Located east of Montrose, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park preserves a deep and narrow gorge in Western Colorado. The dark, lichen-covered walls of this park are what inspired its namesake. It’s massive enough to awe you, yet intimate enough to make you feel the flow of time right at your fingertips.
However, while the Park is thrilling and a sight to behold, it isn’t without its risks. The cliffs are tall and steep, and there have been fatal accidents. It’s important to take precautions when hiking in the park and to be aware of the dangers – which we’ll cover in this article. So if you’re planning on visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, here are some things you should know.
What Are the Biggest Dangers At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
The biggest dangers at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park are the steep cliffs and the potential for falling rocks. The walls of the canyon are very tall – some over 2,000 feet – and they’re mostly made of loose rock. This means that there’s a constant risk of rockfall, and hikers should be cautious when hiking near the edges of the canyon.
In addition to that, there aren’t many guardrails throughout the Park. This means that it’s easy to accidentally get too close to the edge and that falling and slipping can be often fatal.
Thirdly, the canyon rim is 8,000 feet above sea level – which means that there’s a high risk of altitude sickness. This is something that can affect anyone, regardless of their fitness level or prior experience with high altitudes. The best way to avoid altitude sickness is to take it slow and give yourself time to acclimatize to the thinner air. If you are from Colorado – you’re probably used to it. But if you’re an out-of-towner, it’s best to take things slow.
Lastly, there’s always the risk of wildlife encounters while hiking. Black bears are common in the area, and while they’re generally not aggressive towards humans, it’s still important to be aware of them. There have also been sightings of mountain lions and rattlesnakes.
Is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Safe At Night?
Night-time hiking, as long as you’re familiar with it, should be fine. The risks of hiking and exploring the Canyon at night are the same as the day, only accentuated. If you haven’t gone hiking at night before, I would recommend saving this park for another time. The trails can be difficult to follow in the dark, and it’s easy to get lost. If you do decide to hike at night, make sure you bring a headlamp or flashlight, and that you’re extra careful not to get too close to the edges of the trail.
Essentially, if you’re comfortable with the risks during the day, you should be fine at night. Just make sure to take extra precautions – such as carrying a flashlight, telling someone where you’re going, and wearing bright clothing. You need to be EXTRA careful with areas without guardrails, especially if the ground is wet from rain or dew.
Secondly, wildlife will typically be more active at night. So while the chances of encountering a bear or mountain lion are low, they’re still something to be aware of. If you do see any wildlife, it’s important to stay calm and not panic – back away slowly and do not approach them.
Is it Safe to Go Alone to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
Hiking alone makes for great memories and sensory experiences. However, there are far greater risks associated with hiking alone than with hiking in a group. The biggest danger of hiking alone is that, if you were to fall or get injured, there would be no one around to help you. This is why it’s so important to take extra precautions when hiking by yourself – such as letting someone know where you’re going, carrying a first-aid, or even a personal locator beacon for extreme emergencies.
If you aren’t familiar with the terrain and want to hike alone, you should follow proper precautions. The National Park Service has published a set of cautions for hikers, whether they’re going in groups or individually. These include not going too high to avoid getting Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and not throwing anything into the canyon to preserve the natural beauty.
Overall, it’s generally safe to go to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park alone – as long as you take the proper precautions and are prepared for the risks. If you haven’t gone to a park alone before, I would say it’s generally going to be safer than night-time hiking or going off-trail.
Is It Safe to Drink Water in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
The Gunnison River in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the most popular tourist attractions. Tourists, hikers, and campers are allowed to fish, kayak, and enjoy the exceptional sight.
However, drinking water from any natural water source or river typically isn’t safe or advisable. If you plan on a long hike or multi-day camping trip, you should bring plenty of water with you to stay hydrated. There are also a few water fountains located throughout the park, but your best bet would be to bring along a water filter or purifier.
The US Geological Survey and the Park staff collect water quality samples once a month. This is to alert the Park’s management to existing potential problems, thus helping them to take steps to maintain good water quality.
Is There Cell Service In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
There is very little to no cell service once you start descending into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are a few small pockets of service near the top of the canyon, but for the most part, you will be out of range. This is important to know because, if you were to get injured or lost, it would be difficult to call for help. Make sure to let someone know your plans before you go, and always carry a map and compass (or GPS) with you.
What Wildlife Do You Need to Be Careful For in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park?
The most common wildlife you’ll encounter in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park include:
- Black bears
- American Beaver
- Bees and other insects
- Mountain Lions
If you plan on visiting the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, below are ways to protect yourself:
Bears – Maintain a Clean Campsite
Encountering a black bear in the Park is highly unlikely, but it is still possible. To protect yourself, ensure your campsite is clean; bears are attracted to food – even the ones in the trash.
Beavers, Mountain Lions, and Bears – Let Them Escape
Mountain lions are also present in the Park, although you likely won’t see them. If you encounter a beaver, mountain lion, or bear, give it a chance to escape.
For the most part, these animals will often avoid confrontation, but if they don’t, don’t turn your back on them or run. Instead, back away slowly until you leave the area while speaking calmly but firmly to the animal.
Bees and Insects – Cover Up
Bees and ants are common at the campsite; you can protect yourself by covering up. Also, make sure to keep your meals covered if you are cooking or eating outside.
Hiking Safety Tips for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Hiking is one of the most rewarding things to do in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. However, before you start hiking, below are hiking tips to note for your safety:
- Don’t throw things into the canyon: No matter how tempting it seems, resist the urge to chuck anything into the canyon. Any stone you throw, no matter how small, could be lethal to you and everyone else nearby.
- Supervise young children: If children are with you, supervise them closely, especially since many places in the Park don’t have guardrails.
- Don’t go too high, too fast: Hike slowly, take precautions, and drink enough water to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness. If you’re feeling lightheaded, have mild headaches, or have a loss of appetite, it means you may need to start heading back down.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is Colorado’s treasure with a fascinating history and natural wonder. Despite the Park’s awe and wonder, there are some risks to watch out for. However, if you can take precautions, especially the ones set by the National Park Service, you will be just fine. Enjoy your time in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison!