Back Canyon of the Gunnison is a little national park in Colorado that I didn’t even know existed until a few months ago. When I was planning out a few places to see on my latest road trip, there it was, right there on the Google map and I made a point to go!
I started this road trip off in Fruita, CO where I rode my mountain bike and explored Colorado National Monument for a couple days. After some (awesome) morning riding in Fruita on the network of trails called 18 Rd, I headed towards the Black Canyon.
I arrived at the South rim of the canyon in the afternoon – just in time for the real heat of the day to take hold – and went straight to the visitors center.
The park rangers and/or locals always know the best places to go!
I went to every lookout point and hiked every trail (except the backcountry ones) so I could accurately guide you to towards what I liked best in the event that you want to visit (which you should).
*See my final recommendations at the end of this post.*
I’m captivated by rivers and the canyons they create. Hats off to Mother Nature and one of her most powerful elements – water.
While I was at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, memories of my first river rafting trip in California flooded my mind. It was the first time I experienced a canyon.
When I was twenty, I visited the South rim of the Grand Canyon, but slowly floating down a river in a raft for a couple days – like I did in California – was a totally different experience than just standing on a rim and looking down.
What I remember most about that river trip was being in love – both with the man who was guiding our raft (who I was dating) and the canyon that contained him.
I felt like I was let in on a secret. The world below the rim was so full of wonder and just like that, I understood the man holding the oars. Even though we eventually went separate ways, it still feels like a privilege to have converged with him.
So while I was exploring the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I knew that the real magic was down below – on the river that created it.
The next morning, that’s just where I went.
But first, a note on camping. There’s a campground within the national park, but I opted for free dispersed camping just outside the park.
I watched the sunset at the park and then drove to the BLM land where dispersed camping is allowed. Here’s what I learned:
Don’t arrive in the complete dark so you can’t see the road or the designated places to camp. Don’t drive down what looks like the correct dirt road only to find that it leads to a huge muddy puddle on what looks like the edge of a cliff (this detail is up for debate seeing as it was hard to see). Don’t attempt to drive through said puddle only to realize partway through that you’ll probably get stuck in there. Don’t spin out your muddy tires and make a whole bunch of noise trying to back your way out of the shitty dirt road in the dark as you pass people trying to sleep in a tent. Don’t set your car alarm off at 5:30AM because you opened the wrong door from the inside.
Yea… people really hate you if you do all that.
Seeing as my attempt to quietly sleep in my car unnoticed was a colossal fail, I got out of there before too many people saw me. I headed back into the park for sunrise over the canyon rim.
It was there – in the parking lot – that I made some oatmeal and coffee. Then I watched the sun light up the world until someone else rolled into the parking lot. It’s weird not to say hello to the only other person around, so we ended up talking.
I mentioned how I planned to go down to the river that morning and he asked to tag along. So down to the river we went!
All the love rushed back into my heart as we hiked along the river, watched the fishermen and avoided the poison ivy all around. The canyon is completely different from below. You get a better sense of how small you are. The canyon demands respect.
When we could walk no further, we sat and talked about life, spirituality, freedom and the decisions we’ve made that got us to this glorious moment of connecting to a stranger who grew up on the other side of the world (he’s from New Zealand). I reveled in how lucky I was to share that moment.
It was a reminder of how connected we all are – how similar our human emotions and desires can be.
I feel like in order to really experience a canyon you have to go down to the waters that created it, so I met a new friend this morning as the sun was rising, and together we ventured down along the river. This is me attempting to boulder and not fall into the river. Now let's hope that my avoidance of all the poison ivy was just as successful 😬 #earthgirllifestyle #findyourpark #nps100 #ladyadventures #sheexplores #primitivecc #livewylder #travelingchicas #optoutside #colorado #bouldering @shejumps #sharetheexperience
Overall, I had a wonderful time exploring this little national park and meeting a new friend. Below are my top recommendations if you ever visit the South Rim.
My favorite lookout points:
- Dragon Point
- Painted Wall View
- Devils Lookout
My favorite trails:
- Rim Rock Trail
- Walking along the river (not an actual trail on the map, but you’ll see it if you go down to the Gunnison River Dam and start walking North!)
If you’re one of those people who loves rivers and their canyons, I’d love to hear why. Share your stories! Where have you been and what did you love about it? Comment below!
With love from the mountains,
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