Black Canyon, Colorado
When I first read about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in southwest Colorado, I seriously doubted it would live up to its lofty billing.
But when my family and I arrived at the first overlook, words couldn't describe the magnificent stark beauty of America's third-smallest national park. The canyon walls drop 2,700 feet to the Gunnison River--it's absolutely incredible!
There are deeper canyons in North America, but none this deep, steep and narrow (1,100 feet wide at the top and just 40 feet at the bottom). As such, the sun can barely penetrate the gorge, making its walls appear black--hence the name.
The South Rim offers the best views. A 7-mile drive (open early April through mid-November) includes 12 overlooks, some requiring a short walk. There are also hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty and a campground.
Our favorite was the Cedar Point Nature Trail, an easy 2/3-mile round-trip with two great overlooks. Trails lead down to the river, but you need to be in excellent physical shape!
Fewer people visit the North Rim, because it's only accessible via a good gravel road. It also offers stunning overlooks and a campground.
We still take friends to the canyon, and they're always as impressed as we were when we first visited over a decade ago.
Before You Visit... Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located about 15 miles east of Montrose. The South Rim (limited winter access) is accessible via U.S. Highway 50; the North Rim (closed in winter) via State Highway 92.
Admission is $7 per vehicle, valid for 7 days. Camping is available from spring through fall; fees range from $10 to $15 a night. For details call 1-970/641-2337.
More to See... Charming Ouray is 52 miles south of the canyon on U.S. Highway 550, part of the San Juan Skyway, one of North America's most scenic drives.