The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of those visual treats that I learned about – and visited – only recently (just like the Colorado National Monument – another impressive Colorado sight with its red rock canyons and towering monoliths). Other than the mountains, which Colorado seems to be known for, who knew Colorado has some of the other geologic gems that it does? Well I didn’t, anyway.
Like the Colorado National Monument, a visit to the Black Canyon is a bit reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The colors and geology differ a bit, but the deep canyon, steep rock walls and winding river remind me a lot of what you’d see there.
Here’s a shot of the Tomichi Point View, the first pull off you’ll come to when entering the park on the south side (there’s also a northern entrance).
Here’s an artist creating her own masterpiece of the canyon.
The Black Canyon is definitely narrower than the Grand Canyon but still very impressive.
From the road, there are a ton of paths leading out to viewpoints of the canyon (the road stays a safe distance from the cliffs), and some of the trails get mighty close to the drop offs, so watch your step. That wouldn’t be a fun fall.
Here’s a peek at a lookout perched at the edge of the cliff.
The Painted Wall was my favorite area in the park, and it’s actually the highest cliff in all of Colorado. Just to put it in perspective, it’s 2200 feet tall – nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building!
Another view of the Painted Wall from the Cedar Point View pulloff.
I’m guessing most people only drive along the South Rim Road – which is the main road in the park to see the Canyon. But we also ventured along the East Portal Road. It takes you down a very steep (about 16% grade!) road to the bottom of the canyon. It’s certainly a different perspective looking up at the canyon.
There were some super cute little baby deer hanging out near the picnic tables with their mama.
To Go or No
Go. Not only is it an impressive – and kind of hidden – National Park, it’s pretty easy to see if you’re short on time. While you could access the park from the north and also explore the East Portal Road, you really only need to do the South Rim Road to get the most out of your trip.
Most of the lookout points require a short hike/walk to see the canyon, but the paths are all relatively flat and well maintained. You don’t really need to stop at all of the lookouts (though we did) because some basically show you the same view but at a slightly different angle. My favorites were basically the ones in the photos above, but here’s a summary:
- Tomichi Point View
- Gunnison Point
- Pulpit Rock Overlook
- Rock Point
- Painted Wall View
- Cedar Point
Time Required: 2-4 hours
While you really could rush to see the Black Canyon quicker, you’d probably want to spend at least a couple of hours here to fully take it all in.
Driving Distance: 3 miles one way
If you only drive along the South Rim Road (and skip East Portal Road), it’s about 3 miles one way (you’ll have to backtrack along the same road to exit). But it can take you time to park and then walk out to each viewpoint along the road.
Here’s a map of the main part of the park with my favorite stops highlighted in yellow. But of course if you have the time and the inclination, visit them all! :)
Happy canyon viewing!