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Footprints Needed: Colorado’s Undiscovered Black Canyon

Descend into Colorado's Black Canyon and explore a park that has everything–life-list scenery, challenging terrain, a revitalized river–except hikers.

Plan It
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Getting There The park is 15 miles east of Montrose, Colorado. To reach the South Rim Visitor Center, head east on I-50, then north for six miles on CO 347.

Hiking All routes leading into the inner canyon are short, steep, and hard. The Red Rock Canyon Route descends 3.4 miles and 1,330 feet to a trio of campsites on the river. If you can’t get a permit for Red Rock (see below), several shorter and steeper routes (one to three miles) offer access to riverside campsites. Caution: Poison ivy thrives in the inner canyon; wear long pants.

Permits Only Red Rock Canyon requires advance reservations. It’s open for hiking from mid-May to early October; apply for a permit January to mid-March (nps.gov/blca/planyourvisit/redrockinfo.htm for details). Free wilderness permits are required (first come, first serve) for all hikers using other inner canyon routes.

Map Trails Illustrated Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is good for planning ($12; natgeomaps.com); few inner canyon trails are mapped, but they’re so short that navigation is straightforward.

Season The spring flood (May to early June) is spectacular for river watching. Once the water settles down in June, stoneflies hatch and fly-fishermen converge on the inner canyon for a catch-and-release frenzy. Fall brings cooler temps and lower flow, making it the best time to explore the inner canyon.

Info (970) 641-2337; nps.gov/blca

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