If you are planning a trip to Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, we highly recommend the concessionaire boat tour that goes into the canyon via the Curecanti National Recreation Area. This trip is a gentle float down the Gunnison River into the canyon just outside the park’s boundaries. The trip is narrated by a park ranger who has all kinds of historical and geologic information to share.
The trip begins about 40 miles west of Montrose and 25 miles east of Gunnison, so for us it meant some backtracking from Montrose, but it was well worth it. However, if you are planning a trip, you may want to keep that in mind.
It also gave us a good excuse to explore the north rim of the canyon a bit — the dam that you can drive across to get to the north rim is just a short drive east of the boat ramp.
The trip also requires a reservation, which can be made by phone or at the park visitor center. No walk ons are allowed.
Once you arrive at the river, you’ll walk down 200+ stairs and then along an old railroad bed next to the river for about 3/4 mile. And remember, all of this is at 8,000 some feet elevation (2400 m) so leave yourself some time!
Our boat left at 12:30 (there’s also a 10:00 am tour), but we intentionally arrived a couple hours early so we could take our time — and it was a lovely little hike. We even had time for a game of cribbage at one of the shaded picnic tables. Let’s not talk about who won…
It was a beautiful, sunny day on the river, and as our boat toodled along, the ranger took us back in time. He talked about the Native American people of the area, early explorers in the canyon, the railroad they eventually built to take supplies and people up into the canyon, and the formation of the canyon.
He described the four different kinds of rock in the canyon, why the canyon is no longer getting deeper, and current water issues and rights. He also spent a few minutes working together with the captain to fish my hat out of the drink after it flew off. Whooops. That was embarassing!
Several times, the captain slowed down and invited us to get up and walk around the boat to get better pictures. Although we were not in the deepest part of the canyon – the canyon in the park is about 2000 feet deep and the canyon walls where the boat goes are only about 300 feet high — after having spent a day up top looking down, it was cool to have a view from the bottom up. The cost of the boat trip was about $40 for the two of us, and we thought it was a very good value. It certainly enriched our park experience. We highly recommend it.
Enjoy your next visit to Black Canyon, whether you’re on top of the world or in the bottom of the canyon, and whether it’s for a week or a weekend!