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Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness

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View looking up a steep-sided canyon with a river flowing at the bottom
Library image #4250: View of the Inner Canyon Zone


The United States Congress designated the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness (map) in 1976 and it now has a total of 15,599 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Colorado and is managed by the National Park Service. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness is bordered by the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness to the northwest.


Two billion years ago, Precambrian gneiss (a coarse-grained, granite-like metamorphic rock that's extremely strong and resistant to erosion) formed the core of this region. In what is now known as the 53-mile-long Black Canyon, the gneiss was worn away with unimaginable slowness by the Gunnison River, creating the deepest narrow canyon in America, a moody terrain where lack of sunlight shrouds the bottom in almost perpetual shadow. The most scenic 14 miles of the canyon, which has been designated Wilderness from rim to rim, is included in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. At places, the river throbs wildly 2,400 feet below, while at The Narrows, the canyon is only 1,100 feet wide at the rim and as little as 40 feet wide at the bottom. It lies surrounded by a dryland forest of piƱon and juniper.

Only the most determined anglers brave the descent to catch Colorado's largest trout, grown fat and happy because of a lack of fishing pressure and a rich food supply. Expert river runners attempt the Gunnison here, carrying over several difficult portages (most people consider the canyon water unrunnable). No well-maintained trails descend the canyon walls. Camping is allowed on the canyon bottom.

Climbers often cling to the precipices, where you'll find some of the most demanding routes in the state. These cliffs are not for beginners or the inexperienced. Rangers will give you advice on routes and their difficulty. Pre-climb and post-climb registration is required.

Planning to Visit the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.