Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the most underrated National Parks in the USA. Its relative remoteness repels casual tourists but attracts passionate hikers and dedicated outdoorsy humans.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park has a little something for everyone. It’s got extreme paddles through steep whitewater, hazardous climbs down unmarked wilderness routes, leisurely strolls with epic views, and incredible scenic overlooks.
If you only have one day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I’m going to recommend that you spend it on the South Rim. You can read more about the differences between the South Rim and the North Rim in my comparison guide!
In this guide, I’ll share the perfect Black Canyon of the Gunnison itinerary if you only have 24 hours to explore this beautiful Colorado park.
One Day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison
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Tips for One Day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison
- The best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison is May through October.
- Bring all of your meals into the park so that you don’t have to leave. This will maximize your time spent in the park. If you want to eat outside the park, try Starvin’ Arvin’s or The Cabin Restaurant in Montrose.
- If you stay the night, try to camp at the South Rim Campground for the most convenience!
- Bring your park pass to save on the $30/vehicle fee at the entrance station.
One Day Black Canyon of the Gunnison Itinerary
For one day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison, ideally, you’d need to stay two nights in or near the park so you can spend a full day exploring. If you don’t have the time for that, you can adjust the itinerary by shaving the beginning and/or ending off of the travel plan.
An ideal day at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park would be entering the park just before sunrise, watching the sunrise at Tomichi Point, cruising the scenic drive until the very end (catching the overlooks along the way), and then turning around and hiking the trails before retiring to the campground after a spectacular sunset.
Sunrise at Tomichi Point
Whether you are just entering the park or you stayed the night at the South Rim Campground, the first overlook you’ll be arriving at along the scenic drive is Tomichi Point.
What better, more convenient stop than this to watch the sunrise?
My favorite way to enjoy a sunrise at Black Canyon of the Gunnison (or anywhere!) is by firing up the Jetboil and brewing some delicious hot tea. Here are my tips for brewing coffee and tea on the trail. ☕️
Cruise the Scenic Drive and Stop At All of the Overlooks
One thing I love about the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison is its incredible scenic drive. Along the seven-mile paved road, there are twelve scenic overlooks, each with varying lengths of walks to get to its viewpoint.
Drive to each overlook, get out of your car, hike the short distances, and admire the views!
South Rim Overlooks in Driving Order & Walking Distances From the Road:
- Tomichi Overlook – 10 feet
- Gunnison Point – 100 yards
- Pulpit Rock – 134 yards
- Cross Fissures View – 357 yards
- Rock Point – 294 yards
- Devil’s Lookout – 607 yards
- Chasm View – 100 yards
- Painted Wall View – 200 yards
- Cedar Point – 303 yards
- Dragon Point – 100 yards
- Sunset View – 10 feet
- High Point – 100 yards
If you are short on time and can’t hit each overlook, I’d recommend prioritizing Painted Wall View, Chasm View, and Gunnison Point.
→ READ NEXT: Black Canyon of the Gunnison South Rim Vs. North Rim
Hit the Trails
The best way to see Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is by hitting the trails! While most of the overlooks involve a short walk, these five hiking trails require a little bit more exercise. And the exertion is well worth it!
There are five established hiking trails on the South Rim.
- Rim Rock Nature Trail – 2 miles
- Oak Flat Loop Trail – 2 miles
- Uplands Trail – 2 miles
- Cedar Point Nature Trail – 0.6 miles
- Warner Point Nature Trail – 1.5 miles
If you don’t have time to hike all five hiking trails, I’d recommend prioritizing Rim Rock Nature Trail, Oak Flat Loop Trail, and Warner Point Nature Trail.
Rim Rock Trail travels the edge of the rim, providing visitors with incredible views the entire way, and is the best trail in Black Canyon of the Gunnison (South Rim).
Oak Flat Loop is the only established trail that delves below the rim.
Warner Point Nature Trail boasts great views of the San Juan Mountain Range and at the end, the Gunnison River and the Black Canyon.
NOTE: Hiking into the canyon on one of the backcountry routes is not recommended if you only have one day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison unless that is all you plan on doing.
Catch the Sunset at Sunset View
What better place to watch the sunset at Black Canyon of the Gunnison than the westernmost viewpoint along the South Rim Scenic Drive, Sunset View?
A sunset with a view is the perfect time to enjoy a picnic! Or, if you’ve already eaten, bust out that Jetboil again, brew yourself a hot cup of coffee or tea, and munch on a delicious pre-prepared snack.
If you need trail snack ideas, I’ve got some here. 🍿 🥨
Camp at the South Rim Campground
The most convenient place to stay in Black Canyon of the Gunnison is at the South Rim Campground right inside the park! That way you can maximize your time spent in the park!
The East Portal Campground is also on the South Rim, but it is at the end of East Portal Road, an incredibly steep road unsuitable for oversized vehicles. It is the only road that leads to the river and the bottom of the canyon!
If you don’t want to stay inside the park, here are some options for hotels near Black Canyon of the Gunnison:
- Minecart Motor Lodge – budget
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites – mid-range
- Double G Ranch & Guestlodge – luxury
→ READ NEXT: Complete Guide to Exploring Black Canyon of the Gunnison – when to go, where to stay, what to do.
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Page, Arizona
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Washington National Parks
- Florida National Parks
- Columbia River Gorge Waterfalls
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