We visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park a couple weeks ago. It’s a newer park- it was upgraded from a National Monument to a National Park in 1999. It’s not very large, but it is VERY striking.
We explored the South Rim, which had some good BLM land for camping nearby. It was also pretty close to the town of Montrose, which had important things like a laundromat and a Target.
It isn’t a very large park, nor is it very crowded. We comfortably explored the South Rim in a day. That makes it a pretty ideal road trip stop.
We did two main things while we were there: stargazing and biking.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a Dark Sky Park, we were excited to find out! That was something I was really excited about in Jasper (they have a Canadian-conferred Dark Sky Preserve title), but then it was cloudy every night we were there. Glacier had some great stars (they are a Dark Sky Park, too), but Black Canyon was even better.
Black Canyon makes a big deal of it. We went to a neat astronomy night where the local astronomy club had set up their giant telescopes. We got to see a nebula, the rings of Saturn, and Jupiter’s striations and its moons. We got a sticker for our RV sticker collection that says “half the park is after dark.” The telescopes were cool, but Nik and I agreed that it was more powerful and awe-inspiring to just look at the mass of them all together. I’ve been to some pretty remote places but I have never seen this many stars.
We tried to get a night sky photo but had technical difficulties, so you’ll just have to trust me.
Daytime in the park is striking as well. The canyon is SUPER steep, deep, and narrow. Some sections of the canyon itself only get 33 minutes of sunlight a day (hence the name). The narrowest section is only 40 feet wide. The river at the bottom drops an average of 34 feet/mile through the canyon (the Colorado drops an average of 7.5 feet/mile through the Grand Canyon, for comparison). Its deepest point is the Painted Wall, which is the biggest cliff in Colorado: 2,250 feet from the rim to the river.
The South Rim is pretty much just a 6 mile section of road with overlooks, though, so it’s not really a park that is set up for hiking (remember all that stuff I said in the last paragraph?). We didn’t want to explore by car, so we decided to bike it! It was fairly hilly, but it was a good workout and an awesome way to see the park.
It was great because we saw way more of the details that we would have missed otherwise, like birds and wildflowers. The park was so un-crowded that we felt totally safe biking on the road and were never choking on exhaust. There were pull-offs often enough that we know we would not have stopped at every one had we been in a car, but we were really glad to see each one. Typically they were short little hikes of around 200 yards with great photo opportunities at the end.
So I wouldn’t recommend planning to hang out in this park for a very long time, but for a weekend of exploration (especially if you are into stars and/or canyons) it was very unique.