Welcome to the awe-inspiring Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park! If you’re ready for a thrilling and unforgettable journey through one of nature’s most breathtaking wonders, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll guide you through an exciting one-day itinerary, taking you to the must-see spots, hidden gems, and thrilling activities this national park has to offer.
We first visited Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in 2021, and even though we only had one day to explore, we were able to take in so much beauty of the park! That’s why I wrote this 1-day itinerary for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to help you get the most out of even a short visit to Colorado’s least-visited National Park!
Discover the Majesty of Black Canyon: Imagine standing on the edge of sheer cliffs, gazing down into a deep, narrow gorge carved by the mighty Gunnison River over millions of years. The towering walls, with their striking dark hues, have earned this place its name, and you’ll soon understand why it’s renowned among nature enthusiasts and adventurers alike.
Explore the Best Highlights: Our carefully crafted one-day itinerary will lead you to the park’s most iconic viewpoints, such as Gunnison Point, Painted Wall, and Sunset View. Prepare to be swept away by the stunning vistas that unfold before your eyes, presenting a mesmerizing play of shadows and light on the canyon walls.
Join us as we dive into the heart of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Get ready to create lasting memories, immerse yourself in nature’s wonders, and embark on an adventure you’ll cherish forever. Let’s get started on crafting the ultimate one-day itinerary for your journey through this geological masterpiece!
One-Day Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Itinerary
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers breathtaking landscapes and outdoor adventures. For the perfect day in this magnificent park, here’s an itinerary that combines scenic viewpoints, hiking trails, and other activities. For a comprehensive visit in just one day, we recommend spending your morning on the South Rim and the afternoon on the North Rim. This will require a bit of driving (about 2 hours between the two rims), but will be well worth it to see the entirety of the park in just a single day!
Morning on the South Rim
You will spend your morning driving the scenic road on the South Rim, stopping at as many as the 12 viewpoints as you’d like. In order of appearance, here are the 12 scenic stops on the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:
- Tomichi Point
- Gunnison Point (Visitor Center)
- Pulpit Rock Overlook
- Cross Fissures View
- Rock Point
- Devil’s Lookout
- Chasm View (South Rim)
- Painted Wall View
- Cedar Point
- Dragon Point
- Sunset View
- High Point
The Scenic Road is only 7 miles long, so you have ample time to visit all twelve viewpoints on the South Rim in the morning. Some of these require a short walk to get to the viewpoint, but none are more than a half mile.
If you’d like to pick and choose which viewpoints to stop at, here are the most popular ones:
- Gunnison Point: Located near the Visitor Center, this viewpoint is only a short downhill walk from the parking lot. The look out is particularly photogenic when shot from the Visitor Center. We recommend catching sunrise here!
- Pulpit Rock: Another photogenic scenic overlook, Pulpit Rock gives you one of the best views of the canyon and the Gunnison River nearly 2000 feet below.
- Painted Wall View: The Painted Wall view is where you can get one of the best views of the tallest cliff in Colorado, which also features beautiful markings in the ancient rock that resemble a painted line.
- Sunset View: As the name suggests, Sunset View is great for sunset, but since this one-day itinerary has you going to the North Rim in the afternoon, you should still check it out during your morning drive on the South Rim!
Tip: While not one of the most popular views, we think the absolute best view on the South Rim of the Black Canyon is at Cedar Point. You will get a great view of the Painted Wall with the Gunnison River below, and there are fewer crowds than some of the other viewpoints.
Note: The South Rim road is closed past the Visitor Center in winter months, but visitors can snowshoe or cross country sky the rest of the road!
South Rim Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Itinerary
Start your day exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison at the South Rim Visitor Center. If you don’t mind an early wake-up call, we recommend catching the sunrise over Gunnison Point.
Drive the South Rim Scenic Drive: Stop at as many of the viewpoints as you’d like, and be sure not to miss these:
- Pulpit Rock (0.2 miles)
- Painted Wall View (0.2 miles)
- Cedar Point Nature Trail (0.4 miles)
- Sunset View (0.1 miles)
Lunch and Scenic Drive along East Portal Road: Drive East Portal Road down to the Gunnison River for a picnic lunch. The road descends steeply with dramatic views of the canyon. At the bottom, you can view the Curecanti Needle and the river. Note this road is closed from November to April.
Afternoon on the North Rim
You’ll spend the afternoon exploring the more remote North Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Allow about 2 hours for the drive to the North Rim. Although the North and South Rims appear close to one another when looking at a map, there are no bridges or roads that cross the canyon, so in order to get to the North Rim from the South Rim you will need to drive all the way around. Aim to get to the North Rim by about 2:30 pm.
Note: The North Rim is closed entirely from November to April
The best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, if you want to visit both the North and South Rims, is from May through October. For the most favorable (as in, not scorching hot) temperatures, we recommend May, September, or October as the absolute best months to visit.
Here are the six scenic viewpoints you can see on the North Rim. You will have time to visit all 6 during this one-day itinerary in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
- Chasm View North
- The Narrows View
- Balanced Rock View
- Big Island View
- Island Peaks View
- Kneeling Camel View
If you want to pick and choose, we recommend these viewpoints as your priority:
- The Narrows View: Here you can peer into the narrowest part of the canyon!
- Balanced Rock View: Look for the large boulder balanced on a perch high above the Gunnison River.
- Island Peaks View: You can get an incredible view of the South Rim across the canyon from this Island Peaks View. Try to find the Visitor Center!
North Rim Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Itinerary
Drive the North Rim Scenic Drive: After the long drive to the North Rim, take the scenic drive to the various viewpoints along the route. Stop at all 6 of the scenic overlooks, or prioritize these three if you are short on time:
- The Narrows View (0.1 miles)
- Balanced Rock View (0.1 miles)
- Island Peaks View (0.1 miels)
Evening in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
To cap off your one-day itinerary in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, here’s how we recommend spending your evening if you don’t have to rush off to your next destination.
Dinner in Montrose: Head to the nearby town of Montrose for a well-deserved dinner. There are several restaurants offering various cuisines to satisfy your appetite. Here are some recommended dinner spots:
- Ted Nelson’s Steakhouse
- Camp Robber
- The Stone House
- Colorado Boy Pizzeria & Brewery
- Hiro Japanese Steakhouse
Stargazing: On a clear night, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a designated International Dark Sky Park, offering excellent stargazing opportunities. If you’re camping, this is the perfect way to end your day. Be sure to dress warmly, as it gets chilly at night near the canyon, even in the summer! The National Park Service occasionally hosts night-sky and astronomy events, so take a look at the official park calendar for the upcoming schedule!
Need-to-Know Visitor Information
Here are the basic things you to need to know when planning a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park charges an entrance fee for all visitors. This fee is $30 per vehicle for 7 days.
You can buy your pass at the park, or in advance online. If you plan on visiting more than 3 national parks in a calendar year, however, we highly recommend getting the America the Great National Parks Pass! This pass gets you free entrance to national park sites throughout the United States. We buy one every year!
The North Rim and East Portal Road are closed November through April. The South Rim is open year-round. For this reason, we recommend visiting spring through fall if you want to exactly follow this one-day Black Canyon of the Gunnison itinerary.
Pets are allowed on leash on some of the South Rim overlooks.
At an average elevation of 8,000 feet above sea level, you are likely to feel a bit of altitude sickness at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park if you aren’t acclimated to the altitude already. Expect to feel some shortness of breath and fatigue while your body adjusts.
Be extremely cautious near the edge of the canyon rim on both the South and North rims. Many of the overlooks have no guardrails or barriers, with sheer drop-offs common. Be watchful of your kids so they don’t get near the edge! Also, it’s incredibly important that you do not throw or accidentally drop anything into the canyon. Even small and light objects can be fatal if they strike a hiker below.
The closest places for food and fuel to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park are Montrose for South Rim and Crawford for North Rim. Neither are particularly “close”, though, so plan accordingly with a full tank of gas and plenty of water and snacks in your car!
Final Thoughts: One-Day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Itinerary
As a summary, here is how to spend a day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:
- Morning: South Rim Scenic Drive
- Midday: East Portal Road and Gunnison River Picnic
- Afternoon: North Rim Scenic Drive
- Evening: Dinner in Montrose and Night Sky viewing
If you are a hiker looking for longer hikes in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, like the Warner Point Trail or Oak Flat Loop, or are even interested in learning more about wilderness permits for inner canyon hiking, check out our comprehensive guide on hiking in Black Canyon!
And if you’re craving more information on why Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park should be on your Colorado bucket list, here are 10 incredible and fascinating facts about Black Canyon.
Planning to visit more Colorado National Parks? Check out our additional park guides below:
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Colorado National Monument