The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Winter

by | Feb 26, 2019 | National Parks

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Let’s face it. Sometimes your vacation days don’t correspond to the best times to visit places. Sometimes you have a week off, need to escape, and you realize it’s snowing like crazy in the place you want to visit.

When that happens, it’s best to be prepared for the weather and know what to expect.

When Tiffany and I began planning for this adventure, we knew that Colorado was going to be cold. As in, my-nose-might-fall-off-in-small-chunks cold.

After leaving the frigid wilds of Montana and Wyoming, we anticipated Colorado being more of the same. And we were correct.


It’s Gonna Be Cold

Thankfully, winter didn’t stop us from visiting the Black Canyon. The jaw-dropping vistas and unbelievable sights still amazed. Thanks to our trusty snowshoes, we were able to take them all in, despite the cold weather.

If you are planning a visit to this national park in the winter, here are the Best Things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Winter.

Tiffany looking out over the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park during a snowshoe trip.

Visiting Black Canyon in Winter: What to Expect

The first thing you need to expect when visiting Black Canyon in Winter is snow. And a lot of it. Monthly snowfall totals average roughly 21 inches from December through March.

This is great for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, but not for much else.

Due to the weather, much of the park is closed during the winter, including all of the roads on the North Rim.

This shouldn’t deter you, however, because the road to the visitor center on the South Rim is open all year. From Montrose, Colorado, the entrance to the park is a short, easy drive—even for a large, rear-wheel-drive van full of people, pets, and gear.

At the visitor center, expect to find a helpful ranger on duty and a handful of winter trails. When we showed up, very few people were there, and no one else took the trail we did. We had several inches of fresh snow and views of the canyon all to ourselves.

In full disclosure, Tiffany and I have long been somewhat averse to winter activities. Tiff’s hands always go numb in minutes, and I always fall over into the snow like a drunken snowman. I grew up skiing, but Tiff lived in Florida for most of her life and never caught the ski bug. Once we got together, my skiing days basically came to an end and we shuttered ourselves inside for most of our winters. However, we do enjoy the occasional snowshoe or cross-country ski adventure. This is one place we were excited to get out and explore.

THINGS TO DO IN BLACK CANYON of the gunnison: Trails and Exploration

Like we mentioned above, most of the park is closed at this time of year. However, from the open visitor center on the South Rim, there are a handful of trails available for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. Considering I’m wildly out of shape and Tiff’s extremities tend to turn into icicles in very short order, we opted to check out the Rim Rock Nature Trail.

Rim Rock Nature Trail

This moderately rated out-and-back trail begins at the visitor center and traverses the edge of the canyon to the South Rim Campground. It was mostly flat, with some really amazing ledges and outlooks that provided stunning views of the canyon and Gunnison River below.

A view from the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado

The Rim Rock trail is 1.5 miles to the campground and back, which gave us a nice winter workout without causing us to double over in pain. Of course, I was a little sore the next day, but that’s only because I’ve been living a life of leisure the past six months.

By this time next year, hopefully I’ll be able to snowshoe several miles without wanting to die. Luckily, there was only 187 feet of elevation gain over the course of the trail.

Otherwise, this might be an obituary rather than a trip writeup.

Oak Flat Loop Trail

Another popular route from the visitor center is the Oak Flat Loop trail, which, as its name suggests, is a 1.3-mile loop from the visitor center and back. Apparently it dives down into the canyon a bit, and the ranger on duty told us this was his favorite of the winter trails. We toyed with the idea of doing this trail as well, but a snowstorm blew in. So, being the babies we are, we packed up and left.

Among the winter activities listed, snowshoeing appeared to be the most popular. However, general sightseeing and winter backcountry camping is also available. Just remember to stay warm and don’t get too close to the rim of the canyon!

Visiting Black Canyon: Final Thoughts

So we may have missed out on all of the majesty the Black Canyon of the Gunnison has to offer, but we still enjoyed ourselves this winter. If you’re anywhere near the park in the winter months and don’t have an extreme aversion to the cold, strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis and give it a go.

There are still plenty of things to do in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in the winter. We will hopefully be back one day soon, preferably when it’s a bit warmer.

More of Our Favorite Travel Guides:

The Ultimate South Dakota Travel Guide

Why We Love White Sands National Monument

Top 5 Things To Do in Big Bend National Park


Visiting Black Canyon: Recommended Gear

MSR EVO Trail 22-inch Snowshoes
MSR EVO Trail 22-inch snowshoes

One thing you’ll absolutely need in the winter at Black Canyon is a reliable pair of snowshoes. We’ve used these MSR EVO Trail snowshoes in Vermont, Montana, and now Colorado. They’re easy to put on, keep you upright, and make a long day hiking in the snow extremely enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Outdoor Research Meteor Mittens

One thing that Tiff and I have discovered over the years is that mittens are far superior to gloves when it comes to keeping fingers warm. These OR mittens are bulletproof and have saved me from frostbite on more than one occasion. I won’t do anything outside in the winter without them.

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

Black Diamond Trail Trekking Poles

I’m pretty sure that without my trekking poles, I would have fallen dozens of times over the years. Whether on a snow-covered snowshoe trail or a regular dirt path, I’ve avoided broken bones thanks to these sturdy poles. My parents got Tiffany and I each a set for Christmas a few years back and they’ve been one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever received. If you’re cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, make sure to have the snow baskets on your trekking poles and you’ll live to tell your tale like I have!

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Winter

We’re Tiffany and John, a couple of childfree, DIY travel enthusiasts from Montana and we just can’t get enough of life on the open road.

If you’re anything like us, then you feel the same way! We love exploring new places together and finding unique things to do everywhere we go.

Read more about our story here.

Black Diamond Equipment

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