By land or by water, visitors get viewing pleasure in Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The overlooking views and staggering rock formations of the Black Canyon draw some 200,000 visitors to the park each year.

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The overlooking views and staggering rock formations of the Black Canyon draw some 200,000 visitors to the park each year.

Each year, about 200,000 visitors travel to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to see millions of years of geology combine with some of the best recreational activities on the Western Slope.

The park offers hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, rafting, rock climbing and a number of guided history tours.

The staggering depths of the Black Canyon were carved by the Gunnison River, which cut 1 inch every 100 years, according to the National Park Service.

At that rate, it likely took 10–15 million years for the canyon to develop, according to the National Park Service.

In 1909, the Gunnison River was partially diverted through the Gunnison tunnel to provide water for thousands of acres of farmland in the Uncompahgre Valley.

Park Ranger Paul Zaenger said visitors can see the history of the tunnel through a guided tour of the town site of East Portal.

“It melts both cultures, the story of the tunnel and geology of the canyon,” Zaenger said.

East Portal was a town created to house workers and their families during the tunnel’s creation. Zaenger said the tour runs about two hours.

The Black Canyon stretches beyond the national park’s 14 miles. The Curecanti National Recreation Area and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area brings the total length of the area to 53 miles.

A number of nature walks and boat tours allow visitors to take in the canyon’s features. Along with learning about the area’s plant life and ecosystem, visitors can become acquainted with the history of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad, which connected Gunnison with Montrose in the 1800s.

Today, most of the rail route is submerged by water held in a series of dams installed to harvest the Gunnison River’s energy. These dams also created the largest body of water in Colorado, Blue Mesa Reservoir.

The park’s South Rim Visitor’s Center offers exclusive exhibits, including a film about the park’s history, numerous publications and a Junior Ranger program for kids.

Zaenger said he wants the park to be known for its nighttime activities as well as its daytime programs.

Star gazers and astronomers can enjoy the night sky above the park every Wednesday and Friday night, and the park plans to host an astronomy festival this year.

For information about Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, call 970-641-3127 or go to

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Curecanti National Recreation Area has three reservoirs including Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is Colorado’s largest body of water.

It is 20 miles long and has 96 miles of shoreline.

The other two reservoirs are Morrow Point Reservoir and Crystal Reservoir.

The area also has two visitor centers: The Elk Creek Visitor Center (970-641-2337, ext. 205) 16 miles west of Gunnison on U.S. Highway 50, and the Cimarron Visitor Center (970-249-4074) 35 miles west of Gunnison on U.S. Highway 50.

Fishing and boating are great options for activities during a visit, and for visitors without a boat, a two-hour boat tour on Morrow Point Reservoir is available. Reservations are required and may be made by calling the Elk Creek Visitor Center.

For folks not looking for fish, a wide range of mammals can be found within Curecanti, including mule deer, mountain lion, black bear, coyote, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, elk and even an occasional moose.

Source: IT, DO IT

How to get to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:

• South Rim: 15 miles east of Montrose, via U.S. Highway 50 and Colorado Highway 347.

• North Rim: 11 miles south of Crawford, via Colorado Highway 92 and North Rim Road.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park facts:

• The Gunnison River drops at an average of 95 feet per mile through the park. By comparison, the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park drops an average of 7.5 feet per mile.

• The Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado. From river to canyon rim it stands 2,250 feet, and is 1,000 feet taller than the Empire State Building.

• The Black Canyon contains some of the oldest exposed rock on Earth. Precambrian, or “basement” rock, is nearly 2 billion years old.

• The temperature at the bottom of Black Canyon is approximately 8 degrees warmer than at the rim.

• The narrowest part of the Black Canyon at the river is 40 feet across.

• No food, lodging, gasoline or similar services are available at the park.

• Due to extreme temperature shifts, layered clothing is recommended.

• The visitor’s center and restrooms are wheelchair assessable.

• Plants, rocks, wildlife and cultural artifacts must not be disturbed or removed.

• Hunting is prohibited.

Park fees:

The entry fee for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, motor scooters or mopeds is $7 per person, not to exceed $14 per vehicle.

The entry fee for vehicles is $15 and is valid for seven days.

An annual pass costs $30.


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