Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
South Rim: Road open year-round to Gunnison Point, past Gunnison Point open in spring/summer months North Rim: Road open only in summer months
camping, outdoor-adventures, road-trip, parks, local-highlights
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This Beautiful National Park is a Must-See
Some people call the Black Canyon of the Gunnison “Colorado’s Grand Canyon”, and it certainly feels like that. The canyon is called Black Canyon because of the dramatic shadows that often fall on the canyon walls, making them seem black. It is unbelievably beautiful, with steep cliffs and a picturesque river flowing through the bottom. You could easily spend more than a week exploring this Colorado wonderland, which boasts incredible views, trails, and star-gazing (the park is a certified dark sky area) but we have compiled a shortlist of suggestions of things to do with your kiddos while you’re in the area.
The first thing to determine is whether you should visit the South or North Rim. While the inner canyon is beautiful, you need a backcountry permit to visit, and getting down to the river is strenuous and too difficult for most children. This means that most rafting and climbing isn't possible. Instead, if you are looking for a slightly less-traveled, more rugged option we recommend the North Rim if you’re visiting in the summer (the road is closed in the winter). The South Rim is more accessible, is almost completely paved, and features more programming. You can see both rims, but probably not in one day, as the drive between them takes between two and three hours, and both sides have lots to offer.
The South Rim
The more developed of the two rims, the south rim has beautiful unforgettable views. It’s worth driving all of the South Rim Road during your visit, about seven miles each way. There are lots of places to get out and enjoy the view, our favorite is the Painted Wall Lookout. The look-out is a short walk from the road and it is unbelievable. Geological forces have caused streaks to appear in the canyon wall, making it seem as though someone painted lines across it. The South Rim Road isn’t plowed in the winter, making it the perfect place to cross country ski. There are also snowshoeing routes along many summer hiking trails.
If you’re looking for a beautiful hike, we recommend Warner Nature Point Trail. It’s only about 1.5 miles out and back, with rolling up and down inclines, good for kids. The hike has views the whole way with the best being at the end, where you can look out across the canyon. If this hike is too difficult or long for your little ones, most of the lookouts along South Rim Road include a very short walk, which will be perfect for very little kids.
Looking to camp in the park? The South Rim Campground has plenty of campsites, which you can reserve in advance. The site is well-developed and maintained, with pit toilets, fire rings, and RV hookups. The spots are very close together, so if you are looking for seclusion, this might not be the place for you. We love that the parks' telescope, which you can visit to see the night sky up close, is nearby.
As you enter the South Rim, be sure to stop at the Visitor Center. You can get a Junior Activity Book full of things for your kids to do during your visit. When they complete the activities they can get a Junior Ranger badge!
The North Rim
The North Rim Road is only open in the summer months. It's gravel, with fewer view-points than the South Rim. That said, it’s usually much less crowded and is still worth driving to the end. We loved the Balanced Rock pull-off, it’s a super short walk from the road to the dramatic view of a huge boulder balancing on a cliff.
If your kids are up for a hike, we recommend the North Vista Trail. It begins at the ranger station. You can take it all the way to Green Mountain, for a total hike of a little more than 6 miles out and back, but we recommend stopping at Exclamation Point. This way the hike is 3 miles total, the point really is the best view along the trail anyways. You’ll be able to see the canyon stretching into the distance for miles from Exclamation Point and really feels like you’re at The Grand Canyon. The wildflowers along this trail are spectacular if you visit at the right time.
If you plan on camping at the North Rim, we recommend arriving early because you can’t reserve a spot and there aren’t many sites. There are no RV hook-ups at this campground, but there are toilets and the spots are a little more spaced out than they are on the South Rim. You can go on a short hike from the campground down towards the bottom of the canyon, but you’ll quickly hit the point where you need a wilderness permit to proceed.
No matter what you decide to do while visiting this National Park, you won’t regret it. Everywhere you turn boasts beautiful nature and spectacular views.