Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Colorado’s 4 national parks. It is one of the lesser-visited among the 4, so I consider it to be quite a gem! With steep, deep, and beautiful canyon walls, it’s a great place to spend a day. We visited in late spring when the water was flowing and the wildflowers were in bloom, and it was gorgeous. If you are going to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids soon, here is a great guide for getting the most out of your visit.
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I suggest driving up the South Rim, stopping at the many viewpoints, learning about the area at the Visitor Center, and enjoying the easy, kid-friendly walks to each viewpoint. It’s pretty fun and easy to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Facts
Before you visit, check out some of these fun Black Canyon of the Gunnison facts with the kids to make your experience more interesting!
- Black Canyon of the Gunnision was made an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. That means it provides lights for safety as needed in the buildings, but still allows for the stars and Milky Way to shine at night.
- Formation of the canyon began 60 million years ago (uplifting 1.8 billion year old rock)
- The Gunnison River began flowing through 2 million years ago
- The greatest depth canyon is at Warner Point at 2,722 feet
- While the park contains 14 miles of the canyon, Black Canyon in total is actually 48 miles long.
- Black Canyon is made of metamorphic rock, including Gneiss and Schist. It also has igneous granite varieties.
- The elevation of Black Canyon of the Gunnison sits at 8,000 at the rim.
How to Get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison has two entrances and they do not have access to each other.
The North Rim entrance is just outside of Crawford, Colorado off highway 92.
The South Rim entrance is just outside of Montrose, Colorado off highway 50.
For either entrance, you’ll want to fly into Denver International Airport. From there, it’s about 5-1/2 hours of a drive down.
You can also connect into the Montrose regional airport for a much closer drive. A few airlines will connect into Montrose.
If you’d like to take your time getting from the airport to Black Canyon, you can stop for some fun activities in Colorado Springs for a day or two.
North Rim vs South Rim at Black Canyon
The South Rim entrance is the more popular area to visit the park. There are more viewpoints, better views of certain areas, plus there is a visitor center. The road is paved throughout the South Rim and it is open year round (with stipulations. See “Winter at Black Canyon of the Gunnison” section below)
The South Rim also has a larger campground area for those looking to camp.
North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The North Rim will give you different views, albeit not as many places to witness the canyon. There are 5 lookout points along the North Rim road.
There is a ranger station, but no visitor center on the North Rim entrance. The North Rim road is not paved, but made of gravel.
North Rim access is completely closed during winter months.
You can NOT visit the North and South Rim at the same time (each is a different side of the canyon and there is no bridge.) However, if you’d really like to see both sides, it will take between 2 and 3 hours to get from one entrance to the other.
Only have time for one? My advice when traveling to Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids is to head to the South Rim.
What really surprised me about Black Canyon is driving through it. I thought I would be seeing the canyon all along as we drove. It’s not like that at all. In fact, just driving through I would have NO idea there was a deep canyon just a couple hundred yards from me. The top of the rim is fairly flat, and the canyon is invisible from most of the road. So you really have to take the time to walk in to the viewpoints.
Visiting Black Canyon with Kids
Going to Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids is a lot of fun! It’s really easy to see many great views of the canyon without going on a long hike.
You can access so many viewpoints either right off the road or with just a quick walk down to an overlook.
You can visit either the North or South Rim (or both if you have a lot of time). But I recommend the South Rim to get more views with just one side!
Please note: there are many drop offs at the observation points. While there are fences/rails at the actual viewpoint, ten feet to the right or left may have nothing at all. Please watch your little ones closely and keep them away from unprotected edges!
Here are a few of the viewpoints along the South Rim that are great when you visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids.
As you drive up Black Canyon’s South Rim, you’ll first have the option to turn into the campground area. This is the South Rim Campground with 88 sites. There is a bathroom, parking, and a 1 mile trail (Rim Rock) that leads to the Visitor Center from the campground.
After you pass the campground, here are the viewpoints you’ll come to
Tomichi Point is a great welcome to Black Canyon. It’s a short walk to the viewpoint here. You can see the great canyon, though the river isn’t quite within view.
Tomichi Point overlook will offer you vault toilets, as well as the opportunity to jump on the Rim Rock Trail which leads both to the campground one direction and the visitor center the other direction. You can also drive to either of these.
South Rim Visitor Center
If you are traveling to Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids, I recommend stopping at the visitor center. Here, they can get their National Parks passports stamped, learn more about the area and the rocks, or even grab something from the gift shop.
There is plenty of parking a well as bathrooms at the parking lot.
But even if you don’t stop into the visitor center (it was closed when we got there!), this is still worth stopping for.
At the visitor center is a trail down to an overlook of Gunnison Point. This view is incredible.
Getting to the overlook involves going to the back side of the visitor center and then descending down 70 stairs (yes, we counted!) So this is not fit for strollers.
This is also where you can access the Oak Flat Loop trailhead, which is a moderate 1.4 mile trail that will give you a few more views.
Pulpit Rock Overlook
A short drive beyond the Visitor Center is the Pulpit Rock overlook.
We were able to visit this overlook at that golden moment when the sun was setting (and the overcast of the clouds had moved for just a moment), so we got some great views here.
Pulpit Rock overlook entails just a short walk and a few stairs to get to the lookout point. It’s gorgeous with the river below, which is a classic picture of Black Canyon.
Pulpit Rock overlook has a picnic table just off the parking area, as well as vault toilets just across the street.
Cross Fissures is the next easy stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids. It’s also just a short walk (357 yards, according to the trailhead sign) on a dirt path.
The trail leads to an overlook of a very steep part of the canyon. There is a metal rail/fence at the lookout point that protrudes.
Note: Devil’s Lookout is the next stop, but we did not get out here.
We got out next at the Chasm View overlook. I would say this is another classic stop in the canyon. Another short walk down a dirt path will lead you to a great view of the canyon with the river below.
Painted Wall also includes a short, 200 yard walk to the viewpoint. I especially loved all the wildflowers on the path covering the area in so many colors.
At Painted Wall, you’ll be able to see the Pegamite that creeps through the Gneiss rock in the large canyon wall. What was once soft, molten in the earth has now journeyed up into the rock and hardened.
A colorfully painted effect in the wall of the canyon (see the stripes in the picture above?)
Another fun fact is that Painted Wall is the tallest vertical cliff in all of Colorado. It is 2,250 feet high, not even competition for the Empire State Building (1,454 feet).
Other Viewpoints at Black Canyon
There are a few more viewpoints beyond Painted Wall. At this point, the sun was setting and we decided to head back to Tomichi Point at eat dinner at a picnic table with the canyon as our backdrop.
But if you continue on, you’ll still come to Cedar Point, Dragon Point, Sunset View, and Warner Point.
If you have the time, I’d try to make it to Warner Point. This is where you’ll witness the deepest point in the canyon.
Warner Point will bring you to the end of the road for the South Rim.
The flowers in late spring are incredible!
Camping in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Can you camp in Black Canyon of the Gunnison? Yes!
From mid May to September, you can camp at the South Rim Campground (just a mile from the Visitor Center). These 88 spots are first come, first served during non-summer months and offer a few sites with amp hookups. From mid-May to September you must make a reservation.
The North Rim offers just 13 campsites that are first come, first served and is closed in winter.
Camping Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison
If the camp spots are filled within the park, try heading to a nearby campground. Check out:
Montrose/Black Canyon KOA -11 miles away
Riverbend RV Park– riverfront sites, amenities, bicycle rentals
Cimmaron Campground– a National Parks campground 20 miles east of Black Canyon
Lodging Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison
These recommendations are located near the South Rim entrance:
Cedar Creek Lodge – cabins, yurts, tiny homes!
Holiday Inn Express– indoor pool, hot continental breakfast, 12 miles away
Winter at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The South Rim is open year round, with some stipulations.
You can go all the way to Warner Point from mid-April to mid-November. But during the other months, you can only drive to Gunnison Point (Visitor Center) on the south rim. This still leaves you with a few beautiful observations points and views of the canyon during these months!
If you are really adventurous, you can snowshoe or cross-country ski beyond Gunnison Point in the winter.)
The North Rim is only open typically around mid-April to mid-November. There is no access on the road beyond those months.
Special Event at Black Canyon
If you are visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison with kids in September, check to see if your trip falls on the week of the Astronomy Festival.
This festival pays tribute to the dark skies and is full of fun and education as to why the dark skies are such a great resource for the Earth.
The fest has guest speakers, ranger talks, activity tables, and of course some great star gazing. Find out more about the Astronomy Festival at Black Canyon.
Are Dogs Allowed at Black Canyon of the Gunnison?
Yes! You can take your dog to parking lots, picnic areas, and even on the short walks to overlook points. They must be leashed, of course.
While dogs are also allowed on the Rim Rock Trail (a short 1 mile from the Visitor Center to the campground at the South Rim) and the North Rim Chasm View Nature Trail, they are not allowed on other hiking trails or areas in the park.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Video
Check out this short video to see sweeping views of the canyon!
How long do you need in Black Canyon of the Gunnison?
If you are just wanting to see one side of the canyon, then 1 day is plenty to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This will allow you to enjoy each of the viewpoints and visit the Visitor Center (on the South Rim).
Which Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is Better?
The South Rim is better for viewpoints and overall easy visits. There are more places to stop and see the canyon, plus there is a Visitor Center, which the North Rim does not have. The South Rim is open year round (with some stipulations), but the North Rim closes during winter months.
Does Black Canyon of the Gunnison Allow Dogs?
Yes! You can take leashed dogs to the picnic areas, parking lots, on the short trails to the viewpoints, or on Rim Rock Trail which leads from the campground to the visitor center. They are not, however, allowed on the longer hiking trails of the park.
Does Black Canyon of the Gunnison Require Reservations?
No, Black Canyon of the Gunnison does not require reservations to visit the park. You do, however, need to reserve a camping spot during the busy summer months on the South Rim. There are just a few spots that are saved for first-come first-served.
When did Black Canyon of the Gunnison become a National Park?
Black Canyon of the Gunnison first became a national park in 1999. Before that, it was a National Monument since 1933.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison with Kids
Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison a good place to take kids? Yes!
My kids really enjoyed the short walks, the “cool rocks”, and the majesty of the depth of the canyon. Of course, my little girl enjoyed all the wildflowers and colors along the way.
Check out other Colorado National Parks