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.
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.
West Elk Loop Byway
As you make your way to Gunnison you’ll drive for miles at the side of the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is part of the Curecanti National Recreation Area. You’re also on the southern edge of the West Elk Loop Byway.
In the distance, you’ll notice an oddly eroded mountainside (sorry, it was getting dark when I took the picture). The formation is known as the Dillon Pinnacles, and are made of eroded columns of ancient volcanic ash.
You’ll climb one more hill between the reservoir and Gunnison, giving you one more chance to look back on the lake, and the sunset.
You will find several clean and reasonably priced chain motels on the western edge of town, which provide a good place to break for the night.
Note: This trip was first published in 2005.