One of the lesser known National Parks is Black Canyon of the Gunnison near Grand Junction, Colorado. It is huge with white water rafters and expert rockclimbers, of which I am neither. If you aren’t up for adrenaline junkie sports, this park may still have something to offer you. Originally I wanted to visit Black Canyon because it offered a few dog friendly trails. Even the trail’s distances combined was only 3 miles, that’s practically unheard of in a national park. I hate leaving Buddy at home, but I am also trying to visit every US National Park!
It’s a little under 6 hours from Salt Lake to the Black Canyon. Follow your GPS if you want to go to the South Rim, but follow the signs in Delta (I believe this is the town) if you want to visit the North. Coming from Salt Lake, you'll see signs pointing you in the direction of Black Canyon even though your GPS is telling you to keep going. You will go through Montrose to access the South Rim and through Crawford to access the North. Grand Junction will be the only major city you pass through – get anything you forgot at home here.
North Rim: The North Rim reminds me more of BLM land than a National Park. The roads aren’t paved (I love that & so does the Subaru) and there is a ranger station but no visitor center. If you plan on doing anything in the inner canyon such as hiking or climbing, you need to check in with the ranger station. Coming in there wasn’t a fee station, but I assume you would need to go into the ranger station and pay the fee. We have an interagency pass- even though this is my second one this year (the first was stolen) it has paid for itself tenfold. Back to the Canyon: We were one of 3 cars during our time here. The other two cars were parked and we never saw their drivers.
I loved the ruggedness of this rim. Looking down into the canyon made my stomach turn. That thing is DEEP! Aside from my fear of plummeting 2000+ feet to my death, I enjoyed the peacefulness of being completely alone. You could hear the wind whipping through the canyon and the Gunnison river as it forged its way through. According to the NPS website, dogs are allowed on all overlooks. At the very first overlook, we took Buddy and he freaked out. Everything was fine and dandy until he looked over the edge. Immediately he took off back toward the car, pulling on his leash for dear life. We tried to get him out at another overlook, but he peed on a bush and got back in the car. He would NOT go on the overlook path at all. Its crazy to think that he could tell the depth of the canyon and felt real fear. I don’t have a 90lb German Shepherd but more of a 90lb scaredy cat! We knew at the point that any hikes were out of the question.
South Rim: if you are looking for more of a National Park experience, this is the rim to visit. After showing our pass at the entrance booth, we passed by the visitor’s center. We were going to stop in on our way out, but totally forgot! I have really been slacking on collecting my postcards. There are 12 overlooks on the 7 mile scenic drive that dead ends. Get out at each one- they are ALL awesome.
We tricked Buddy into walking out on one overlook and posing for a picture (cheese puffs do wonders). Funny that I planned this trip around the dog, and he didn’t even get to enjoy the park.
Most of the overlooks have ~200 yard distance to the edge. They all pretty much had barriers around the main part of the overlook, but it was really easy to find places right on the edge that you could stand on. Be extremely careful especially if you are traveling with kids. This side of the park was considerably busier, but still one of the least populated National Parks I’ve ever been too – no tour buses in sight and it’s easy to find places to call your own.
If you don’t plan on spending much time at the Black Canyon, check out the Colorado National Monument in nearby Fruita, CO for some more spectacular views. I had previously been here, so we didn’t add it onto this trip, but the drive is wonderful and the views are untouched. There are also some easy hiking trails in the monument, just remember it’s usually pretty windy!