We visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park as the second park on our 21-park, 31-day National Park road trip. It was one of those parks that we really hadn’t heard much about prior to researching for our trip, and we were pleasantly surprised at all it had to offer.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Ratings and Facts
Here’s the Family Adventure Awaits Ratings for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. All ratings are on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
- Landscape: 8
- Campsites: 5
- Adventure: 6
- X-Factor: 7 (East Portal Road – the drive down to the bottom of the canyon)
- Recommended stay: 2 days
- Best for: families with kids ages 4+
Camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
We camped at the South Rim Campground. There are 3 campground loops, A, B, and C. We stayed in Loop A, site 30, booked through Recreation.gov. The campsite has no running water except for a small area where you can fill water bottles for drinking. The water has to be trucked in 14 miles to the campground, so the park encourages you to bring your own water and conserve water while you’re there.
Our campsite was fairly secluded due to the thick undergrowth of brush trees, but was still close to other campsites. It never felt crowded or busy, though most of the sites were full while we were there. We booked about 5 months in advance and had plenty of sites to choose from. Our site had a picnic table and bear locker. Bears are common in the area and all food and smelly things (lotions, toothpaste, etc) need to be kept in the bear locker when not in use.
Here’s a quick video of us taking down our campsite at the end of a great nigh’s sleep.
South Rim Visitor Center
We love stopping at the visitor centers at all of the parks that we visit, and the South Rim Visitor Center is one of our all-time favorites. The views were amazing and the rangers were super helpful. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have made the drive down East Portal Road if it hadn’t had been suggested by the ranger at the visitor center.
Best Family Hikes
We love hiking as a family, and Black Canyon did not disappoint. We only had time for one hike, and guess which one we picked?
Oak Flat Loop Trail
- Duration: 1 hour
- Distance: 2 miles
- Elevation gain: 380 ft
- Highlights: amazing views, shaded areas to rest
We only had one day in the park, so we opted for the short but wonderful Oak Flat Loop. It took us about one hour, with plenty of time for short breaks to take in the views. Speaking of views, they abound on this hike, as it follows the south rim of the canyon. You can see the canyon for most of the hike, except for short stints where it passes through trees and brush. These areas provide welcome shade and excellent places to rest. There were a few areas with steep dropoffs, so be cautions and watch your kids closely.
The first mile is mostly a gradual descent, while the second half logically is back uphill. It’s not a difficult trail and was not tiring in the least. We finished with plenty of time to do the rim drive and enjoy the other viewpoints along the south rim.
A few other hike options that we considered:
- Warner Point Nature Trail: 1.5 miles, 300′ gain, easy. This short hike starts at the end of the South Rim Road and offers views of the deepest part of the canyon from Warner Point.
- Rim Rock Nature Trail: 1.8 miles, 200′ gain, easy. This hike starts at the South Rim Visitors Center. We actually hiked part of it on the way back from the Visitors Center to the campground. It offers tremendous views of the canyon.
- Canyon Hikes: One of the draws of Black Canyon is actually hiking into the canyon itself. It is so steep that any descent and ascent is very strenuous. Permits are required for entering the canyon and can be obtained from the Visitors Center. The most common routes are the Red Rock Canyon Route (lottery permit required, only 8 permits issued per day, an you need to mail, fax or hand-deliver your application) and the Gunnison Route (permit required at the Visitors Center). We saw the entry to the Gunnison Route as we were hiking the Oak Flat Loop.
Sunrise at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
There’s something about camping that makes early rising fun. At Black Canyon of the Gunnison, there’s the added bonus of being able to catch the sunrise. I got up before the kids and drove to one of the viewpoints to watch the sun rise. Since the canyon walls are so steep, it’s possible to watch the shadow line move down the walls as the sun gets higher in the sky.
South Rim Road Scenic Drive
One of the highlights of Black Canyon is taking the 7 mile drive from Tomichi Point to High Point. This drive took us about 2 hours with us stopping at most of the 12 scenic overlooks. We especially enjoyed Gunnison Point, Chasm View and Painted Wall stops.
East Portal Road
We love challenging drives (or most of us do!), so when we heard that you could drive down to the bottom of the canyon, we were excited to try it. East Portal Road was a 5 mile drive with about 2,000′ of descent, and took us about 15 minutes. It is steep (16% grades) and has a lot of tight switchbacks, but was easily done by our Toyota Sequoia. This drive can be done by most any passenger car, though use lower gears for the descent so you don’t burn up your brakes.
Plans for Our Next Visit to Black Canyon National Park
We were surprised at how much we enjoyed Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The views were amazing and we liked being able to enjoy them without the crowds found at some of the headline parks. For our next visit, we would plan ahead and enter the lottery for the Red Rock Canyon Route to hike down the canyon. We would also make time to visit the North Rim.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison Logo
For each National Park that we visit, I have designed a special logo with the National Park System four letter abbreviation. You can download the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park logo from our online store.
Other Family Friendly National Parks
We have a goal to visit all of the U.S. National Parks. We think you’ll love these ones:
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- Why The Narrows is the Best Family Hike at Zion National Park - February 19, 2020
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- Family Sunset Hike to Delicate Arch - February 12, 2020