Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

On the western side of Colorado, is one of the lesser known national parks: Black Canyon of the Gunnison. With just over a mere 200,000 annual visitors, the crowds are smaller here.  The drive to it’s entrance feels remote. Especially compared to it’s nearby better known cousins – such as Rocky Mountain National Park (with over 4 million annual visitors) or Arches National Park (with 1.4 million annual visitors). But don’t let this small national park go by unnoticed.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was forged over the course of roughly 2 million years by the raging Gunnison River. This river loses more elevation in 48 miles, than the Mississippi River does in 2000 miles. A deep and dark canyon was created, containing the tallest cliff in Colorado – Black Canyon’s Painted wall stands at 2,250 ft. The beauty of this canyon cannot be ignored. So pack up your gear and your four-legged companion and plan a road trip to this spectacular national park.

Dog Friendly Activities

If you were visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park without pets, you might be forgiven for thinking there is less to do in this smaller park. When traveling with dogs, however, there is more to do than many of the other national parks. 

Here is what Black Canyon of the Gunnison’s pet policy has to say:  Dogs on leash are allowed on roads, in the campgrounds, at the overlooks, on Cedar Point and North Rim Chasm View Nature trails, and on the Rim Rock Trail. Pets are not allowed on any other hiking trails, inner canyon routes or in the wilderness area. Additionally, the South Rim Campground roads and Rim Rock Trail are closed to dogs from June 1st to August 10, as the local deer can become aggressive in protecting their fawns. Visitors have been injured after deer have perceived dogs as a threat.

Even without hiking the inner canyon, there was plenty to do to fill a day (or more). We started with hiking the Rim Rock Trail. After being mostly underwhelmed with the trails that allowed dogs in several of the other national parks, we were left stunned and in awe of the views on this canyon edge trail. We hiked from the visitors center to the campground and back. This trail was supposed to be a mile in length, but felt more like 3 miles round trip. Maybe because we stopped for so many pictures. But either way, we wished it had been even longer.

We would have been impressed if the Rim Rock Trail was the only dog-friendly trail. But the other great part about bringing dogs to this national park, is that almost all of the overlooks are dog friendly. We loved being able to leave the parking lot with the pups and walk the short distances out to find even more astounding views.

View from a dog friendly overlook of the Gunnison River cutting through the canyon walls.

Camping

There are two campgrounds in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: South Rim and North Rim. Additionally, for those without dogs, there are some designated camping areas along the inner canyon hiking routes. South Rim campground is the larger of the two. During our brief walk into this campground, it appeared to be a nice wooded campground with sites spread out well. Vehicles over 35 feet were not recommended and no dump stations were available.

Another camping option, which we took advantage of, is to use the nearby Curecanti National Recreation Area. More details below in our “activities in the surrounding areas” section.

View from the Rim Rock Trail near the South Rim Campground

Activities in the Surrounding Areas

To the east of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Curecanti National Recreation Area is a series of 3 reservoirs along the Gunnison River. Most of the recreation in this area is based on water activities. We stayed at Elk Creek campground. Although there are a few hiking trails scattered around the recreation area, none left directly from our campground. We satisfied ourselves with taking a walk to the edge of the reservoir. And then planned some hiking for the next day.

To the west of Black Canyon of the Gunnison, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Located outside of Grand Junction Colorado, this area protects part of the high desert canyon country of western Colorado (and a little bit of eastern Utah). We boondocked in an RV friendly parking lot and enjoyed a lovely hike up Rabbit’s Ear Trail.

Our boondocking spot in Mcinnis Canyons NCA.

Rabbit’s Ear Trail is located in Rabbit Valley, just a couple miles away from our boondocking location. This trail is approximately 5.6 miles in length and follows a lollipop formation loop. The trail climbs about 700ft to offer amazing views. Along the hike, we could see parts of the Colorado River and the Grand Mesa to the LaSal Mountains in Utah. We really enjoyed this hike. From the narrow canyon like feel in portions of the trail, to the sweeping vistas as we climbed higher. If we hadn’t been traveling in a motorhome, we would have loved to drive further in and explored more of the trails in this area.

Final Thoughts

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park exceeded our expectations. The dark canyon walls with streaks of multi-colored rock created a picturesque scene that we are unlikely to forget. Enjoying a walk with the dogs along the rim of this spectacular canyon was an experience we highly recommend. Don’t overlook this great national park in western Colorado.  And consider stopping at Great Sand Dunes National Park to further enjoy the dog-friendly national parks in Colorado.

Have you visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison? What are your favorite views and experiences? Or tell us about your favorite dog-friendly activities in the nearby area?

And just for fun… here is my favorite photo from Rabbit’s Ear Trail.

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