Skiing Above, Canyon Below – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Some winter camping and ski touring of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Over President’s Day weekend, Mrs Mags and I wanted to take advantage of the time off to see a place where we had never been before.

In this case, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Not as wide or as deep as other canyons, the canyon is noted more for the sheer force of the Gunnison River moving its way through the narrow and steep walls.

Part of the allure of camping here in winter is that the National Park Service closes the main road and grooms it for cross country skiing.

Skiing the twelve miles round trip of the road would prove to be an excellent way to see the park.

The trip started by us arriving around 4pm at the camp ground.   The very full campground….  :-o

Apparently the local boy scout troop was having their annual Klondike Derby.

Now, I think it is wonderful that the scouts  are out camping, being outside and experiencing the natural world.  My own experience as a 12 year old boyscout was a very positive one. 

However, because I WAS a 12 year old boy scout at one point, I know how rambunctious a group of scouts can be. ;)

Mrs Mags and I decided to leave the campground and figure out a “Plan B”.

In the mean time, we enjoyed our first view of the canyon in the evening twilight:

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After taking in the view, we noticed a park ranger just finishing grooming the road for the following day.  After telling him about our campground experience, he told us about a known BLM site used for camping just outside of the park entrance. Score!

The site was quiet, had a good view and was perfect for our needs that night.

The following morning, we packed up the vehicle and drove into the park. At the vistors center, we made our morning hot drinks and again enjoyed the view. A different ranger from th day before pulled up just as we were finishing. Told him about our plans to ski the road and said we’d be sure to stop by when we were done.

Mrs Mags and I were the first on the road that day and enjoyed the sunny and cold morning air.

Skiing the road was proving to be a unique way to see the park. The overviews were absent of the usual summer throngs of tourists. The overlooks had amazing views. Bonus: The restrooms were clean and stocked for the winter! :)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We pushed further up the canyon and relished the views we had to ourselves.

Not long before the end of the road at High Point, we had some of our best views of the day at Sunset Point.

Sunset Point - Black Canyon of the Gunnison

We pushed our way to High Point where enjoyed our lunch in the warm sun and relished in the peaceful surroundings.

Skiing Black Canyon of the Gunnison

 

After lunch, we made our way down the “trail”.

The weather was warming up and the snow was becoming slushy. A little more work than anticipated, but the the last views along the canyon were welcoming.

About three miles from the end of our trip, we encountered the first people we’ve seen all day. Based on the lack of packs, we were guessing them to be locals enjoying a quick ski.

We made our way to the end of the road, took off our skis, enjoyed a cold drink and made our way to the visitors center where the rangers gave us some wonderful information about the surrounding area.

After some last views, we headed back to the now mainly empty camp ground and found a quiet spot out of the way. A warm fire, some hot drinks and a meal of chili and rice was enjoyed.

Fell into a wonderful sleep and woke up somewhat late. A storm was on the way and the morning was cold. Cold enough where Mrs Mags and I were the only ones left in the campground.  The -15F bags helped quite a bit. :)

After some morning coffee, we headed out and already started planning our next trip.

All the photos

TRIP DETAILS

  • Go to the park website for basic info including directions
  • Montrose, CO is the closest town. Perhaps 30 minutes away from the park entrance at the most. Good sized town if you need supplies or just want a meal after.
  • Entrance to the park and the camping area is free during winter
  • The campground is not maintained (other than the roads and the path to the bathroom). If there is enough snow, you’ll have to dig a spot out.
  • The park gets a fair amount of visitors in the winter. The campground seems to be moderately popular with the locals. A little different than our previous winter camping trip.
  • The canyon rim is not a backcountry area per se.  The basic park map should work fine for navigation purposes. Really hard to get lost, though. :)
  • As mentioned, the road along the south entrance of the canyon is open to the visitors center. From there it is closed but groomed for skiing. We only have backcountry Nordic skis. Probably a bit overkill for this type of skiing but we did well enough. Skate skis would work well and classic cross country skis would work beautifully in the pre-groomed tracks.
  • Snowshoers are welcome too, but please adhere to the standard etiquette and do not walk on the pre-groomed tracks. :)  The park has snowshoes avail to borrow.
  • Speaking of snowshoeing, there are plenty of short side trails off the road that would work well for snowshoes.  The rangers will lead snowshoe tours, too. See the park website for details.
  • Dogs are not allowed on the road, sorry.
  • For a breakfast in town, check out Starvin’ Arvin’s. Homemade biscuits and buns. The green chili breakfast biscuit was awesome!

 

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