Be ready to tightly hold the hands of your little ones!
Never heard Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park? You’re not alone. Located 250 miles southwest of Denver, the Black Canyon stretches 48 miles, but only 14 miles of it is designated as a national park. Cut by the rushing waters of the pristine Gunnison River, the canyon is named “Black,” because it’s so deep and narrow that very little sunlight penetrates the canyon floor. Through the canyon, the river drops at an average of 95 feet per mile. By comparison, the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park drops an average of 7-1/2-feet per mile. There are no marked trails to the inner canyon; hikes are strenuous, steep, and rocky. That’s why my family spent our visit on the rim.
You can choose from the North or South Rim. With a well-equipped visitor center, more campsites, and easier access for our RV, we chose the South Rim. While the North Rim is arguably more secluded, you likely won’t find crowds anywhere.
KidTripster Tip: Stop at the South Rim Visitor Center to pick up your child’s Junior Ranger book and return it completed for a Junior Ranger badge. Also, make sure to watch the park movie, so you’re primed for your visit.
What to do?
Along the South Rim Drive, you’ll find numerous overlooks and short hikes. The most expansive view of the canyon can be found at the end of the moderately-difficult, 1-1/2-mile (round trip) Warner Point Trail. At the trailhead, grab a guide with information that corresponds to numbered markers. Stop, read, and most importantly for the grown-ups, catch your breath! For the best river and Painted Wall views, don’t miss the Cedar Point Overlook.
KidTripster Tip: Along the trails, there are steep drop-offs. You’ll want to keep a hand on young children and warn them not to run ahead.
Unlike the 30-some other national parks that we’ve visited, BCG allows dogs on many of the trails, including the Rim Rock Trail that connects the South Rim Campground to the visitors center. Our yellow Labrador couldn’t have been happier to be included on a family hike!
If you have a little extra time, book a ranger-led, 1-1/2-hour tour of the Morrow Point Reservoir and travel seven miles of the canyon by boat. You'll gain a different perspective with the canyon walls towering above you. Children must weigh a minimum of 35 pounds to wear the required and provided flotation devices. Prepaid reservations are required. Cost: Youth (12 & under) $8; Adult $16; call (970) 641-2337, ext. 205.
While BCG offers excellent rock climbing and kayaking, it’s expert-level only. And unpredictable winter weather makes snowshoeing and cross-country skiing difficult to plan and discouraged for young families.
Where to stay?
We prefer the South Rim Campground at BCG, situated about 14 miles from Montrose. The rustic campground accommodates tents and RVs under 35 feet (electricity only, Loop B). If you’re not camping, you’ll find various chain hotels in Montrose.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a 5-hour drive southwest from Denver or a nearly a 6-hour drive southeast of Salt Lake City.
Headed to Great Sand Dunes National Park? Click here. Or maybe Rocky Mountain National Park? Click here.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah travels to national parks with her husband and two sons. She’s logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family’s RV.
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