Known as Colorado’s Grand Canyon, this 30,750 acre National Park does no less than wow visitors who venture to its edges or into its depths. 2,700 foot sheer-walled cliffs tower over the Gunnison River below—two million years of rushing waters carved out the formidable canyon, exposing metamorphic rock from Earth’s Precambrian era (more than 540 million years ago).

The canyon was brought out of relative obscurity in October of 1999 when it was officially awarded a National Park designation. Both Native Americans and European explorers had long since avoided the canyon for the challenge that its geography and raging waters posed. Plans for a water diversion tunnel from the Gunnison River began as the Uncompahgre Valley became more populated in the late 19th century. Construction, however, did not begin until 1905 and took four years. The completed four-mile tunnel was dedicated in 1909.

Today, visitors can hike along the rim and in the canyon, raft and fish the Gunnison, and enjoy scenic drives along both the North and South Rims.

Pro Tips

Scenic drives:

  • North Rim — Accessed by way of a gravel road on the east end of Crawford State Park. Expect six spectacular overlooks with some of the best views of the sheer walls of the canyon. This route is closed to vehicles in winter.
  • South Rim — This seven mile stretch features 12 overlooks that can be accessed via short walking trails. Some highlights include Gunnison Point, Chasm View, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. This route is closed to vehicles in winter.
  • Our Favorite Activity:

    The section of the Gunnison River located within the park is designated as Gold Medal and Wild Trout Water. Anecdotally, most Colorado fishing guides will point to the “Gunny” as one of their favorite places to fish in Colorado. All anglers must have a Colorado fishing license and all fishing is catch-and-release.

  • Easiest access to the river is by way of the East Portal Road. Note that the road is extremely steep with tight hairpin turns—vehicles with an overall length greater than 22 feet are prohibited. The road is closed in winter.
  • Inner canyon routes are also popular for those willing to hike. Free backcountry permits are required by the park service and can be obtained at the South Rim Visitors Center, North Rim Rangers Station, and East Portal registration board.
  • Climbing:

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison climbing routes are not for beginner climbers. There are 145 official routes: eight are rated 5.8, 21 have a 5.9 rating, and the other 117 routes are rated between 5.10 and 5.13. Note that a backcountry or wilderness permit is required for all inner canyon activities.

    Recommended season(s): Park is open year round and daily. Some sites may be inaccessible in winter.

    —Sophie Goodman


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