Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of those national parks you need to see for yourself

You have to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison in person. 

Photos don't do the national park justice since Black Canyon is so deep and narrow.

At Chasm View, its rims are only 1,100 feet apart, whereas Grand Canyon’s rims are miles apart. 

That narrowness makes Black Canyon’s walls, which reach upwards of 2,700 feet high at Warner Point, look and feel even steeper. 

But many travelers miss out on this Colorado marvel, which saw less than 300,000 visitors last year, making it one of the least visited national parks in America.

Here’s what you should know about Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the latest national park in USA TODAY’s yearlong series.

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A rainbow is seen over South Rim at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Why is it called Black Canyon?

Black Canyon is not black, but its rock walls can appear black in the shadows.

Visiting at different times of day, you can see how dramatically the sun illuminates and shades them.

What’s so special about Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

Its rocks date back 1.8 billion years, and each mineral layer represents a different era of time.

Painted Wall is seen on the right looking downstream from Chasm View at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Do you have to pay to get into Black Canyon?

Park entry costs $30 for private vehicles, $25 for motorcycles, and $15 for visitors arriving by foot or bike.

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Which side of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is best?

The North Rim offers better views of the narrowest part of the canyon, but fewer services and only a gravel road to access the rim, while the South Rim offers better views of Painted Wall as well as more overlooks, facilities and services, according to the park.

Cross Fissures Overlook is one of several scenic overlooks at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

What city is closest to Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

Montrose, Colorado, is closest to the South Rim. Montrose Regional Airport, the park’s nearest airport, is 30 minutes away from the park’s south entrance by car. Grand Junction Regional Airport is one and a half hours away by car. Denver International Airport is more than five hours away by car.

The small town of Crawford, Colorado, is closest to the park’s North Rim.

How long does it take to drive around Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

The park recommends giving yourself two to three hours per rim for leisurely exploration. South Rim Drive has 12 overlooks. North Rim Road has six. 

It takes another two to three hours to drive between rims, as there is no bridge across Black Canyon.

Who were the Native people of Black Canyon of the Gunnison?

Both the National Park Service and Colorado State Library note Ute Indians lived in the area, but not in Black Canyon itself.

“The canyon has been a mighty barrier to humans,” according to the park’s website. “Only its rims, never the gorge, show evidence of human occupation - not even by Ute Indians living in the area since written history began.”

Contributing: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY

There are two ways to get down to the Gunnison River from the edge of Black Canyon: a difficult hike or a drive with a 16-degree incline down East Portal Road, according to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

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