11 Things to Know Before Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Recently, I took a road trip all around Colorado and discovered this beautiful hidden gem. As someone who is passionate about exploring the world, I was beyond excited to visit this place. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is so unique and you wouldn’t know that it is there unless you knew about it. Below, I will share my top 10 things to know before you visit this park, so you can be prepared for your next trip! 

1). It is one of the least visited National Parks in the USA

The Black Canyon only sees 300,000 visitors per year. To put it in perspective, the Grand Canyon sees over 6,000,000 visitors a year. Chances are that when you go, you wont see very many people, even if you go on a weekend. It is definitely a more secluded National Park and most people don’t even know that it exists. 

2). It is at 8,000 feet in elevation 

The rim of the canyon can get up to 8,500 feet in elevation. If you aren’t adjusted to the altitude yet, you may get shortness of breath or a slight headache. I always bring packets of Aclimate which you can mix into water to help get your body adjusted easier. 

3). You can get down to the river driving instead of hiking

For those of you who want to see the views from the bottom of the canyon, there is a road that will take you down there. The East Portal Road is a steep 16% grade with hairpin curves, and your vehicle must be less than 22 feet long to go on the road. At the bottom, there are areas for camping, fishing, and picnicking as well.

4). You don’t have to hike far to see breathtaking views

One of the great things about this park is that you can drive the South Rim and pull off at each overlook. Every trail is marked with the distance, and almost all of them are really short. Every hike will lead you to incredible views of the Black Canyon, so I recommend stopping at all of them you can. 

5). You can drive the South Rim in 2-3 hours 

The South Rim of the park is the main area that people visit when they come to the park. If you are just doing a day trip or are passing through the park, you can see the entire South Rim in just a few hours! 

6). Some areas do not have guardrails so make sure to stay away from the edge of the rim. 

Even though the trails are marked pretty well, there are some areas where you can follow what looks like another trail. Only the main trail leads to the lookout point where the guardrails are up, so if you do go on these other trails, just use caution and avoid them if you have children with you.

Painted Wall

7). It is home to the tallest cliff in Colorado 

One of the areas you need to stop at is The Painted Wall. This is the tallest cliff in Colorado, and to put it in perspective, it is double the size of the Empire State Building. The cliff is painted with streaks of pink throughout the wall and it makes for a stunning view. 

8). The photos you take will be spectacular

If you are a professional photographer or not, this park makes for some unreal photos. Every direction you look will be something new, so it is definitely a photographers dream. Between the giant cliffs, deep canyon, the river, animals, or unique trees, there is always something incredible just around the corner.

9). There isn’t much shade so be prepared! 

Even though Colorado heat is dry, it will still be hot when the sun is out in the summer. I always recommend wearing sunscreen since you are much closer to the sun. Some other good things to bring are a hat, sunglasses, and lots of water.

10). Kayaking the river and climbing the canyon is for professionals only 

When it comes to climbing the canyon walls, it is not recommended to anyone who is not a professional. The routes are hardly used, extremely difficult, and not for the faint at heart. As for the Gunnison River, the same thing goes for it. The canyon is pretty much untouched by humans and the park officials only maintain a few designated trails and they do not let just anyone kayak the river. The Gunnison River is class I-V which means that it is extremely difficult with long, violent rapids, big, powerful drops, it has many large obstacles you must avoid, and strong currents. 

11). Backcountry Wilderness Permits run out quickly

Although we did not do any backcountry hiking or camping, I did overhear quite a few people who were hoping to get wilderness permits that had been there before the visitor center opened, and they still did not get a permit. The park is limited on the amount of permits they can give out, so if you do not get there early, chances are you wont get a permit. 

Planning on heading to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park soon? I would love to hear about it and answer any other questions you may have! 

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Hi! I'm Liz, a college student who fell in love with traveling and exploring the world. I'm majoring in Park Management and Conservation and found some of my best moments occurred while I grew up hiking among the pines which is where I get my blog name from. There are many types of pine trees that all have their own unique beauty, just like all the places I have been. My goal is to explore the entire world and share my experiences and tips with you all. Click here to read more about me and why I blog.

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