the park offers, even with limited time.
Visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison can be an exciting experience, offering breathtaking views and plenty of outdoor activities. When planning a one-day itinerary, it’s essential to consider the best time to visit, how to get there, and where to stay.
To make the most of your trip, the best time to visit the Black Canyon is during the months of May through September when the weather is pleasant and most park facilities are open. During this time, you can enjoy nature walks, scenic drives, and other outdoor activities while avoiding extreme temperatures or closures.
It can get quite hot in the middle of July and the monsoon season with afternoon thunderstorms is common in the latter part of August. Please plan accordingly.
Getting to the Black Canyon is fairly accessible from various locations. It is approximately a 5-hour drive from Denver and a 5-hour and 40-minute drive from Salt Lake City. If you are coming from Moab, the drive will take about 2 hours and 40 minutes. The park can also be reached from Montrose Airport, roughly a 20-minute drive.
Once you arrive at the Black Canyon, travelers have accommodation options. Some nearby hotels include the Super 8 by Wyndham, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Montrose, or the Days Inn by Wyndham in Montrose.
For a more outdoor experience, camping is available at the park’s South Rim Campground or the North Rim Campground.
During your one-day visit to the Black Canyon, you can explore various points of interest. The Gunnison Gorge is a popular attraction for hiking and fishing enthusiasts. At the same time, the South Rim Drive offers 12 scenic vistas along a 7-mile route, making it perfect for families and those seeking short hikes.
While visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, you may want to explore other nearby attractions. The area offers a variety of natural wonders, from national parks to recreational areas.
One notable nearby destination is Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known for its ancient Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, the park provides visitors with a unique insight into the history and culture of the Pueblo people who lived there over 700 years ago.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is another nearby attraction offering a dramatic landscape of towering sand dunes, diverse wildlife, and hiking, sand sledding, and stargazing opportunities. As the tallest sand dunes in North America, this park is an unforgettable outdoor destination.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-visit for those interested in exploring more of Colorado’s natural beauty. Known for its scenic landscapes, picturesque mountain peaks, and abundant outdoor activities, the park offers an unforgettable experience for hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.
Additionally, don’t miss the chance to visit Blue Mesa Reservoir at Curecanti National Recreation Area near the Gunnison Black Canyon. As the largest body of water in Colorado, the reservoir offers a variety of recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and camping. Visitors can enjoy beautiful views of the mountains and mesas while engaging in their favorite aquatic pastimes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the must-see attractions in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?
There are several incredible viewpoints and trails to explore in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Some top attractions include the South Rim Drive, featuring multiple scenic overlooks like Gunnison Point and Painted Wall View, and the North Rim Drive, with its stunning vistas and more remote trails.
What is the best time of year to visit the Black Canyon?
The best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison is from late spring to early fall, when the weather is more pleasant, and the park’s roads and facilities are usually open. The South Rim is open year-round, but the North Rim and some facilities may be closed during winter.
You can visit in winter, but the road is closed at the visitor center.
However, the road is groomed for winter sports, including classing and skate skiing with snowshoeing.
Which side of the canyon should I explore, North or South Rim?
The South Rim is more popular and offers numerous overlooks, facilities, and services, while the North Rim is more secluded, with fewer services, but provides breathtaking views and a more rugged, remote experience. Visitors with limited time or seeking more amenities will likely prefer the South Rim, while those looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience should explore the North Rim.
What are the driving directions from Montrose or Telluride?
From Montrose, the South Rim is accessible via US Highway 50 and CO Highway 347. To reach the North Rim from Montrose, take US Highway 50, CO Highway 92, and then Black Canyon Road.
From Telluride, the South Rim can be reached by taking CO Highway 145 to US Highway 50, and, subsequently CO Highway 347. For the North Rim, take CO Highway 145, CO Highway 62, US Highway 50, CO Highway 92, and Black Canyon Road.
Can I visit Mesa Verde on the same day?
While it is technically possible to visit both Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde on the same day, it is not recommended. The driving distance between the two parks is approximately 3-4 hours, and both parks offer incredible experiences that require time and exploration to appreciate fully.
How much time is recommended for a one-day visit?
A well-planned one-day visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison should include at least 2-3 hours to explore the South Rim Drive overlooks and additional time for any hikes or other activities you want to enjoy. If you plan to visit the North and South Rims, allow a full day to account for driving time and exploration at both locations.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers a unique opportunity for visitors to experience majestic views, challenging hikes, and unforgettable moments in just one day. This incredible destination can be thoroughly enjoyed in a relatively short amount of time, thus making it an ideal choice for those with busy schedules.
In the morning, visit Tomichi Point, a breathtaking overlook that offers panoramic canyon views. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider embarking on the Gunnison Route for a hike to the river. Remember to be prepared, as the trail can be challenging and steep in some sections.
Next, explore North Rim Road and its spectacular overlooks. Don’t miss the chance to hike Green Mountain Trail, a 7-mile round trip trek that takes you to the top of Green Mountain, offering more breathtaking panoramas of the park.
For a mid-day break, stop by a local coffee house like The Coffee Trader in Montrose before heading back to the park for more exploration. Visit the South Rim Visitor Center to learn valuable information about the park’s history and geological features.
When planning a one-day itinerary at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, it’s crucial to prioritize activities and attractions based on personal interests and time constraints. By carefully scheduling the day, visitors can make the most out of their experience, leaving the park with a sense of accomplishment and lasting memories.
Remember to be aware of safety precautions, carry sufficient water and food, and use appropriate hiking gear. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison awaits, ready to provide an unforgettable one-day adventure.