Selfie at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Driving Through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

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For two years we have worked as work campers for a motel located just outside of Gunnison, Colorado. During that time we have traveled through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park several times. We have also heard from guests of the motel about their experiences in the park.

The first thing I would like to note is that when people have bad experiences driving through the canyon, it is mostly because they were forced to drive through the canyon because of highway closures. For around 3 or 4 years now, there has been highway construction on Highway 50 that has caused the highway to be closed at certain times. Highway 50 is the main road between Gunnison and the rest of the western slope, mainly Grand Junction, Colorado.

So travelers going between these two spots have to divert through the Black Canyon if Highway 50 is closed. I have seen this circumstance several times where people end up driving through the canyon unexpectedly on motorcycles or hauling trailers and are caught off guard by the narrow winding roads.

Photograph of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison taken around 1904
Black Canyon of the Gunnison c. 1904

Obviously, cases like these are unfortunate and can be dangerous for travelers. Luckily, if this does happen Island Acres Resort Motel is located just near the Gunnison-side of the Black Canyon where travelers can find respite for a few nights. For travelers who have come to the Gunnison area specifically to visit the Black Canyon and surrounding area, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park will not disappoint.

Background on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a relatively new National Park. It gained National Park designation in 1999, after previously a National Monument since 1933.

The National Park’s official description of the Black Canyon is:

Big enough to be overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky.

As I previously mentioned, the road is narrow in spots with very sharp winding curves. But, visiting the canyon is worth it to see some of the most magnificent geological wonders in North America.

Things to Do while Visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

There are a wide variety of things to do when visiting the Black Canyon. Personally, I enjoy simply taking the time to drive through slowly and stop off at as many pull-offs as I can. When we pull off into the road-side parking areas, we wander around a little, observe the area to see if we notice wildlife or wildflowers, we take some photographs, and leisurely make our way to the next spot.

Scenic Photograph of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

It does not matter if you simply want to spend a couple of hours, or if you would like to spend an entire day at the park. You will be able to find things to do when visiting the Black Canyon.

Take a Leisurely Drive

While the Black Canyon does not offer the greatest driving experience for traffic trying to get through, it is an incredible experience if you are explicitly looking for a scenic drive to stop occasionally and take photos. Scenic routes exist throughout the park and there are several pull-offs where you can stop to use the restroom, take a selfie, or enjoy a picnic.

Hiking the Black Canyon

There are some trails available throughout the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. These trails exist on both the south and north rims of the canyon and are advertised as being accessible for people of all abilities.

As always please be prepared while hiking in the canyon. Have proper sun protection and plenty of water to drink.


The Gunnison River is the body of water that carves out the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Gunnison River is known for some of the best Trout fishing in the entire Rocky Mountain region.

There are several other fishing spots just outside of the Black Canyon as well. The Curecanti National Recreation Area is home of the Blue Mesa Reservoir, known for large Lake Trout as well as Kokanee Salmon, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and Perch.

Check out some of our other recommended fishing spots around Gunnison, Colorado for more information on fishing in the area!

Other Things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

While driving, hiking, and fishing are some of the most common activities in the Black Canyon, there are several other activities available to travelers. The park hosts dark night skies that are perfect for seeing the stars. In fact, the park hosts educational events in regards to astronomy.

For travelers that are skilled in rock climbing or kayaking, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers some extremely difficult conditions to test your talents. Or, if you are visiting in the winter, try your hand at cross country skiing or snowshoeing.

Of course, please be careful and prepared for any activity you choose while visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Final Thoughts on the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The road that winds through the Black Canyon can feel a little dangerous to drive, especially if you are looking to simply pass through and bypass highway 50. But, if you are looking for some adventure travel in the Gunnison, Colorado area, the Black Canyon is a really great place to spend some time.

Whether you are taking a scenic drive, practicing photography, fishing, hiking, or participating in extreme sports, the Black Canyon has adventurous things to do for people of a variety of ages and skill sets. So, pack up some gear and load the family up for an unforgettable Colorado adventure.

Luke Hanna

Luke Hanna is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and a veteran of the US Navy. He was born and raised in the beautiful state of Colorado where he gained a deep appreciation for nature and all the outdoor activities that come along with it. Luke is co-founder and CEO of Applied Worldwide, a digital content production and consulting company based in the US.