Vast and grand with steep cliffs and sheer walls, Black Canyon near Montrose is a rare beauty waiting to be explored. Designated a Colorado national park in 1999, Black Canyon earned its name for the darkness within its depths. Looking below can be shadowy business, but the geological wonder is a stunning playground for outdoorsy folks who wish to explore. Picnic tables are available along the South Rim at Gunnison Point, Pulpit Rock, Sunset View, High Point and along the water’s edge at East Portal — all excellent spots to stop and enjoy an alfresco picnic lunch. The Chasm View outlook, featuring a striking near-vertical plunge, is also a favorite.
It is the Gunnison River that carved Black Canyon’s narrow, deep crack over time Countless river groups spend their free time down in the roaring or trickling Gunnison River, depending upon the locale. Water lovers on the river vary from kayakers and rafters pounding through breathtaking sections of world-class rapids and smooth eddies, to the fly-fishers who wade along the calmer sections and expertly whip their custom flies in an elegant dance over the river’s surface
In the warmer months, world-renowned rock climbers from across the planet descend upon Montrose. The Black Canyon is an international, bucket-list worthy destination for climbers, who refer to the outdoor haven as “The Black.” Since the canyon is known for its dangerous exposure and limited protection, only seasoned, savvy climbers should pursue its brilliant cliff faces. The Black Canyon is extremely deep and narrow and is a full-on adventure climbing area that is only meant for expert climbers. The deepest section of the canyon, Warner Point, plunges 2,722 feet. The Painted Wall, at 2,250 feet, is the tallest vertical wall in Colorado. Peak climbing season is mid-April to mid-June and late August to early November. There are 145 known Black Canyon climbs.
Hiking and Trail Running
Experience the canyon by wandering to the many different overlooks to glance below, strolling the short trails along the rim, embarking on half-day hikes or biting off one of the more challenging trails, which are also popular with trail runners. All you might want to bring is hiking poles, a can of bear spray, an appreciation for natural beauty — and a desire for open spaces, fresh air, sunshine and adventure. On the North Rim, many enjoy the North Vista Trail, which skirts the rim of the canyon. It’s an easy hike that winds from vista to vista, giving the visitor repeated doses of splendor. Hermit’s Rest Trail, a more challenging hike that starts on the rim and reaches all the way to the river, is another favorite located just a few miles east on State Highway 92.
Road-biking enthusiasts are taking over the world, and the Black Canyon is on many of their lists. If you haven’t tracked your progress on South Rim Road on Strava (a mobile app for runners and cyclists), then you haven’t experienced road biking in the park. Bikers can take in the views while zooming along or opt for a more leisurely trek along the gently rolling rim route.