Not the deepest of canyons in North America but one of the most dramatic, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of many hidden gems in Colorado. Standing at the canyon’s rim you’ll be awestruck by the beauty and grandeur the rock walls so proudly present. The uniqueness of the rock is nothing like you’ve seen before. Thin sections of the canyon wall jut up like the plates on the back of a stegosaurus while thin lines of white stone running like horizontal veins through the walls catch your eye and carry you downstream. Unlike the older mountains that have succumbed to erosion, these walls have stood the test of time, creating sheer drops that will have you tiptoeing closer to the walls’ edge for that thrill you seek.
Almost two billion years in the making, the canyon was carved by the mighty Black Canyon of the Gunnison River but is known specifically for the Painted Wall. The tallest sheer cliff in Colorado at 2,250 feet, the Painted Wall provides a stunning view of the magnitude of the canyon. Catch the canyon on a beautiful sunny day and you’ll be surprised that the rock is not in fact black. So why call it the Black Canyon you ask? Due to the sheer and dizzyingly steep walls, some parts of the canyon are only touched by the sun’s rays for minutes in the day giving the rock a black look under the shadow of darkness. This is a phenomenon you’ll have to come and experience for yourself.
With designated camping spots on the north and south rim or on the mighty river’s edge, you will find your home away from home here. Opting for a waterfront stay, make your way down to the East Portal Campground where you’ll tuck under the box elder trees while the rolling river washes away your worries. For a shaded spot within the Pinyon Juniper forest of the canyon, head over to the North Rim or the chance to tuck into an oak-brush forest, reserve your peaceful spot at the South Rim Campground. Whether your trip to the canyon is for scenic driving, short hikes to jaw-dropping overlooks, world-class trout fishing, hiking, or camping, this national park has it all for any adventurist. If you really want to learn about the history and hidden secrets of the park though, be sure to stop into the visitor’s center!
The Drive: Just 5 hours outside Denver, follow the winding roads with breathtaking views of the mountains, valleys, farms, and forests that lead you to the Black Canyon of Gunnison. Heading west out of Denver on I-70, take exit 260 on your right and and head south on Hwy 470. Taking another right-hand exit, follow the signs for US Hwy 285 South heading toward Fairplay. For the majority of this scenic drive through, atop, and around Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, continue on 285 south.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take in the views at Kenosha Pass or stretch your legs with a hike on the famous Colorado Trail. Once you reach Poncha Springs, you’ll divert right, heading straight west on US 50 W. At CO-347 in Montrose County you’ll take a right winding your up and into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Eats Along the Way: