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Weekend Black Canyon National Park Travel Itinerary with Kids

    If you like canyons, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is not one to miss. These steep cliffs of dark rock offer visitors a very different experience from the vast landscapes of Grand Canyon or Canyonlands National Park, where the canyon edges fade into the distance. Here at Black Canyon of the Gunnison, you get a much closer look at the opposing canyon walls, which makes for some pretty impressive drop-offs.

    Where to Stay in Black Canyon

    Lodging

    You’ll have plenty of choices in the town of Montrose for where to stay in Black Canyon National Park. Just a short 20 minute drive into the park, you’ll find hotels at all price points, from basic motels to a Hampton Inn. More luxurious accommodations are available as you travel south, at places like Double G Ranch, Chipeta Lodge, and the Western Hotel & Spa or Beautmont Hotel & Spa in Ouray.

    Camping

    Camping in Black Canyon National Park is available in South Rim Campground, which offers some electric hookups, and East Portal Campground, a primitive campground with mostly tent only sites. Campgrounds near Black Canyon National Park include Montrose Black Canyon KOA, Riverbend RV Park and Cabins, Cimarron Campground, and Black Canyon RV Park and Campground.

    Best Time to Visit Black Canyon

    A large portion of the scenic road is inaccessible during the winter, so the best time to visit is in the summer and early fall months. We visited in September and enjoyed seeing all the colorful foliage around the park, so we’d highly recommend that as a good time to visit.

    What To Do in Black Canyon

    The South Rim of Black Canyon is the most visited and has the most visitor services. And since it takes a few hours to drive over to the North Rim, we’re going to focus exclusively on the South Rim for this blog post and our Black Canyon of the Gunnison travel itinerary recommendations.

    Scenic Rim Drive

    Unless you are an experienced hiker with a permit for backcountry hiking, your visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison will be focused around the 6-mile scenic drive along the South Rim. You could do this drive in as little as 1 hour if you’re pressed for time, but we’d recommend planning for at least 3 hours if not more. There are 12 viewpoints along this road, most of which have a small trail to the viewpoint.

    East Portal Road

    Descend to the bottom of Black Canyon of the Gunnison on East Portal Road. At the bottom, you’ll find a picnic area and a primitive campground, both containing educational signage describing the impressive construction of the Gunnison tunnel.

    Sunset at Sunset View

    Parking at Black Canyon’s overlooks is very limited, so you’ll want to plan ahead to enjoy the sunset at Sunset View. Other west-facing overlooks in the park include Dragon Point, Cedar Point, and Painted Wall View.

    Fishing

    If you enjoy fishing for large trout, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an excellent place to visit. The park is designated Gold Medal Water & Wild Trout Water.

    Kayaking

    Only expert kayakers should attempt to navigate the Gunnison River in the national park.

    Star gazing

    The dark skies in Black Canyon National Park are so beautiful the park hosts a yearly astronomy festival. Find out more information about AstroFest here.

    Explore Gunnison or Montrose

    If you’re not camping in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, you’re probably staying in Montrose, so take an afternoon to explore the town. Some of the attractions you’ll find in Montrose include the Ute Museum, Montrose Botanic Gardens, Museum of the Mountain West, and Montrose Water Sports Park.

    Just about an hour away, in Gunnison you could enjoy Crystal Mill, Blue Mesa Fishing, the Gunnison Pioneer Museum, or the reservoirs at Curecanti National Recreation Area.

    Hiking in Black Canyon

    The South Rim of Black Canyon has a couple of featured hikes as well as several small trails to viewpoints. Warner Point is the longest of these viewpoint trails at 1.5 miles round trip. The parking area will fill quickly as this is one of the best hikes in the park and canyon views from the parking lot are limited.

    Other canyon overlooks, like Dragon Point and Rock Point, have a pathway ranging from 100 to 300 yards long. Sunset Point, Chasm View, Pulpit Rock, and Tomichi Point are all accessible overlooks. Cedar Point has educational signage along the trail about the native plants and trees in the park.

    Short Hikes in Black Canyon

    Oak Flat Loop Trail – A strenuous 2 mile round trip hike that dips below the rim and is steep in some places.

    Rim Rock Trail – A moderate 2 mile round trip hike along the rim of the canyon.

    Uplands Trail – An easy 1 mile connector trail that links Rim Rock Trail and Oak Flat Loop.

    The park also has 3 routes that descend into the canyon for the most experienced hikers.

    South Rim Scenic Drive

    We spent about 3 hours on the scenic drive, stopping at 8 of the 12 overlooks. All the pull-offs are on the right side of the road, so it’s easiest to stop at each of them on your way out, but if Warner Point is an important stop for you, I’d recommend arriving there before 9:30 or 10 am to get a parking spot. The drive is short enough to drive straight to Warner Point, then double back 6 miles to the Visitor Center, and drive the scenic road a second time to easily pull off for all the right-side viewpoints.

    If you’re pressed for time on your Colorado road trip travel itinerary, here are the viewpoints I’d recommend: Tomichi Point, Gunnison Point (and the Visitor Center), Pulpit Rock, Cross Fissures View, and Cedar Point. Painted Wall, Cedar Point, and Dragon Point all have great views of the park’s famous Painted Wall, but Cedar Point also has interpretive signs that will educate you on the different types of plants in the park, so it’s a great two-for-one hiking trail. Each of these trails is only a few hundred yards at the most, so spending 10-15 minutes per stop, you can enjoy the scenic drive and views of the canyon in just 1-2 hours.

    Tips for Visiting Black Canyon

    Resources in Black Canyon of the Gunnison are very limited. The park’s visitor center is small and there is no food available for purchase. Visitors should come with everything they expect to need. But you can stock up on supplies without driving too far. The town of Montrose is a short drive outside of the park and has many of the stores and restaurants you’d expect in a larger city.

    Water is trucked into the park, so fresh water is only available for drinking, not for showering or washing dishes if you’re camping. And fresh water is only available in the summer season. Spigots are turned off from November to April. Whether you’re camping in Black Canyon National Park or just visiting for the day, you’ll want to come well stocked with food and water.

    The scenic drive here is short, so parking areas will get crowded by late morning. Like with just about every National Park, getting out early will benefit you.

    Expect to be out of cell service throughout Black Canyon National Park.

    Black Canyon of the Gunnison with Kids

    Black Canyon Books

    When you buy something using the links in our posts, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

    Goodnight Colorado by Adam Gamble

    C is for Colorado by The Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver

    Marvin the Moose’s Colorado Adventure by Professor WanderBound

    50 Hikes with Kids in Colorado by Wendy Gorton

    Welcome to Colorado by Asa Gilland

    C is for Centennial: A Colorado Alphabet by Louise Doak Whitney

    What’s Great About Colorado? by Mary Meinking

    National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber

    Junior Ranger Program

    If you’re visiting Black Canyon National Park with kids, definitely make time for the Junior Ranger Program. The various activity pages will help kids stay engaged as you move around the park.

    Ranger Talk

    Attending a ranger talk is a great way to learn more about Black Canyon. When we visited, Pulpit Rock was the site of a daily ranger talk. Ask rangers in the visitor center for specific details and times.

    Weekend Black Canyon Travel Itinerary

    Many people visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison for just a few hours, but if you have the space in your Black Canyon of the Gunnison travel itinerary, I’d recommend spending the night in the campground and enjoying a weekend here.

    1 Day in Black Canyon                                            

    Spend the morning driving South Rim Road, stopping at as many viewpoints as you’d like. There’s often a morning ranger talk at Pulpit Rock.

    In the afternoon, hike Rim Rock Trail or drive East Portal Road.

    2 Days in Black Canyon

    Day 1: Drive South Rim Road, doing each overlook in order, turning around after Dragon Point. Then enjoy a ranger talk and hike Rim Rock Trail. Watch the sunset at Sunset Point.

    Day 2: Start the morning at Warner Point. If you’d like another trail, consider hiking Oak Flat Loop or Uplands Trail. Then drive East Portal Road to the bottom of the canyon.

    What Else to Visit Near Black Canyon

    There is so much in this area of Colorado! Ouray is about an hour to the south. Colorado National Monument is less than 2 hours to the west, and Moab with Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are just 2 hours past that.

    If you want to build a Colorado road trip travel itinerary, consider visiting Colorado Springs less than 5 hours away. Or Rocky Mountain National Park, which is about 6 hours away.

    Weekend Black Canyon National Park Travel Itinerary with Kids

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