Only have one day to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? No need to worry. One day is the perfect amount of time to check out the breathtaking river gorge. Unlike many National Parks where you could only just scratch the surface in one day, you can actually cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison several times in the 20 years that I’ve lived in Colorado. Each time I’ve spent no more than 24 hours and never felt like I needed more time to explore.
One Day In Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park
With only one day to see the Black Canyon, you will want to visit the more developed South Rim. The 7 mile-long South Rim Road has 12 overlooks providing incredible views of the steep canyon. You will also find several great hiking trails and the main visitor center along the South Rim road.
This guide will help you make the most of your one day in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
The South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is 14 miles from Montrose and 63 miles from Gunnison, a few miles off of Highway 50 on CO-347.
Interesting Black Canyon Facts-
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison was established as a national park in 1999 so it is a relatively new National Park.
- It is the least visited national park in Colorado after Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, and Great Sand Dunes National Parks.
- The Black Canyon got its name from the shadows on steep canyon walls giving them their black color.
- As a member of the International Dark Sky Park Association, the star viewing is amazing from Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Best Time To Visit Black Canyon of The Gunnison-
The best time to visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is May through October. The weather is nice and the entire park is accessible. In the winter the South Rim Road closes at the visitor center.
Although Black Canyon is one of the least visited National Parks in Colorado, I would still suggest visiting on a weekday if at all possible. Our latest trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison was on a Wednesday in August. We were on our way home from camping at Ridgeway State Park and towing a 28-foot trailer. Because it was a weekday, we had no problem finding a spot to park our truck and camper at the overlooks and visitor center.
My favorite thing about Black Canyon of the Gunnison is how surprising it is to see such a dramatic canyon after driving through dry, dusty rolling hills. The first time we visited the canyon years ago, we drove into the North Rim at night and set up camp in the dark. I remember how amazed we were in the morning to wake up to the incredible steep canyon views right next to our campsite.
Black Canyon Of The Gunnison Overlooks
There are 12 viewpoints along the South Rim Road and each overlook provides a unique view of the remarkable Black Canyon. You will absolutely want to stop at Tomichi Point, the first viewpoint you will come to after entering the park. Your first view of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison will be something you will never forget!
Each viewpoint is a short walk from the parking area. It isn’t necessary to stop at every overlook but you won’t want to miss Gunnison Point, Cross Fissures View, Chasm View, and Painted Wall.
South Rim Hikes in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Because the Black Canyon is so steep, there are only a few hiking trails along the South Rim. Rim Rock Trail, Oak Flats Trail, and Uplands Trail.
My favorite hike on the South Rim is the scenic Rim Rock Trail. The 2-mile Rim Rock Trail provides awesome views of the Gunnison River and Canyon walls. The Rim Rock Trail goes from the visitor center to the South Rim Campground and back. If you don’t want to hike the entire two miles you can access the trail at the mid-point, Tomichi Overlook, and hike either way.
*This hike is relatively easy so it is a great hike for the whole family. But, there are some steep drop-offs so make sure to keep a close eye on little ones.
Stop By The Visitor Center
No visit to any National Park is complete without a stop at the Visitor Center. Since we first learned about the National Park Junior Ranger Program, it has been Eli’s favorite thing about visiting National Parks. So, the Visitor Center is usually our first stop before exploring any National Park.
Have A Picnic Lunch
There is nowhere to purchase food in the National Park. But, there are some nice picnic spots. Make sure to pack a picnic lunch or snacks so you don’t have to end your day early because you are hungry.
Picnic Tables are located at the Pulpit Rock and Sunset View overlooks.
Possible Wildlife Viewing
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife in the park. It is possible to see mule deer, peregrine falcons, marmot, elk, coyotes, and a variety of non-venomous snakes. If you are lucky you might even see a mountain lion or bear, usually spotted around dawn or dusk.
We saw this beautiful buck in the trees right off of South Rim road.
Even if you only have a few hours, checking out the incredible Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park will be well worth your time.
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