Black Canyon

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is certainly less famous than that other National Park featuring a canyon. But what it lacks in notoriety, it makes up for with drama. It is not the steepest nor the narrowest canyon in the western United States, but when you combine those two traits, it certainly wins out.

Black Canyon Geology

The Black Canyon was carved by the mighty Gunnison River starting approximately 30 million years ago. The river carved down through the rock, mostly Precambrian gneiss and schist, excavating the narrow canyon as it went. The Canyon earns its name because of the shadows that often obscure its depths. At its narrowest point, it’s a mere 40 feet wide at the river. Because of how narrow it is, some parts of the canyon only receive about a half hour of daylight per day. The Gunnison River drops at a far steeper pace than the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. At its steepest part in the Black, the river drops 240 feet per mile. The rapids can be run by only the most skilled kayakers.

Visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On your next trip to Gunnison-Crested Butte, don’t miss a trip to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to see this geological wonder for yourself. Stop at the South Rim Visitor Center (hours of operation vary by season, please check the schedule online) to see exhibits, view a film about the wonders and history of the canyon, and take in a ranger walk on the rim.

Hikers can experience the canyon from a variety of perspectives by hiking along the North Rim, the South Rim, and on inner-canyon routes that descend deep into the chasm. Be aware though, that many of the routes into the Canyon are primitive and not maintained. They require climbing skills and the ability to self-rescue, as well as a free backcountry permit you can get at a ranger station. Trad climbing routes are difficult as well, but offer tremendous routes for advanced and expert climbers on the walls of the Black Canyon. Be sure to book a guide or research your routes in advance as these can be challenging.

If you’d like a little less adventure, the wildlife viewing on the rim of the Black is great. Grab your binoculars to snoop on park denizens like the yellow-bellied marmot, a fat rodent that likes to sunbathe on rocky ledges and outcrops. If you want to catch a glimpse of the Peregrine Falcon, you’d better be quick on the draw – it’s the fastest bird in the world.  Eagles, coyotes, elk, and more make the park their home.

Fishing enthusiasts should add the Black Canyon to the list of great fishing in the Gunnison Valley. With gold medal waters stretching for 12 miles within the park, this is one of the best stretches of trout fishing in the state of Colorado. Local Fishing Guides can guide you through the Black.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Programs:

For more information or to sign up for park programs, please call the Visitor Center at (970) 249-1914 ext. 423.


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