Campground Guide: South Rim at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

I became obsessed with going to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park because of a poster in my office (this sounds weirder now that I’m writing it down) so we put it on our road trip itinerary last year. It’s one of the few national parks where you can still reserve a campsite by this time of year and remains one of my favorite hidden gems of Colorado.

Black Canyon is just outside of Montrose in western Colorado. It has stunning scenery and is easy to drive to, close to civilization, and for some reason, not very busy.

Directions:
From Denver, the park is a five-hour haul (or you can fly there for only $630 which seems totally reasonable right?). The drive along 285 and 50 is beautiful, and totally manageable even for those who are new to mountain driving.

Campsites
South Rim is where all of the driveable scenic overlooks are, and is the side most easily accessible from the highway. We camped on the A Loop, which is for nonelectric sites. Our campsite was super private, although didn’t have much shade (which turned out to be okay for us since it was cloudy). There was a great tent pad, picnic table, and fire ring.

You should absolutely use the bear lockers provided, but the only awkward thing is that they aren’t at each campsite so you have to share. We just used an empty one at an unused campsite so I didn’t have to go through the horror of making small talk with a stranger.

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Campground Fees and Reservations
Since Black Canyon is a national park, you have to pay to get into the park and to camp. Since we were planning on going to multiple national parks/monuments for this trip, we opted for the $80 annual pass. Otherwise, entrance to the park is $15 per car and the campsite reservation is $16.

Even though it’s April, there is still a ton of availability for the entire summer, which is virtually impossible to find at most national parks by now. Even when we showed up in June we could have easily nabbed one of the first-come, first serve sites.

Toilet Situation
Preeeeetty basic. Just vault toilets, so bring your hand sanitizer and headlamp. Vault toilets rarely have lighting or windows, and are literally just a toilet sitting over a hole in the ground. Don’t EVER look in the hole. It is unforgettable, in the worst way.

Nearby Activities
South Rim is pretty close to the Visitors Center, which is incredibly nice. There are plenty of short hikes you can do right from there, or you can ask a ranger to help you pick out some other options. We decided to just go to all the short hikes for the overlooks, ending with the 1.5-mile Warner Nature Trail that lets you stretch your legs a bit more.

The stargazing at Black Canyon is also supposed to be some of the best. It’s a designated as an International Dark Sky Park, meaning it has basically no light pollution and you can see an insane amount of stars. I wouldn’t know, because as I mentioned, it was cloudy the night we camped and we saw literally four stars. I’m not bitter, I promise.

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Other Intangibles
Stop at the store at the intersection of 50 and the road that takes you up to the canyon. It’s your last chance for supplies, and looks well-stocked. It closes early, so we didn’t actually go in, but they have an honor system for firewood so you can just leave cash at the door and take what you need (not kidding, I love small town Colorado).

If you really get in a bind and need something, Montrose has everything you could need and is only about 30 minutes away. If you’ve hit a wall and don’t want a meal from a campfire, go to The Daily Bread in Montrose and get the Palisade peach shake. Their food is SO. GOOD.

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Overall Impression
The South Rim Campground is one of the few that still have any availability by spring, and it’s not for lack of quality. With practically no crowds, super-private campsites, and great beginner hiking, Black Canyon of the Gunnision National Park is one of Colorado’s hidden gems.

More Information
What do I pack to go camping?
How do I reserve a campsite online and make sure it’s the best one?
I’m going on a road trip, what should I pack for that?

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