Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
I had not heard much about this National Park prior to this adventure. I am SO glad we made it here. There were multiple sights that took my breath away. Ron Swanson said it’s only acceptable to cry at the Grand Canyon, but I think he’d add this park to the list too.
After the Great Sand Dunes, an attempt up Blanca Peak by Mike, a lucky find of $20 in a parking lot (time to treat yo self!), a shower at the city rec center, we headed to Black Canyon.
We made it there just in time for the evening ranger program at the amphitheater which talked about the history of the park’s exploration, space exploration, and the relationship. This was a great way to begin our park visit.
We camped that night on BLM land that was right outside of the park! The ranger even gave us directions to it. This park is recognized as an International Dark Sky – and it was easy to see why. Mike and I really enjoyed stargazing here while having a glass of whiskey. This is basically what counts as date night for us now.
The next morning, we drove in and headed down into the canyon via East Portal road. It was beautiful and peaceful since it was right after sunrise with no other people around. This is considered the easy route into the canyon – as it’s the only road down. Despite this, Mike also got the last permit of the day to hike the inner canyon (only 15 are given each day) while I hiked with Luca on the Rim Rock Trail and worked on my junior ranger booklet.
When he came back, we drove the South Rim loop and stopped at almost every view point. A lot of parks have these scenic drives which makes it more accessible for every age and fitness level. But we still managed to hike over 5 miles at this park – and Luca was allowed at every overlook! Painted Wall is the most popular stop, but if you want an even closer view of the same wall, head to the next overlook, Cedar Point.
We then headed back to the Visitor Center to get my junior ranger badge. There I met two badass women who presented my badge. Kim was a younger ranger who was in her third season with the NPS. Mary Jane has been with the NPS for 12 years and travels in the off season. Last year, she climbed Kilamajaro! They both were so passionate about the Park Service, Black Canyon, and just overall educating visitors. Their joy for their jobs reignited my desire to someday be a park ranger.
I was in awe of this park. It had wonderful facilities (clean bathrooms at almost every stop!), accessibility without being too crowded, and inspiring beauty. If Mike and I hadn’t left then to visit friends, there was so much more to see too! We stayed on the South Side of the canyon, but I’d love to come back to explore the North Side and do more hikes. This is also a popular place to rock climb, paddle, and fish. Rangers Kim and Mary Jane both agreed that their favorite place within the park is the SOB Draw inner canyon hike on the North side – I’ll definitely be back to conquer that hike and camp by the river!
- Why pay for a campground when there is an even better one for free? When you exit the park entrance, drive over two cattle guards, and you’ll see a gravel road on the right for BLM camping spots! The front was a little crowded, but we drove in a bit and were completely secluded.
- I made the mistake of underestimating the ranger programs. I originally believed that they were meant for little kids or for people that can’t hike. Boy, I was wrong. The rangers were hired for a reason – they’re amazing, passionate teachers. I’ll definitely be attending a program at every park I can now.
- Make time for the North side, and get an inner canyon permit!
2 thoughts on “Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park”
Ron Swanson would cry like a baby on seeing the north rim. Seriously, breath stopping beautiful. Go! A couple great hikes for you and Mike, and Luca allowed on Chasm View and North Rim drive viewpoints. I left the dog in the car, in shade, for Exclamation Point hike.
My takeaway from this trip was mainly that doing Junior Ranger activities in the winter in the mountains is probably not the greatest idea. While it was really nice that we virtually had the visitor centers to ourselves (except CNM which was surprisingly busy for the time of year), the difficulty in actually being able to do the activities made it really unenjoyable for everyone (especially B) and I really don t want these badges to be a drag for anyone. I d like to go on a few more NPS adventures before our pass expires in July (it s nearly paid for!) since I m kind of in love with the National Parks (and I think if I could do adulthood over again, I d probably be living in one of them right now), but I think we ll wait until the weather is warmer.