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One Day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison

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Spending just one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park almost fails to do it justice. However, if your looking to add this amazing and less visited national park to your list, you won’t be disappointed. One day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison is about choosing between seeing the South Rim or the North Rim. During my visit, we elected to do the more popular South Rim and picked the perfect time to do so. Check out all we accomplished with just One day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Why Spend One Day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

If you’re feeling adventurous, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a fantastic park to visit. That’s especially true if you’re road tripping across the Southwest. Black Canyon’s nearest major city is Denver, which just so happens to be a fantastic place to start or end any Southwest road trip. Right at five hours from Denver, its easy enough to make Black Canyon your first stop. However, it’s also an easy destination to reach going to or from Colorado’s other National Parks.

Dragon Point offers some stunning views for your one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Quick preview of the amazing views you’ll get at Black Canyon.
Check out this amazing vista from Dragon Point.

A northern route can take you through Rocky Mountain National Park. This taste of the mountains along Trail Ridge Road is a nice primer. Spend some time looking up at the mountains before you stare down into the deep canyon from the rim. Alternatively you can take the southern route past Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Great Sand Dunes National Park. Either of these options adds just one more National Park to any epic road trip.

While somewhat remote, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park serves as a great entry heading west into Utah. The city of Montrose is nearby to refuel and fill your belly. One Day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison will set you up for a deep dive into Utah and the Mighty Five! There is little reason to skip Black Canyon if you’re driving west from Denver and looking for adventure.

Which Rim for One Day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

Now that you’ve settled on making the trek, you’ll need to decide which rim to visit. While this will depend on your personal preferences and desire to be around people, I think the South Rim give you the best bang for your buck. The key to any good visit to Black Canyon is timing. We had plans to shoot sunrise at Painted Wall and what an excellent choice that was. While South Rim is more popular, there was no one in sight for HOURS! This was perfect for us, and I’m sure you’ll have a more enjoyable experience as well with less people crowding the trails and your pictures.

If you're looking for solitude, get up early for your one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Trails like Rock Point were completely empty on our visit

The South Rim also features a majority of the developed parts of the park. The visitor center is located here, although it was closed due to COVID-19 when we visited. The entirety of the rim road is also paved which is a plus if you’re not wanting to travel rougher roads. If you’re interested in camping at the park, the only campground with facilities is also on the south rim. These are all things to keep in mind when deciding which side of the canyon to visit.

With all that being said, the North Rim does offer its own benefits. If you want even more solitude, the north side of the canyon sees about 1/10th the number of visitors each year. The camping is more accommodating to those looking for a “backcountry” experience as well. You’ll also find access to one of the easier ways to hike into the canyon at S.O.B Draw. If you’re looking for the ultimate seclusion on your one day, then the North Rim will be your choice.

When to Spend One Day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

Always the ultimate question when trying to plan a trip is when should I go? Like many Rocky Mountain parks, that will depend on how much effort you want to put into it.

The summer is the most popular time of year and provides the best weather. It can be hot during the day and cool at night making for good camping weather. You’ll also find yourself with the majority of the crowds. However, even these crowds pale in comparison to what you’ll find at other parks. The late part of summer into early fall is your best choice to minimize crowds and maximize good weather.

If you’ve been before or just want to see a completely different park, then show up in the winter. Black Canyon is gorgeous during the winter with snow on the ground. If you don’t mind the snow, you can enjoy one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison almost entirely to yourself. This is because most of the road is closed, limiting the ease of access. You’ll have to put in time hiking or skiing to reach your viewpoints, but they are no less breathtaking once you arrive. In fact, your pictures will be unlike any others who visit the park.

Sunrise Views at Black Canyon

Getting an early start to the day is going to be key to your one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison. If you’re going to get an early start then you might as well catch the sunrise while you’re at it. You’ve got a couple options to choose from when starting your day, all of which are extremely easy to reach.

Painted Wall at Sunrise. The best sunrise for your one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Mother Nature is a hell of an artist

I settled on Painted Wall View because it is one of the more iconic spots in the park. Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado and one of the most stunning as well. The hike to Painted Wall View is a short and mostly level 300 yards. Once you reach the end, be mindful that nearly the entire rim lacks guardrails. You can still get some amazing sunrise shots and remain safely from the edge, so please don’t risk it. The sun will rise from behind you and slowly illuminate the wall, so get there early to enjoy the show.

There are quite a few alternatives to Painted Wall View. The first I’d consider is Dragon Point. This is a more direct view of the wall that might be harder to capture, but should be just as stunning and as easy to reach. You also see a bit further down the canyon from here. The same can be said for Cedar Point as well. For a direct view of the sunrise, consider Devil’s Lookout or Rock Point which both can have more open looks over the canyon.

If you’ve decided to check out the North Rim instead of the south, then you’ll want to see sunrise from Chasm View. This look deep into the canyon will brighten as the morning goes on, while giving you a more distant view of Painted Wall. Alternatively, an extremely early morning hike to Exclamation Point could be what a wandering soul needs to start the day.

Guide to South Rim Viewpoints

One of the biggest perks of the South Rim at Black Canyon are the easily accessible viewpoints. With the entirety of the road being paved, it’s simple to reach the various viewpoints. Some of them are right on the road, while others will require short hikes which aren’t too difficult.

Tomichi Point is your first viewpoint when spending One Day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Looking down into Black Canyon from Tomichi Point

The first viewpoint you’ll come to from the main entrance is Tomichi Point. This viewpoint requires no hiking and provides some great views to the east into Black Canyon. In the spring or fall, the sun will rise directly over the canyon from this point and can make for an excellent timelapse photo opportunity.

Gunnison Point is accessible from the visitor center just around the next bend. This has the most parking thanks to the visitor center and also has access to the nearby Oak Flat Trail. If you’re visiting in the winter, this also is the final viewpoint into the canyon before you’d have to trek on foot down the South Rim Road.

Big Island is impressive and a must see with one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Taking a look at Big Island from the Rock Point Lookout

From the visitor center the road winds quite a bit before reaching the trio of Cross Fissures, Rock Point, and Devil’s Lookout. All three of these provide amazing views into the canyon below. These are the longest hikes with the most elevation change of all viewpoints, but I assure you they are worth it. A word of caution that they aren’t for the faint of heart as most of the lookouts lack any guardrails. This allows you to get supremely close, but is also very dangerous. Take your selfies from a safe distance!

Next up you’ll come to Chasm View. This viewpoint looks directly into one of the deepest and narrowest parts of Black Canyon. While not quite as good a view of the narrows as Narrows View from the North Rim, it’s still one that will take your breath away. You’ll really want to make sure you don’t pass this one up.

Sunset Views at Black Canyon

One of the best parts of Black Canyon is that it provides excellent sunrise and sunsets year round. Due to your location on top of the rim, you’re mostly above the surrounding terrain. Sunsets are a little less dramatic as the best light on the canyon comes in the morning, but it’s still worth showing up at sundown.

The prime spot for sunset on your one day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison is going to be the aptly named Sunset View. At this point, the canyon has begun a turn back west which provides for some dramatic views of the sun setting into the canyon below. This lookout has picnic tables and restrooms, making it a great place to setup and have an easy dinner while watching the sunset. Alternatively, you can walk a short distance to an outcropping. This grants an even better view of the canyon and river below.

Sunset View is a pretty great place to catch a sunset on your one day at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Brilliant glow as the sun sets into Black Canyon

Depending on the time of year, you can also catch pretty good sunsets from Dragon Point or Painted Wall View. While these are primarily sunrise spots, during the late fall to early spring they can be great for sunset as well. This is because the sun will set in a southwesterly direction which can cast its final rays onto Painted Wall. In the summer, it will set directly behind Painted Wall which will make it too dark to photograph effectively.

Extending Your Trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Like any national park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a treasure to behold. From its breathtaking views, ease of access, and unique terrain it’s hard to pass up. The biggest downside is the same as the Grand Canyon in that you’ve got two rims. In order to reach the other side it takes a 2.5 hour drive. For most that’s just not worth it to view a fairly narrow canyon from the other side. However, if you want to extend your stay it is the obvious choice.

The North Rim contains plenty of its own hikes and adventure to be found. If you’re looking to spend two days at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, then head north. As I discussed earlier, it has its own benefits and for someone who isn’t watching the clock is a great way to extend your trip.

I hope that this has helped you make a decision on the best way to see Black Canyon. It was one of my favorite spots when I traveled out west with my mom earlier this year. Be on the lookout for more from my Great Southwestern Road Trip! Thanks for taking the time to read and if you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

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13 Responses

  1. What a beautiful place! This is the second time I’ve read about Colorado today (Crested Butte was the other spot). The Universe might be telling me I need to take a trip that way!

  2. I haven’t heard about this place before and it’s so interesting to read about a new National Park and to see pictures of a new place. The Sunset and Sunrise pictures are amazing, and I certainly hope to get there one day!

  3. I love it when we can find spots that are less tourist traps than others. Especially places like parks where you really don’t want to fight crowds for views and solitude. We will definitely need to add Black Canyon to the list when we plan a visit to Colorado. We faced the same choice of North or South rim when we visited the Grand Canyon. We were glad we did both. And found the North Rim there to be far less crowded too. We would definitely plan to stay for sunset views!

  4. I have never heard of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison before, but it looks amazing! I’m surprised it is not more popular. I have seen a fair amount of Colorado, but just goes to show there are places like this I still need to go back and visit 🙂

  5. I have been to the grand canyon but have not heard about black canyon. Looks like a great place for a visit. The sunset picture is simply amazing! Those uneven steps at the Rockpoint trail look a bit scary. I would love to visit the North rim and do some of these hikes someday. 🙂

  6. I can’t believe I have never heard of Black Canyon. Denver is on my bucket list, and this would make a lovely addition to the trip! The sunset looks lovely, would be the perfect way to end the day!

  7. We’re planning our epic SW/CO trip for next year so I’m looking for spots like this to add to our list! It’s perfect!

  8. Stunning photograph of Painted Wall View! So good to see you and your beautiful wife exploring and staying true to your wanderlust! Thank you for sharing it with us♡

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