Did you know that Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the least visited national parks in the United States? I learned that fact while living in Colorado and couldn’t believe it considering how gorgeous the photos looked. I decided to spend a weekend there and it blew me away!
In this destination guide, I would like to introduce you to this epic Colorado national park and hopefully by the end of the article I will have convinced you to visit one day. But first, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Bence Palos (@bence_p) and I was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1994.
I grew up before the big boom in all kinds of devices with cameras on them and also in Eastern Europe where we get new technologies a little later. My first encounter with a camera was in late 2019 thanks to a good friend and teacher, Luis Ruiz who I hiked with for a year in the Pacific Northwest.
When I saw the photos he took with his Nikon I instantly wanted to try photography for myself. I fell in love immediately! From then on I wanted to capture my trips to have memories. It turned into a full-time hobby and love for the art. I started shooting with a Nikon but only borrowed that from another friend. Now, I have been using a Canon Rebel T7i since early 2020.
Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison while Living in Colorado
I lived in Colorado for one year and knew my time was ticking so I looked up the national parks in the state. Funnily enough, I found out that Black Canyon of the Gunnison was one of America’s least visited national parks which blew my mind given how gorgeous the place looked in photos.
Then I realized that I could barely find any photos of it compared to Rocky Mountain National Park which is also in Colorado, just a lot closer to Denver. I made up my mind to spend a weekend down in Gunnison County and see what the national park had to offer. After exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I decided that it was easily in my top three US national parks!
I spent one weekend in and around the park. The main attraction is the park, plus there is a city about 10 miles from the entrance where you can find accommodation and restaurants. I visited on the second weekend of June in 2020. Honestly, this is the ultimate place to visit during COVID-19 as it’s not normally a busy place anyway and there was hardly anyone there.
My Favorite Place at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison has many beautiful places but if I had to pick one favourite it would be the Narrows and the Long Draw which is the trail leading down to the depths of the canyon. It was the only hike of my life where the elevation gain is a bigger number than the distance of the hike.
It’s a difficult hike with overgrown greenery, steep trails and loose gravel. The trailhead is also far from the parking lot and slightly hard to locate. But the hike is definitely worth it at the end when you finally make it down to the bottom and see the giant walls of the canyon towering over you.
To give context, the Narrows are deep enough to fit two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other! Having just you and the river down there makes you realize how insignificant you are compared to nature. You need a permit to descend the canyon which you can obtain at the ranger station but get in early! There are a limited number of permits every day.
Top Attractions of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Painted Wall: This comes to mind first as it’s the biggest attraction of the park. The wall truly is an amazing sight – how the layers of rock are stacked on top of each other and how it actually looks like a painting.
- Pulpit Rock Overlook: Black Canyon of the Gunnison is home to many fantastic lookouts and some of them are very similar. However, Pulpit Rock is an exception. Here you can see deep into the canyon and far at the same time given the placement of the viewpoint which is right on the curve of a long straight part of the park. The greenery and turquoise blue of the water contrasts with the black walls beautifully.
- The Sunsets: I have to mention the sunsets! There is even a viewpoint called Sunset Point. Watching the light shine into the endless depths of the canyon behind the walls when the sun goes down is breathtaking. It was probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.
Where to Stay when Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The City of Montrose is located near the park and most people stay here when visiting. You can find your hotel and restaurant needs in this city. I stayed at Quality Inn which was nothing too special but did the job.
There are plenty of Airbnbs and everything else available in Montrose. You can also normally find a few campsites to go camping in the summer but unfortunately they were closed when I visited due to the pandemic.
Other Amazing National Parks in Colorado
The great thing about Colorado is that you don’t actually need to enter a national park because the whole state feels like one! Nevertheless, one of the best parks is Rocky Mountain National Park which displays the wonders of the Rockies. If you visit, don’t miss out on Dream Lake and Sky Pond.
The first one is an easy walk which features waterfalls, lakes and wildlife. Sky Pond is more difficult and I believe they close it for winter due to snow and ice but it’s the best alpine experience! Only attempt this if you have experience hiking in high altitude. You also have Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. I haven’t been there yet but it’s on my bucket list!
Cherished Memories of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The best moment for me at Black Canyon was the sunset at Painted Wall! I went to the wall an hour before sunset to pick up a composition and set up the camera and GoPro for the timelapse (the GoPro ended up falling over the cliff due to the wind). Anyway, the sunset there would have been in the top three best sunsets of my life. Just incredible!
Need to Know Before you Go
I recommend coming to Black Canyon for at least two days. There are two rims you can visit with two corresponding entrances. The south rim is a lot more developed with plenty of viewpoints and car-friendly for those driving. The north rim is situated further out and is less developed. I would suggest renting or bringing your own 4WD for the best experience.
When you arrive there is no pavement, bathrooms or anything. So bring food and water. If you want to descend to the bottom, you will need a permit which is free. You can pick yours up at the ranger station. Don’t be afraid to wander off the trails. There are plenty of unique views. If you have a fear of heights, then get ready for an adventure of a lifetime!
Thanks for reading everyone and enjoy your adventures at the awesome Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado.