Visiting the Parks: Kakaying Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park


The Inner Canyon of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. NPS photo by Lisa Lynch.

Kurt Repanshek's picture

There are more than a handful of national parks that seemingly were dreamed up with thrill-seekers in mind. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of them, particularly if you like getting wet.

Located in southwestern Colorado, the park is built around the Gunnison River, which has cut a deep, steep route through the Proterozoic crystalline rock found here. River runners long have been attracted to the Gunnison as it flows through Black Canyon. It's not for newbies, though. The river through Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park drops at an average of 95 feet per mile. By comparison, the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile.


My husband and I just returned from a Colorado trip that included a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. What a hidden treasure! We aren't experienced enough to kayak those waters but the hiking on the North Rim was glorious. If you visit the South Rim, the park service runs a boat tour on the river. That's on my list for next time.

I used to live near Black Canyon NP and have spent many a night there, mostly on the North Rim. And though I can argue a bit with its current national park status, Black Canyon is a truly special place -- an appropriately primitive park with no running water in its visitor facilities, a very cool log cabin visitor center on the South Rim, some amazingly rugged and delightfully dangerous descents to the canyon floor and a unique sense of dizzying wildness that can be found in few other places in Colorado. One of my favorite spots in the region is Black Canyon's North Rim and its small campground -- hardly ever full even on the busiest of holidays -- home of Colorado's tallest cliff and most vertigo-inducing overlook. Accessible only via a 2wd gravel road which I hope they never pave, the North Rim gives you a feeling of remoteness similar to Toroweap at Grand Canyon, even though you're only a handful of miles from a paved road. I hope they expand Black Canyon NP one day to include neighboring Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, a continuation of Black Canyon and a wild place deserving of national park status together with the land currently within the park's boundaries.