The Outdoors,  Travel Guides

The Ultimate Guide to Camping Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

These days, there are over 400 national parks in the U.S. That’s an overwhelming number for any outdoor enthusiast, and unfortunately, it leaves us prioritizing and ranking these natural wonders. Between 9-5 jobs and limited PTO, we are left with restrictive road trips and tight schedules that leave us waffling about whether visiting a national park is worth it or not. Hint: it definitely is. Every time. The proof you ask? That time we went camping near Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Southwestern Colorado. 

On every trip we take, we are sure to manage our expectations. Especially when it comes down to a weekend trip with a 5-hour drive, but camping near Gunnison, Colorado definitely exceeded our expectations. With opportunities to pass through several charming mountain towns, explore the Gunnison River, and view one of the most underrated national parks, a camping trip to Gunnison is definitely worth it. 

Choose your Campsite:

camping near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The nice thing about camping near Black Canyon of the Gunnison is that the distance from Denver helps to avoid weekend camping crowds. This definitely relieves some stress on your campsite search. If you’ve read my Turquoise Lake camping guide, then you know that I am NOT fond of the hunger-games-like process of finding first-come, first-served campsites. So, I always head to recreation.gov first and search for the area I plan to stay in. We planned our June trip a couple of weeks in advance and found 2 reservable campsites with no problem. 

The key is to be flexible when you’re tent camping in Colorado. We had to find 2 campsites for 2 days because we could not find one that was consecutively reservable for that weekend. So, we had to be comfortable with packing up our stuff and moving sites. It’s also important to consider sites that are at least 30 minutes from your ideal spot. 

Once you find your spot, it’s time to set up shop. If this is your first time camping or you need some tips on gear or how to set up your site check out my beginner camping guide.

Where We Camped Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We stayed at Stevens Creek Campground (no longer reservable) and Lake Fork Campground. Both are developed campgrounds with bathrooms, picnic tables, and fire pits. We loved Stevens Creek because we got lucky with a spot right on the river and woke up to a gorgeous view. Lake Fork was much more crowded than Stevens Creek and the sites are closer together. Each is just off Route 50 between the town of Gunnison, Colorado, and the Black Canyons.

Other Gunnison Colorado Lodging

As I said, Gunnison is pretty far South which helps with crowd control. So, first-come, first-served camping near Gunnison may not be as competitive. There are also 3 different options for camping inside the Black Canyon of the Gunnison including; the South Rim, North Rim, and East Portal campgrounds. You can also consider camping near Salida, Buena Vista, the Collegiate Peaks area, or Crested Butte. Again, I recommend searching your area of interest on recreation.gov first and then heading over to Google if you can’t find anything. If camping isn’t your thing, don’t worry there is more sophisticated lodging near Gunnison to choose from.

Visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park:

If you look at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison map, you’ll see one main road that forms a half circle encompassing all of the major points of interest. This makes the park extremely easy to navigate and promotes fewer hours spent in the park. You can see everything you need to see in just a few hours! The park also allows dogs in certain areas including picnic areas, campgrounds, all paths to overlooks, the Rim Rock trail, and the North Chasm View Nature Trail. We went in June and it was HOT. There is almost no shade in the park, so it might be best to go early morning or in the evening when the sun isn’t as intense. Also, bring your sunscreen, wear a hat, and drink plenty of water!

Hiking in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We had our corgi with us, so there wasn’t much hiking we could do other than the paths to the overlooks. Which all in all works out to be quite a few steps.  However, Black Canyon of the Gunnison hiking is said to be spectacular, so if you’re looking for a more authentic way to explore the park then check out these recommended hikes

Stargazing in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

When you’re camping near Black Canyon of the Gunnison, don’t forget to look up. The park was certified as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015 due to its efforts to avoid light pollution. The park does not close at night and recommends that visitors walk to overlooks where they can avoid the lights of passing cars to stargaze. If you want to learn more about astronomy and light pollution, park rangers offer several free summer programs like talks, constellation tours, or night-sky viewing with telescopes. Also, they host an Astro Fest every year.

Other Activities near Black Canyon of the Gunnison:

Visit Mountain Towns

Gunnison is just one of the many incredible mountain towns to visit in the Southwestern part of the state. As I mentioned, Salida and Buena Vista are on the way down with Crested Butte and Almont just a stone’s throw away. Each mountain town has its own unique charm and carefully preserved history. What is the closest town to Black Canyon of the Gunnison? That would be Montrose, Colorado. After our day in the park, we drove just 20 minutes into Montrose where we grabbed a bite at Horsefly Brewing. They had a large dog-friendly patio and even gave our little guy a plate of bacon. On your way home, we also recommend stopping at Powerstop Bar and Grill in Gunnison for a delicious burger from a converted gas station. 

Spend a Beach Day

Your entire drive between the town of Gunnison and the national park will be along the Blue Mesa Reservoir and Gunnison River. Keep your eyes peeled for pull-offs that lead down to the water. You can literally drive your car down onto the sand and spend a beach day watching the boats go by. We spent hours suntanning, forcing our corgi to swim, wading in the water, and playing croquet in our private beach spot. It was a last-minute, spontaneous decision that ended up being my favorite memory from the trip.

Making the 5-hour drive from Denver and camping near Black Canyon of the Gunnison makes for the perfect summer weekend road trip. You’ll get mountain views, mountain towns, beach vibes, and one of the nation’s most unique national parks. On top of all that, camping near the Black Canyon of the Gunnison avoids large crowds and eases the logistics of your trip. Now happy camping, hiking, & relaxing! 

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