Renting an RV from Cruise America allowed us to comfortably tour the National Parks of Colorado including Black Canyon of the Gunnison. You can read our full review of Cruise America rental RVs here. You can also view our entire 3,200 mile Summer road trip itinerary to Colorado and Utah by clicking here.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
It was only a two hour drive to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park after visiting Colorado National Monument so we arrived well before dark and set up camp in the park’s South Rim Campground. Having our America the Beautiful National Park Pass allowed us to enter without paying the $15 entry fee. As I’ve said before, this is the way to go if you visit National Parks, Monuments and Historic Sites throughout the year.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison has two campgrounds- the North Rim and the South Rim. We were visiting the South Rim of the canyon so we obviously stayed in the South Rim Campground. Because we were in a RV, we had reserved a site in Loop B that could hold our big rental camper. As always, set up was easy and we had an hour or two to walk around the campground and explore. Sites were small but they were separated by trees and bushes so felt private. Bears are known to frequent the area so we were extremely careful to not leave any food out while we prepared dinner. This is my favorite thing about camping in an RV. While I much prefer to sleep outside in a tent, in bear country sleeping in a RV brought me peace of mind. With four kids, I haven’t always been able to control the scents on us when we have crawled into our tents at night. We still laugh about the time Garrett spilled a jar of honey on top of his pack while camping in Grand Teton but at the time it wasn’t funny for sure.
As in many National Parks, the campsites at Black Canyon of the Gunnison were quite primitive with vault toilets only and no amenities. We did have access to running water though and our site had electric hook ups. We sat outside late into the night eating s’mores next to our campfire and looked at the stars. We were amazed how many we could see! Waking up early the next morning we ate a good breakfast of fruit, yogurt and granola before heading to the visitor center.
Biking the South Rim Road
We had strapped our bikes to the RV and our plan for the day was to first visit the Visitor Center and then bike the 7 mile South Rim Road stopping at each of the 12 overlooks into the canyon. Breaking camp we drove to the Visitor Center and parked in the large lot. We explored for a while inside the center and the kids picked up Junior Ranger booklets before we walked the short Rim Rock and Oak Flat trails to several nearby overlooks of the canyon for our first views. Wow! It is huge! Because it is quite narrow across the canyon in looks amazingly steep as well as deep with views right down to the Gunnison River. Even with the fences around the overlooks I felt my heart quicken when the kids would lean over for better views.
Climbing onto our bikes, we set off down the scenic drive. The road is remarkably flat and we had an easy time biking to the various overlooks which each gave us a nice break. By this time it had gotten pretty hot and sunny. Make sure to slather on sunscreen and bring lots of water if you ever bike this! The views continued to be incredible and we enjoyed taking the time to get good looks of them at each stop. You can definitely see a lot in a one day visit here! Because the canyon has no established trails down inside it, most people will spend the majority of their time along the 7 mile rim road and at the overlooks. Even so, it was quite uncrowded during our visit in the middle of June.
Painted Wall and Dragon Point
The views at the Painted Wall and Dragon Point overlooks were especially beautiful. By this time, the younger kids were starting to feel tired so after turning around at the end of the road, Dave rode ahead of us to go pick up the RV while we continued on more slowly. We all cheered when he pulled up next to us. What a hero! All in all the kids probably biked about 10 miles that morning and we all had a great time. Since hiking into the canyon was out of the question, biking was a great way to explore since I don’t really like the drive to each place, find a parking spot, get out, look, get back in, blah blah blah way to visit our beautiful parks. Biking allowed us to stay outside during our entire visit.
When it was time to leave, we were sad to go. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a park filled with rugged and beautiful views accessible to any one who visits and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I truly love our National Parks!
If you go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:
–Dress in layers. Even in the middle of summer the mornings were cool but it was scorching by mid day.
–Bring snacks and pack picnics for your meals. There is no food service offered in the park.
–Drink plenty of water! The dry climate definitely dried us out more than we are used to.
–We used several books as resources for our trip. A few of my favorites are National Park Service Camping Guide and The Essential Guide to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A couple of good resources for all of the Western National Parks are Fodor’s The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West and Frommer’s EasyGuide to National Parks of the American West both of which I have used for multiple National Park vacations.
–I also like to pack books about our destination for the kids to read on the long trip to the park as well as at bedtime during our travels. A couple of my favorites for this trip include Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Curicanti National Recreation Area: The Story Behind the Scenery and Black Canyon Mystery.
National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.: The Most Amazing Sights, Scenes, and Cool Activities from Coast to Coast! is a great resource for kids about National Parks in general.