Skiing Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Rate this Adventure Colorado Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Added by Greg Owens

  • Spectacular views
  • Fun and easy introduction to cross-country skiing
  • No crowds!
  • 6-miles one-way on an out-and-back route

Nestled among rolling, unassuming hills north of Montrose on Colorado’s Western Slope, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of those landscapes that truly must be seen to be believed. Unlike the sweeping expanse and enormous magnitude of the Grand Canyon, where the average distance from rim to rim is 10 miles, Black Canyon is narrow; the distance between its rims is better measured in feet instead of miles. At its most dramatic, the distance between the rims is 1,100 feet, but at that same point, the depth of the canyon is more than 1,800 feet. It’s that combination of narrow and deep that makes Black Canyon so extraordinary. It isn't the deepest, widest, grandest, or likely any other -est canyon in the U.S., and perhaps because of that, Black Canyon doesn't draw the crowds that other national parks do.

In the winter, solitude and silence is even more abundant because neither of the roads along the rims is open to vehicles. Along the South Rim, though, the road is open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and you can get stunning views of the dark canyon’s depths accented with snow clinging to the rock faces. From the town of Montrose, head 15 miles east via U.S.-50 and CO-347 and park at the Visitors Center at the South Rim. Then, grab your skis or snowshoes and your daypack, walk up the short hill to the road, and head off on your winter adventure. The road is groomed with some regularity for cross-country skiing, but even when it isn’t, the shallow grade (no steep hills either way!) makes it ideal even for people cross-country skiing for the very first time. The total route is six miles one-way (out-and-back route), so there’s plenty to do even for the most adventurous, but there are great sights to see beginning right at the Visitors Center. Pulpit Rock Overlook, a little more than a mile down the road, is the first “official” viewpoint along the road after the Visitors Center, but then the viewpoints start coming one right after the other; Cross Fissures View, Rock Point, and Devils Lookout all offer sharply contrasting views but are together less than 0.5 km from each other. If you have the time and the energy, don’t miss Chasm View. At this point, the canyon is at its narrowest and most dramatic, and you get a spectacular view of the Painted Wall, the tallest sheer wall (2,250 feet) in the entire state of Colorado.

The elevation along the South Rim is about 8,300 feet, so give yourself extra time and perhaps a shorter distance goal if you’re not used to that altitude. During the winter, daytime highs are usually between 20 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but skiing and snowshoeing will make you work up a lot of heat, so be sure to dress in layers. Also, the altitude and dry air will make you lose moisture more quickly, so be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of fluids while you’re out and about.

Pack List

  • Cross-country skis and boots (or snowshoes)
  • Daypack
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Layers of clothing
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Skiing, Snowshoeing

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Added by Greg Owens

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