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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park | Roadtrip USA (30)

Over the past two million years, the Gunnison River along with the weather has formed this huge vertical canyon. It is typical of the natural splendor that we are almost used to in America† We've been rolling off in Colorado for weeks National Park to National Park and every time you think you are going to see something similar, but you are completely surprised again. So now too! From the mountainous Ouray we drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park which contains some of the steepest cliffs and oldest rocks in North America has. The difference, however, is that you are not looking up here, but rather down.

In this article I tell about our experience in the national park and why, despite its relative obscurity, the park is still worth a visit.

The ultimate tour of North America

This article is part of a large one-year tour the United States en Canada in 2022, with a Dutch 4×4 camper that we shipped ourselves… It is a bucket list worthy and an once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.

The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl
The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl

We wrote almost 100 articles about this ultimate tour. Below is a handy overview in 5 expandable categories.

1. Preparation
2. Highlights & Itineraries
3. Cities & places of interest (AZ)
4. National Parks & Monuments (AZ)
5. Plan your vacation to America here

About Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The official name of the park is: Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Parka mouth full. The park is big enough to be overwhelming yet small enough to explore in one day. As far as I'm concerned, that's an important reason to go to the park despite the relative unfamiliarity, because it doesn't take a whole bite out of your travel (time).

The park is located in western Colorado about a 2-hour drive from the Million Dollar Highway en Silverton† Anyone who is on their way to the Rocky Mountains from there or vice versa will practically pass by. It is therefore a nice stopover to interrupt the journey between these more famous places.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is also a fairly young national park. It took until the year 1999 until the park was declared a national park, making it one of the last additions to the list of National Parks in America.

Vertical 822 meters into the depth

The vertical gorge – the canyon – on the other hand, has been forming for two million years. The Gunnison River in combination with the sun, wind, rain and snow are responsible for the erosion of this huge canyon. It may not be visible on the photos, but the canyon descends in some places as much as 822 meters almost completely vertically into the depth. At 822 meters, the canyon is a lot less deep than, for example, the Grand Canyon, which is more than twice as deep, but there is an important difference.

Also read: Grand Canyon Hike | Once in a lifetime experience

The depth of the Black Canyon canyon compared to famous tall buildings
The depth of the Black Canyon canyon compared to famous tall buildings

What makes Black Canyon so special is that it is a very narrow canyon and that it goes down almost straight. The photos really don't do it justice in that regard. It's definitely very different when you're standing on the edge of such an abyss yourself. 822 meters is about the same height as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

On the rim of the canyon I look straight down at the Gunnison River, about half a mile below us. The black rocks are also clearly visible.
On the rim of the canyon I look straight down to the Gunnison River, about half a mile below us

If you stand on the edge of the canyon like me (in the photo above), and then look straight down, your legs suddenly feel a lot less stable I can tell you. The video below gives a slightly better idea of ​​the immense height. Not suitable for people with a fear of heights 😉

Why the name?

The Black Canyon eventually got its name because the walls are often shrouded in misty shadows that make them appear black, something you will definitely see in the photos we took there. The whole area gives you a bit of a dark feeling, especially at times when the sun is a bit lower.

Driving around and walking in the park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is quite small compared to other national parks. Besides admiring the canyon, there is not much to do. Some people defy the enormous height and descend into the canyon to spend the night there (with a permit). Others start just at the bottom of the canyon to climb all the way up and the real fanatic does both of course.

One of the viewpoints in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
One of the viewpoints in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

What the vast majority of visitors here do is simply drive around the park. At the edge of the canyon, a road meanders past various viewpoints where you can stop for a while. Here you can enjoy the view and snap a photo before getting back in and driving on. Sometimes there is a short trail of a few hundred meters to the viewpoint, but it usually isn't much.

Malou at one of the viewpoints of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Malou at one of the viewpoints of Black Canyon of the Gunnison

In addition, there are picnic tables in some places with, of course, a fantastic view over the canyon. It is also really cool that you can sometimes park your car very close to the edge of the abyss. You don't want to make a mistake with the clutch here, because if you drive through the wooden gate, you just fall 800 meters straight down.

So be careful!

Edge Parks in Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Rim parking in Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The Peregrine Falcon (Peregrine Falcon)

For those who pay close attention, there is more to see than just deep canyons that overshadow each other. The canyon is the habitat of an impressive predatory bird: the Peregrine falcon (wiki here ), or the 'Slechtvalk' in Dutch. It is one of the largest falcons in the world and is widely used in the Falconry† The bird of prey is extremely intelligent and very easy to train for that specific purpose.

Fun fact: What makes it extra special is that the Peregrine Falcon also lives in the Netherlands, although to a very limited extent…

In the 1960s the bird was introduced in Europe and in particular in The Netherlands en Belgium accidentally eradicated by farmers who spread dangerous insecticides on the land.

From the 60s to the 90s, our country therefore only had 13 peregrine falcons. Due to extensive protection and monitoring since the 90s, that number has grown again to approximately 250 copies in the Benelux.

The bird is still on the red list in Europe as 'highly endangered'.

Birds of prey in the canyon

At some viewpoints you can see them well when you look into the canyon. Sometimes you see 10 at a time. Remarkably enough, the birds hardly need to waste energy here. They circle as they float on the wind in the canyon. I filmed a part, it's wonderful to see this with my own eyes.

Other wildlife

You also have a chance to Mule deer to mock. In addition, it is suffocating from lizards and chipmunks. You will see them darting away in the bushes on every hiking trail that you walk up, because they prefer to remain well hidden from humans. However, I was lucky that two beautiful lizards on my path were mainly busy with each other, so that they suddenly no longer had eyes for me and did not try to flee.

I was therefore able to capture them well with my camera. It was crazy and funny to see one lizard biting another in the ass all the time. At first I thought it was a territorial fight, but nothing could be further from the truth. They were mating!

Curious what I shoot with? More information about my camera can be found in the display below.

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Also read: Why you should NOT take pictures with your smartphone during a world trip

The roaring river

If you stand out of the wind and stand close to the edge of the canyon, you will be able to hear the river well even at this height. The roaring river echoes through the narrow canyon, echo after echo bouncing off the steep walls upward. Find a quiet place and listen to the power of the natural force about 800 meters below you.

Volcanic flows

Another special phenomenon to watch in Black Canyon of the Gunnison are the crystallized magma and lava flows (pegmatite† Don't worry, there is no volcanic activity here. But millions of years ago, magma and lava made their way through the various cracks in the rock to the surface.

The lava (the light veins) made its way through the bedrock in Black Canyon
Pegmatite (the light veins) made its way through the bedrock in Black Canyon

This has made it look like the rocks have veins. When the lava was liquid, this was more or less the case. Long ago, liquid lava, or pegmatite, ran in the light-colored veins that run through the rock.

Painted Wall Viewpoint at Black Canyon
Painted Wall Viewpoint at Black Canyon

It is especially visible at two of the last vantage points of the ride, namely Painted Wall View en C† Not only do you see the beautiful veins running through the rock here, this is also one of the most beautiful places where you can look straight down and see the river 822 meters below you.

Painted Wall Viewpoint at Black Canyon
Painted Wall Viewpoint at Black Canyon

Watching stars

Unfortunately it was cloudy the night we were there, but the Black Canyon of the Gunnison region is one of the darkest places in America† Far from civilization is hardly here hardly light pollution† If you have a clear sky, you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye here. The Milky Way galaxy can be recognized by the light band of stars that are close together, a large cluster of stars that form a long band. So if you get the chance, look up at night!


Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not our favorite national park in America. Still, I think the park is worth a visit, especially if you are in Colorado for a visit to one of the other national parks. Black Canyon is located more or less between the Rocky Mountains and the Million Dollar Highway, so it can easily be combined as a stopover of a full or half day.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Do not underestimate the depth of this canyon. In the photos it seems not too bad, but whoever stands on the edge of the canyon (without fences) and looks more than 800 meters straight down, will feel the legs tremble. Guaranteed.

Plan your vacation to America here

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– Traveled 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
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Stubborn & decisive world traveller
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