Our initial plans for Colorado included an attempt at a 14er on Uncompaghre. But we were visiting in early summer and late spring snow had come in during May. We valiantly tried to drive up to the trailhead but we turned around by a rushing and apparently bottomless river covering the road. A forced change of plans found us in the last hotel room available in all of Gunnison, Colorado. The next morning we decided to check out Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and then to head to Moab by way of Grand Mesa for a lake hike.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison was. SO. COOL. Kelly was driving and the rest of us (myself, my brother, my sister-in-law) were chatting away. The first glimpse of the canyon slammed the breaks on our conversation and turned it into gasps of awe and amazement. The deep and dark canyon walls were astonishingly beautiful. We pulled off at several turnouts, hiking around small view points while we could. Near the Visitor's Center, we went on the only real hike of any distance that is reasonable to attempt (The National Park Service does not maintain trails into the canyon because the walls are unstable.) The Oak Flat Loop Trail was 2 miles round trip and though marked as strenuous, the primary challenge we faced was oppressive heat. (A few days later we learned the real meaning of oppressive heat while hiking in Canyonlands.) The view of the canyons were about the same as from the driving areas and overlooks but we are never ones to be satisfied with the views from the road.
After the hike, we downed water and explored more of the South Rim, going as far as the Painted Wall. We drove down to the river level for a picnic lunch and then headed out, thankful for a Plan B that gave us a chance to see a National Park we otherwise might have missed.
Pro Tips: This is a short hike but in the mid-day sun you'll be thankful to be carrying water. Black Canyon is notorious for poison ivy. We didn't notice any on this hike but the foliage is thick and if you're highly allergic, you might want to wear pants.
How to Get There: Park at the South Rim Visitor's Center for Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Just past the building is the trailhead.