Black Canyon is a “sleeper” park and must be experienced to be understood. To fully appreciate why Black Canyon has become a National Park, get to the rim and gaze down into the depths of this gorge. Located in western Colorado, the more developed South Rim is 15 miles northeast of the town of Montrose, CO. Two million years in the making, the Gunnison River has carved its way through the gneiss and schist of Black Canyon exposing steep cliffs of well over 2000 feet from rim to river below. This canyon is deep, dark and mysterious with beautifully marbled canyon walls. The river drops dramatically through the canyon at an average of 95 feet per mile compared to the Colorado River, which falls on average 7½ feet per mile. At its narrowest, Black Canyon is only 40 feet wide. At its deepest point, from rim to river, the canyon walls measure 2700’. Because it is narrow and steep, sunlight has a difficult time penetrating into the depths of the canyon…thus the name “Black Canyon.”
When to visit: Like many parks, summer is the most popular time to visit; however the daytime temps can get a bit toasty. At an elevation 8000’, evening temperatures can get a bit chilly and winter brings cold temperatures and snow that close the North Rim road.
What to do: The park offers hikers many well-groomed trails. Those along the South Rim are mostly rated easy to moderate. South Rim Trails worth hiking include the Rim Rock Trail, Uplands Trail and the Oak Flat Loop Trail. Our favorite hike was the Warner Point Nature Trail. This easy hike features a Walking Guide Book, which provides an informative listing of 14 “markers” - points of interest along the path. The trail was built to “compel you to take note of our connection to the natural world.” Hiking to the bottom of the canyon from the rim is arduous! There are no marked rails down into the inner canyon and poison ivy is prevalent. A free permit is required.
Where to stay: There are no lodging facilities inside this park; however, the park has two campgrounds to choose from. The South Rim Campground features 88 campsites situated in an oakbrush forest. The 13 campsites in the North Rim Campground are all shaded within a Pinyon-Juniper forest.
Wildlife: Black Canyon is home to the fastest bird in the world, the Peregrine Falcon. This bird reaches speeds of over 200 mph in an aerial dive. Other critters found here include Black Bear, Yellow Bellied Marmot, Elk, Big Horn Sheep Mule Deer and Eagle.
Trivia: The Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado. (see picture above left) From the Gunnison River below to top of the rim Painted Wall measures 2250 feet - 1000 feet taller than the Empire State Building.