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The Black Canyon of the Gunnison



I bet many reading this have not heard of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It’s probably not on many RVer’s bucket list.

It should be.

Invariably, it is compared to its more famous Big Brother, the Grand Canyon. But while the Grand Canyon is deeper (6,000 feet at its greatest depth) and longer (277 miles), the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an amazing tourist attraction for RVers that is often overlooked because it isn’t surrounded by highly commercialized parks and campgrounds that cater to big box Type A RVs.

While there are a few campsites that have electricity along Loop B – where we stayed – there are no flush toilets and no water hooks and no dump stations in the national park.

To get to the campground or the best canyon views, you have to drive a very steep mountain road off Highway 50 east of Montrose. There is no cell service, Wi-Fi or Internet – which for me meant that when I updated this blog each day I had to drive down the mountain almost into town to get a decent enough signal to upload my photos.

But we were thrilled by our stay there.

Black Canyon is incredibly deep and sheer, with plunging cliffs, soaring buttresses and a thundering river. At Warner Point, it’s deepest, it measures 2,722 feet. It stretches for 48 miles across southern Colorado, 14 miles of which are in the the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and six of which are easily accessible by a paved road along the southern rim. The steep walls shadow sunlight and the canyon walls appear dark, even black, hence the name.

The National Park Service runs frequent programs during the day for visitors at many of the canyon overlooks, teaching about the geology and history of the place. At night, in a charming little amphitheater between the campground loops, they put on evening shows several times each week during the summer season. All six adults, two kids and three dogs in our group attended the “Predator or Prey” talk one night, learning that you can tell which of the two an animal is by the placement of the eyes.

“Eyes on the side, they run and hide. Eyes in front, they hunt,” we learned.

Our row was given a bear skull as an example to hold and pass around. Tai, our Norwegian Elkhoud, was dozing when it went by. He did a quick doubletake and leapt to his feet, his eyes bright with desire. Tai is a predator.

Later, when all the dogs caught whiff of a mule deer nibbling on the scrub oak on the edge of the amphitheater, their classification as predators was triple confirmed.

The mule deer were all over the campground, day and night, wandering from site to site, paying little mind to people or dogs. There are also bear in the area and bear proof food storage boxes are located by each site.

The hiking was spectacular. Located right off the campground was the Rock Rim Trail, which has you walking along the very edge of the canyon. At 8,500 feet, even a couple mile hike can be exhausting, especially after mid morning when the temperatures begin to climb.

At night, the high desert quickly gives off its heat and we all slept comfortably with just the windows open.

All of us took turns using the car to drive the six mile access road and get out at the numerous overlooks, located from a few yards to 600 plus yards from the road. Each view was different, yet equally breathtaking, with the swift moving Gunnison River twisting and turning far below.

The mountain road that takes you to the campground is steep but can handle every type of motorhome, including Class As. I saw several driving the rim road and making leisurely day trips out of the drive. The 88 camping sites on the south rim all have tables and fire circles with grill tops. The rangers do not recommend any RV over 35 feet in length. There are three loops for camping. Only Loop B has electric hookups, at $18 a night. All other spots are $12 a night.

There are also 13 sites on the North Rim. But the south has the most accessible views of the canyon.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is another reason why we so much appreciate out National Parks. If you plan an RV trip there, budget three days to fully explore it.

You can actually float down parts of the Gunnison River on a ranger guided pontoon boat tour. To get there from the campground you make 45 minute drive down the East Access Road if you have a car. It’s a very steep drop in elevation so check with the ranger for the latest conditions. They do not recommend vehicles longer than 22 feet try that drive.

If the boat tour appeals to you, but you want to drive your motorhome to the boarding spot, you need to get back down the mountain to Highway 50 and head about 30 miles east to milepost 130.

We didn’t have tome for the boat trip this time.

Notice I said this time.

Jennifer and I want to return to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Its that cool. And next time, we’ll also see the canyon from below.


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