The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

I bet many reading this have not heard of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s probably not on many RVer’s bucket list.

It should be.

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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Invariably, it is compared to its more famous Big Brother, the Grand Canyon.

But while the Grand Canyon is deeper (6,000 feet at its greatest depth) and longer (277 miles),  the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an amazing tourist attraction for RVers that is often overlooked because it isn’t surrounded by highly commercialized parks and campgrounds that cater to big box Type A RVs.

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Jennifer and Tai near the Pulpit Rock overlook

While there are a few campsites that have electricity along Loop B – where we stayed – there are no flush toilets and no water hooks and no dump stations in the national park.

To get to the campground or the best canyon views, you have to drive a very steep mountain road off Highway 50 east of Montrose. There is no cell service, Wi-Fi or Internet – which for me meant that when I updated this blog each day I had to drive down the mountain almost into town to get a decent enough signal to upload my photos.

But we were thrilled by our stay there.

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That’s me staring and staring at the magesty of the place. You can get right up close, with no guard rails between you and a sheer cliff that drops as much as 2,000 feet to the canyon floor

Black Canyon is incredibly deep and sheer, with plunging cliffs, soaring buttresses and a thundering river. At Warner Point, it’s deepest, it measures 2,722 feet. It stretches for 48 miles across southern Colorado, 14 miles of which are in the the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and six of which are easily accessible by a paved road along the southern rim. The steep walls shadow sunlight and the canyon walls appear dark, even black, hence the name.

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The Rim Rock Trail right off the campground is a great hike with spectacular views

The National Park Service runs frequent programs during the day for visitors at many of the canyon overlooks, teaching about the geology and history of the place. At night, in a charming little amphitheater between the campground loops, they put on evening shows several times each week during the summer season. All six adults, two kids and three dogs in our group attended the “Predator or Prey” talk one night, learning that you can tell which of the two an animal is by the placement of the eyes.

“Eyes on the side, they run and hide. Eyes in front, they hunt,” we learned.

Our row was given a bear skull as an example to hold and pass around. Tai, our Norwegian Elkhoud, was dozing when it went by. He did a quick doubletake and leapt to his feet, his eyes bright with desire. Tai is a predator.

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Mule deer will walk right into your campsite

Later, when all the dogs caught whiff of a mule deer nibbling on the scrub oak on the edge of the amphitheater, their classification as predators was triple confirmed.

The mule deer were all over the campground, day and night, wandering from site to site, paying little mind to people or dogs. There are also bear in the area and bear proof food storage boxes are located by each site.

The hiking was spectacular. Located right off the campground was the Rock Rim Trail, which has you walking along the very edge of the canyon. At 8,500 feet, even a couple mile hike can be exhausting, especially after mid morning when the temperatures begin to climb.

At night, the high desert quickly gives off its heat and we all slept comfortably with just the windows open.

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Our campsites along Loop B. That’s our Roadtrek eTrek at far left, which pulled the AmerLite Travel Trailer that my daughter Wendy, son-in -aw Dan Bowyer and granddaughters Hua Hua and Rachel used. At far right is the borrowed Roadtrek SS Ideal used by my by son, Jeff, and his wife, Aimee.
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Look at the color and striations in the rockface

All of us took turns using the car to drive the six mile access road and get out at the numerous overlooks, located from a few yards to 600 plus yards from the road. Each view was different, yet equally breathtaking, with the swift moving Gunnison River twisting and turning far below.

The mountain road that takes you to the campground is steep but can handle every type of motorhome, including Class As.  I saw several driving the rim road and making leisurely day trips out of the drive. The 88 camping sites on the south rim all have tables and fire circles with grill tops. The rangers do not recommend any RV over 35 feet in length. There are three loops for camping. Only Loop B has electric hookups, at $18 a night. All other spots are $12 a night.

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You can take dogs on the Rim Rock Trail. Here’s Jennifer and Tai.

There are also 13 sites on the North Rim. But the south has the most accessible views of the canyon.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is another reason why we so much appreciate out National Parks. If you plan an RV trip there, budget three days to fully explore it.

You can actually float down parts of the Gunnison River on a ranger guided pontoon boat tour. To get there from the campground you make 45 minute drive down the East Access Road if you have a car. It’s a very steep drop in elevation so check with the ranger for the latest conditions. They do not recommend vehicles longer than 22 feet try that drive.

If the boat tour appeals to you, but you want to drive your motorhome to the boarding spot, you need to get back down the mountain to Highway 50 and head about 30 miles east to milepost 130.

We didn’t have tome for the boat trip this time.

Notice I said this time.

Jennifer and I want to return to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Its that cool. And next time, we’ll also see the canyon from below.

Mike Wendland

Mike is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road. He enjoys camping (obviously), hiking, biking, fitness, photography, kayaking, video editing, and all things dealing with technology and the outdoors. See and subscribe to his RV Lifestyle Channel on YouTube, where he has hundreds of RV and travel related videos. His PC MIke TV reports, on personal technology are distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations.

26 Comments

  • Wow! Thanks Mike for another wonderful article. I have never heard of this canyon….it’s now on my list. I gather the E-trek is performing beautifully. Is there anything you miss or would change?

  • Just love the photos and the travel information, Mike! Your RV is what we want to buy next spring. The more we read how versatile it is, the more we’re settling in on a Roadtrek. You have given us so many great places to put on our “must visit” list. Can we donate to help you with gas money? Seriously, we would! We just love reading of your travels!

  • I would agree that few people are aware of the Black Canyon of Gunnison. Years ago, my wife and I were touring Colorado in a free form sort of way with my, then new, Mustang and no specific destination in mind. Colorado is very conducive to that because just about any road you choose to take is going to be the “scenic route”. One of those routes led us to the Black Canyon. We were stunned at the size of the chasm and the sheer cliffs.

  • You are visiting close to our home and the most spectacular largest flat top mountain. We live in Cedaredge Colorado, just north of Montrose. We are currently campground host on Grand Mesa at Spruce Grove Campground. We hope you are heading our way on Highway 65. This scenic byway will give you a chance to view this wonderfull National Forest and get a glimps at some of the 300 natural and manmade lakes. If you do come our way be sure and stop at Pioneer Town in Cedaredge, visit the Visitors Center on the top of the Mesa and stay at one of the many campgrounds. Maybe you will even get a glimpse of some of our Moose.

  • Black Canyon is just stunningly beautiful. A big plus for me is the excellent trout fishing with big rainbows and browns in abundance. I can assure you the view for the bottom is awesome!

    Bill

  • When we lived in Colorado Springs, we did a hiking trip to the Black Canyon every fall. The colors are great and the aspens cover the trails and make golden tunnels. However, if you wait too late you need to be aware the place is crawling with hunters. We would not venture into the brush just enjoy the views from our vehicle or a viewpoint.

  • A great day hiking trail for families at Black Gunnison of the Canyon National Park is the Warner Point Nature Trail. An array of wildlife and a canyon bottom that almost never sees sunlight are in store for hikers on the 1.4-mile trail.

    Rob Bignell
    Author, “Hikes with Tykes”

  • Cool!!

  • I stood on edge of that canyon and it’s a lonnnnng wayyyy to the bottom !

  • Been there on our Harley

  • We have been there, and it is awesome.

  • Camped down there couple times absolutely stunning.

  • Is that a picture in the rock?

  • We were there there this summer. Great place to visit

  • WOW!!!!!!

  • I see a man on a horse with a bow

  • This is 1000 Times Better than the Grand Canyon , And town of Crawford is a Great Place to Visit Too . Joe Cocker Lives There . Your Welcome Joe .

  • Been there years ago, just awesome

  • Been there many times on the way to Ouray 🙂

  • Oh yes I was there I believe that’s in Colorado

  • Going to put on bucket list!!

  • Been there. So amazing

  • Nice looking.

  • It’s on our trip list for spring 2015. We have a great neice in Gunnison, CO

  • Been……..breathtaking!!

  • I grew up around that area!! Beautiful country

Comments are closed.

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