Let me start off this post with this warning: these photos – any photos – of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison cannot do it justice. This secluded gem in southwest Colorado is one of the most amazing things I have seen in person.
To put it in perspective, let me quote a woman I overheard gushing to a park ranger:
We were just at the Grand Canyon, but it was so big it was flat. It was like looking at a picture of the Grand Canyon. This thing – the Black Canyon – is in 3D! It’s so much more exciting to see in person!”
I had to borrow her words, because I have never been to the most iconic of flyover adventure sites. The Grand Canyon trip has eluded me to date. I’ve also never been to Vegas. I kind of prefer my adventures to be on slightly less beaten paths. But her words state what I cannot definitively declare on my own: The Black Canyon is better than the Grand Canyon.
There. I said it.
The Black Canyon is more dramatic with steeper cliffs, deeper cuts and a narrower floor (only 40 feet!) than any other American canyon. In fact, the reason it is called the Black Canyon is the combination of its dark rock faces and its deep, sheer cliffs that allow only 33 minutes of light per day in some parts.
But the Black Canyon is remote. It’s nearly a 5 hour drive from Denver, which is where many Colorado vacations would probably start. However, I maintain that a Colorado vacation SHOULD be a driving vacation. If you enter and exit Colorado through airports, you are missing some of the most striking landscapes in America.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has a guide when you arrive that suggests ways to make your visit last 1 hour, a half day or a full day, depending on the time you have available. If you’re the type of person that looks at something and says “Been there, done that,” this can be a very fast stop. If you’re willing to get out of your car and explore some of the 11 viewing areas and spend some time meeting with park rangers, you could easily make a day out of a visit to the Black Canyon.
Camping sites are available at south rim of the canyon, if you need a place to stay, but lodging and food services are not available. (Read: pack a lunch and book a hotel room.) The two nearest towns – Montrose and Gunnison – are both picturesque Colorado towns with several hotel options, great local dining and interesting shopping.
We set Gunnison as our home base for this leg of the trip, and even though it was about an hour away from the Black Canyon, I think it was a good choice. The parklands between Gunnison and the Canyon make for a scenic drive, with a variety of mountain and landscapes. Gunnison, itself, is a small town with a charming downtown area and some really good restaurants. Definitely hit up the Ol’ Miners Steakhouse, and if you’re feeling brave, try the Rocky Mountain Oysters. Yes, they’re really on the menu.