Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Written by on April 7, 2015 in CO Outdoor Adventures - 1 Comment

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado is the deepest and steepest canyon in the United States. It is even deeper and steeper than the Grand Canyon of Arizona! While the view is not quite as awe-inspiring as the Grand Canyon’s vast vistas, the Black Canyon is equally stunning simply because it is hard to believe something that deep can be so narrow.
The Gunnison River is responsible for creating the Black Canyon as it carved the narrow gorge over a period of two million years. In the process, it revealed brown, black, and gray rock nearly two billion years old. Millions and millions of years ago, pink and white streamers or dykes of what was once molten granite forced its way into the cracks of these ancient rocks. These outstanding streamers are best seen on the 2,000-foot high Painted Wall on the canyon’s north side.

Standing on either the north or south rim, both of which are accessible by vehicle, the green ribbon of the Gunnison River looks tiny. In truth, the river is far more dangerous than its benign appearance reveals from the rim. Captain John Gunnison, for whom the river is named, made it to the Lake Fork, upstream of what is now Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but probably never saw the canyon itself. Will Torrence, a native of Montrose, Colorado, was the first to attempt to navigate the river. In 1900, he and four other men set out in a wooden boat, but were defeated after only a few days. The following year, he and an engineer finally made the 33 mile trip, losing 15 pounds apiece during the arduous journey.

Because the canyon is so steep, there are many different types of habitats. The forest rims, with their pinion, juniper and Gambel oak, are home to deer, elk and bear, while the canyon walls harbor a huge variety of birds in the aspen groves and broadleaf trees. At the very bottom of the canyon, cottonwoods and mountain willows are home to ringtail cats. The river itself is home to a wide variety of trout.

Both the north and the south rims, as well as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, have overlooks every few miles to allow visitors to appreciate the gorgeous vistas. However, one of the best ways to experience the canyon is to hike down into it (1 1/2 miles and 232 steps) and then take an amazing boat ride along the Gunnison River. The Morrow Point Boat Tour is a 1 1/2 hour trip through the upper Black Canyon. Passengers ride on a 42-passenger pontoon boat, accompanied by a National Park Ranger or volunteer to tell the story behind the scenery.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is open year-around, although there may be limited access in the winter due to heavy snows. The South Rim Campground is open year-around, while the North Rim Campground is open April to October. However, if you prefer a little more civilization, Montrose Colorado is nearby with plenty of accommodation, dining and shopping choices.

Other attractions in the area include:
Fishing at Blue Mesa Reservoir
The Grand Mesa
Curecanti National Recreation Area

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
National Park Service
102 Elk Creek
Gunnison, Colorado 81230
Phone: (970) 641-2337

Morrow Point Boat Tours
Please call (970) 641-2337, ext. 205 or stop by the Elk Creek Visitor Center (15 miles west of Gunnison off of Highway 50) to make reservations.

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