The author, Laura Falin posing for a photo at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Ultimate Guide)

👉 Jump to: How to Visit | Things to Do | Where to Stay | History | Tips | FAQ

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is centered around an impressive canyon in western Colorado. The national park is perfect for those who want to hike, spot wildlife, take scenic drives, and much more. 

I’m a Colorado local who just returned from a camping trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This guide will make sure you’re prepared to visit this lesser-known of Colorado’s national parks

I’ll share important information in this guide like transportation, costs, and amenities at the park. I’ll tell you where to go for the best experience on your trip. I’ll also share where to stay, park history, and tips to ensure you have a safe visit. 

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How to Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Getting to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The author's son posing for a photo at the entrance of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Unfortunately, that kid isn’t always there to welcome you!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the least-visited of the national parks near Denver! This is great because it’s not crowded, but it does mean it’s harder to reach and requires some planning. 

I recommend driving to the South Rim of the park to begin your trip. It has more facilities and a visitor center, so it’s the best place to start if you’ve never been here before. 

Here are your options for getting to Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

  1. ✈️ Fly Montrose Regional Airport is the nearest and most convenient airport to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s just under a 30-minute drive from the airport to the park. Grand Junction Regional Airport is about an hour and a half from the park. 
  2. 🚗 Drive – You can rent a car in Denver and drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is about a five-hour drive through the mountains. You’ll drive through beautiful spots like the Curecanti National Recreation Area
  3. 🚌 ShuttleCharter shuttles are available to take you from the Montrose Regional Airport to the national park. They also run to sites in Gunnison and Crested Butte.  

Important Visiting Info for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The author, Laura Falin with her kids at the Dragon Point during sunset
Dragon Point is a beautiful spot to watch the sunset!

🎟️ Entrance – You must buy a pass to enter Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A 7-day vehicle pass is $30. You will need a $15 per person pass, which is valid for seven days, if you are not driving. The cost is $15 per person including the driver if you’re driving a vehicle with more than 15 people; however, youth 15 and under are free. 

Visitors are encouraged to purchase a digital pass ahead of time since the entrance booth is sometimes unstaffed. You can also use an America the Beautiful Pass here and at 2,000 other federal recreation sites in the U.S.

🕐 Park Hours – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Access to some of the park is limited during winter months. 

🚻 Facility Hours – Many facilities, except the visitor center, are open 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.

🅿️ Parking – There are parking lots around the South and North Rims of the park. In summer, parking in popular areas of the park is limited and lots may be full. Consider visiting before 9 am or after 3 pm to get a spot.

🏞️ WebsiteNational Park Service – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

📍 Google MapsBlack Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, 9800 Highway 347, Montrose, CO 81401

🏠 Visitor Center – Visitor center hours vary by season.

  • South Rim Visitor Center: Summer hours – 8 am to 5 pm, closed from 12-1 pm for lunch. Winter hours – 9 am to 4 pm, closed 12-12:30 pm for lunch, temporary weather closures possible, closed major winter federal holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Water is not available from mid-fall – late spring.

☎️ Phone – +1 (970) 641-2337

👉 Pro Tip: Want to check out other national parks? Read our review of all the U.S. National Parks!

Things to Do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Hiking Trails

A woman with her dog at the Rim Rock Nature Trail
Rim Rock Nature Trail is one of the few trails where dogs are allowed!

Hiking is one of the best activities at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! Do an easy walk along the canyon’s rim if you’re visiting with kids. Venture down into the inner canyon if you’re an experienced hiker. Have lots of supplies and a Wilderness Permit for the inner canyon. 

  • ⛰️ Warner Point Nature Trail: This South Rim trail is just 1 ½ miles, with minimal elevation gain. Warner Point Trail has sweeping views of the canyon and the surrounding mountains. It’s a nice trail for the whole family!
  • 🥾 Rim Rock Nature Trail: The Rim Rock Nature Trail takes you from the South Rim campground to the visitor center. It’s a moderately strenuous hike with views of the canyon and many places to take pictures. You can see the Gunnison River from this trail. This is a sunny hike, so bring water, a sun hat, and plenty of sunscreen!
  • 🐴 Deadhorse Trail: This North Rim trail is five miles long and goes through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness Area. You’ll get views of the Gunnison River, Deadhorse Gulch, and East Portal. This is also a great trail for birdwatching. 

Scenic Drives

Clear blue sky over the Visitor Center of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
The Visitor Center is along South Rim Road

A scenic drive is a beautiful way to see the park. They’re also a great option after you’ve tired yourself out hiking around the canyon! Several scenic drives at Black Canyon of the Gunnison take you along the rim and down to the Gunnison River. 

  • 🚗 South Rim Road: The South Rim Road takes you from Tomichi Point to High Point on the most popular side of the park. Although the road is only 7 miles long, there are 12 overlooks. The drive can take several hours if you stop at each one and hike the short paths to scenic outlooks. In winter, South Rim Road is only open to Gunnison Point.
  • 📷 North Rim Road: North Rim Road has 6 overlooks with amazing views of sheer canyon walls and cliffs. You can reach it by driving the gravel road from Crawford State Park to the North Rim entrance. You’ll want 2-3 hours if you stop to look at the views along the way. The North Rim Road is closed in winter. 
  • 🌊 East Portal Road: This very steep and winding road will take you down to the Gunnison River and into Curecanti National Recreation Area. The road has 16% grades and lots of hairpin turns, so it’s not for people prone to carsickness! Vehicles over 22 feet are prohibited on this road. It’s also closed in winter. 

Inner Canyon Activities

A girl admiring the view at the Inner Canyon
The Inner Canyon has rock climbing and more strenuous hiking!

You can venture into the inner canyon at the park for more strenuous activities! The inner canyon is a Designated Wilderness Area and requires a permit to explore. You can rock climb, do more extreme hikes, and venture onto the river. 

This is a remote area and park personnel warn that rescues from the inner canyon are not guaranteed. The inner canyon is best for seasoned outdoor adventurers. Visitors should bring extra supplies and be ready to self-rescue if there is trouble. 

  • 🥾 Hiking: Hikers can venture on wilderness routes from the North and South Rims down to the canyon floor. You’ll end at the Gunnison River before heading back out. 
  • 🧗Rock Climbing: The Black Canyon is known for its expert rock climbing opportunities! North and South Chasm Walls are the most popular options. But some climbers test their mettle on the Painted Wall – the tallest vertical wall in Colorado. Make sure to get a wilderness permit, and practice “clean climbing” so you leave no trace as you climb.


A dog on a tent at the campground in Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Dogs are allowed in the campground areas if they’re on a leash!

Campgrounds at Black Canyon of the Gunnison are primitive compared to other Colorado campgrounds! You can probably find a site without a reservation but I like the peace of mind from reserving a spot. 

  • South Rim Campground: Reservations available from mid-May to mid-September; afterward, they’re first-come first served. Sites are close together and not very big. Great shade from nearby trees. Loop B has 20 and 30-amp electric hookups. In summer, drinking water is available but there are no showers, dish cleaning stations, or water hookups for RVs. Pit toilets only, limited cell phone reception.
  • 🏕️ North Rim Campground: First-come first served sites only. Last 7 miles of road to the campground are unpaved. Maximum combined length of RV, car and/or trailer is 22 feet. No hookups or cell service. Drinking water is available in summer, pit toilets only.

Where to Stay in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Scenic view at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during sunset
There are several places to stay where you can catch the sunset at the park and still be in bed early!

If you’d rather stay indoors than camp, here are the closest towns with some good options! 


Blue sky over the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Montrose is the closest town to Black Canyon of the Gunnison!

Montrose is about a half-hour drive from inside the park. It’s a good-sized town, with restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and other places to get the supplies you need. 

  • 🏨 Hampton Inn Montrose: The Hampton Inn is five minutes from the airport, 35 minutes from the national park, and 25 minutes from Ridgeway State Park. It’s pet-friendly and has an indoor pool and jacuzzi. Breakfast is included each morning. 
  • 🐻 Double G Ranch & Guestlodge: An adults-only bed & breakfast. Rooms include a coffee machine, and some rooms have a private entrance, dining area, fireplace, and microwave. Breakfast includes local specialities, fresh pastries, and fruit.
  • 🛏️ Stay Wise Inns of Montrose: Stay Wise Inns has an indoor pool and whirlpool. Each room has a coffee maker. Breakfast is served each morning and includes omelets, pastries, and waffles. 


Water flowing at the Cimarron River
The Cimarron River in town connects to the Gunnison River, which carved the Black Canyon.

Cimarron is a small hamlet south of the park that sprang up thanks to the railroad industry. You won’t find much in the way of restaurants, groceries, or gas, but there are a few quaint places to stay here. You’ll also be close to Blue Mesa Reservoir, one of the best Colorado lakes

  • 🏞️ Arrowhead Mountain Lodge: This pet-friendly lodge includes breakfast each morning. There’s also a terrace and a firepit where you can relax in the evening. You can grab a meal at the on-site restaurant. 
  • 🏠 Cimarron Cabin: This vacation home has a fully equipped kitchen, washing machine, TV, dishwasher, and fireplace. There’s a patio where you can sit and gaze at the mountains and surrounding trees.  


View of the welcome sign at the entrance of Gunnison
Gunnison is a longer drive, but a bigger town!

You might think the town of Gunnison would be close to the national park that bears the same name, but it’s more than an hour’s drive away. However, Gunnison is a larger town, with rafting and many outdoor activities nearby. 

Staying in Gunnison and visiting for the day might make sense if the national park is just a small part of your itinerary. Gunnison is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado.

  • ⛰️ Alpine Inn & Suites Gunnison: This hotel is near the Gunnison Whitewater Park and next to the Crested Butte Ski Area shuttle stop. It has an indoor heated pool and hot tub, and a daily hot breakfast. 
  • 🚗 Rodeway Inn Gunnison: This motor inn is just five minutes from Blue Mesa Reservoir. It has a hot tub, a terrace and picnic area, and a daily breakfast. Rooms have microwaves and coffee makers. 
  • 🏨 The Inn at Tomichi Village: The inn is near Western State Colorado University and has an indoor pool and hot tub. You’ll get a free continental breakfast each morning. 

History of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The author, Laura Falin admiring the view at the Painted Wall
The Painted Wall is a tricky rock climbing spot!

Indigenous History

AD 1500s – Researchers believe the Ute tribe came to the Gunnison Valley in the 1500s. They knew of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and while the rims show evidence of occupation, the gorge shows no signs it has ever been occupied.

Gunnison Expedition

1853 – Lieutenant Gunnison leads the search for a Pacific railroad route. He travels the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and into the Grand River (Gunnison River) Valley, where the town of Gunnison now stands. 

Bryant Expedition

1883 – Byron Bryant leads the “Uncompahgre Extension” of the railroad in the area, surveying a 150-mile extension. He is ordered in December 1882 to explore the “Grand Canyon of the Gunnison” and hires men to help him survey the canyon in the winter. The railroad company decides laying tracks farther down the canyon would be financially unwise.

Kolb Expedition

1916 – Ellsworth Kolb begins the first of five attempts to “shoot the rapids” and bring publicity to rivers out west. After a series of attempts, he manages to swim and row down the river, through rapids to calm waters.

From National Monument to National Park

1933 – Black Canyon of the Gunnison becomes a national monument after several years of citizen lobbying. 

1999 – Congress designates the monument as a national park.

Tips for Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

A girl with her dog at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during summer season
You’ll definitely want a sun hat!

Bring Lots of Water

Water is scarce at the park! The water used by drinking fountains and refill stations is trucked in from the nearest town. There are no flush toilets or sinks with running water at the park – you’ll be using pit toilets and hand sanitizer. Bring several large water bottles and fill them at the visitor center or at campgrounds. Most overlooks do not have water available.

Head to the South Rim

First time visiting the park? You’ll want to head to the South Rim entrance. There are more amenities and overlooks on this side, and the visitor center is a good starting point for new visitors. The South Rim Road has the best overlooks and is a good way to spend your first few hours in the park.

Wear Sunscreen

Many areas you’ll want to explore are not shaded and you’ll want sun protection! Wear a sun hat and sunscreen and be sure to reapply frequently.

Be Bear Aware

There are bears in the area. Don’t let small children or pets run ahead of you (pets are supposed to be leashed anyway!). If you’re camping, secure your food and scented items in a bear box or bear-proof container. 

FAQs About Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Overlooking view at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is best known for its jaw-dropping canyon views!

What is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison famous for?

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is famous for its impressive canyon. The park is home to the tallest cliff in Colorado, the Painted Wall. It’s also the home of peregrine falcons, which you may see soaring overhead at sunset or early in the morning. 

How long does it take to drive around Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

It takes two to three hours to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Many visitors choose one rim or the other to visit. The South Rim is more popular and has a visitor center. South Rim Road is seven miles long but can take several hours if you stop at each overlook.

Which side of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is best?

The South Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is best, especially for a first visit. The South Rim has more to do and is easier to visit than the North Rim.


Hopefully, this guide has inspired you to check out the hidden gem that is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It’s one of the best places to visit in Colorado and is definitely an underrated attraction!

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