Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park can be accessed from two sides. The road to the south rim turns off of US Rte. 50, 15 miles east of Montrose. To reach the less visited--and more remote--north rim, continue on US 50 to Blue Mesa Lake, and turn left on CO Rte. 92 (the West Elk Byway. Then, watch for North Rim Road (closed in winter).
The Black Canyon is completely unexpected. For miles you drive through a rolling landscape, then suddenly, you're standing at the edge of a 2,000 foot deep gash in the earth.
The Gunnison River flows through the bottom of the canyon. The rock walls rise so steeply on either side, that there's no easy way to hike through the canyon on foot.
In some places, the distance between the granite walls of the Black Canyon is less than the distance to the bottom of the canyon. Since the opening is so narrow and deep, sunlight reaches the bottom for just a short time every day, helping give the canyon its "black" appearance.
As you drive the scenic route along the south rim, there are roughly 10 overlooks where you can stop and gaze over the edge. Most don't require a long hike.
The best way to see the canyon may be aboard a boat. The National Park Service runs pontoon tours of the upper canyon twice a day during the summer. You have to hike to the boat dock, and reservations are required, but prices are reasonable. The NPS website has more information.
I found the best views of the canyon, and the surrounding mountains, at "High Point"--the final stop on the scenic drive.
The view up the canyon, where roads and trails don't reach.
I've gotta be honest. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison Park wasn't very impressive. Perhaps it was due to the time of day, late afternoon, and the lack of sun illuminating the canyon. For the most part, though, I was disappointed with the variety of things to see and do. There was the canyon, and that was about it. No interesting hiking trails (there are some trails that lead into the canyon, but these aren't for casual hikers), and nothing much else to do besides stare off an overlook.
After leaving the Black Canyon, continue driving east on US Rte. 50 towards the town of Gunnison.
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Colorado Black Canyon Gunnison River National Park Overlook
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