Black Canyon NP, Crested Butte MTB Sept 3-4, 2023


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In addition to the thread title, also did some 4x4'ing but haven't looked at video to see if any stills or clips would be good.

Sept 3) Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a very remote National Park for most. It is only ~20 miles from the city of Montrose but forever and a day from the front range of Colo (prob 6+ hrs if I drove at one time). Despite it's remoteness, it was packed (on a relative basis) for the size of the parking lots at trail heads, etc... I had never been before and think they probably should have left it as a National Monument instead of upgrading it to Park status. It's smaller and fewer amenities or things to do/see than what I consider majority of NPs have.

The general story is that the Gunnison river drops 2,000 vertical feet in ~50 miles (VERY steep for a river), and has carved an amazingly narrow but deep canyon for a good stretch of that. The river has multiple dams on it for combination of flood control, hydro power and water diversion. The biggest reservoir formed is the Blue Mesa just west of Gunnison. From US50 ~10 miles from/before Montrose (depending on your travel direction), you turn North and head up a steep road onto a flat mesa-like area that is used for hay owingrg (and consumes huge amounts of water). Before heading up some more onto the true Vernal mesa where the park is.

There are 2 camping options there, some dead end roads, a small visitor center and mostly short hiking trails. Longer hikes down to the river require getting permits a day ahead of time from the rangers. All of this description is for the South rim side of the park. The North side is harder to get to, and like the Grand Canyon way less developed.


From near the visitors center looking East

Short hike further East toward the main campground.

The visitors center itself from short hiking trail leading just West

The river is roughly 2,000 feet down with the distance from rim to rim only ~1,100 to 2,500 feet across in most areas. So nearly as tall or even twice as tall as the slash is wide at some points. And with all the rapids from the fast dropping water you can gently hear the river anytime you are at the overlooks despite the distance.

In fact it is often difficult to see much if any of the river at times.

The Painted wall as it is known is more than 2,250 tall. Only a small part of the spire of the Burj Khalifa would stick above the rim if you put the base at river level.

The Devils Lookout was my favorite view as it is so narrow and vertical in that section.


Interestingly the East Portal road drops all the way to the river. It was put in starting in 1909 for water diversion work and is 16% with tons of tight switchbacks. max car length of 22 feet and no trailers allowed. At the bottom the road drifts into the Curecanti recreation area where the road dead ends just before a dam. (pic taken through chain link fence).

A second smaller dam just down stream (west) was the original reason for the road. They push up to 475,000 gallons per minute through the Mesa and over to Montrose area, mostly for agriculture. They dry the tunnel out in the fall and inspect/repair it during winter with water diversion in spring and summer.


Lots of Mule Deer.

At the end of the road is High Point with parking and a somewhat longer trail to hike. This is where the canyon begins to widen and the uplifted mesa/plateau begins to slope down (view West).

Looking back East into the main part of the canyon.

Part of the hike is on a narrow ridgeline (maybe 10-15 feet wide, but mostly tree covered). Looking down the opposite side from the canyon is a flat below with tons of farms and irrigation going on. Roughly Souuth looking with the San Juans in the distance.

Sept 4) MTB in Crested Butte. We stayed in Gunnison and I can definitely recommend the Sherpa restaurant for Nepalese food. They were over burdened with diners so the wait was a bit long, but delicious food.

Monday we headed up valley to CB where parts of the entire fat tire/mountain bike revolution started back in the 1970's. Today you can of course do lift assisted downhill at the mountain, or do one of many trails in the area. Riding is known to be much more forgiving than in the front range (eg it less rocky vs the always very rocky front range trails here) I didn't get a ton of pics of town, but did think it was very expensive but interesting to see this old 1800's building being worked on. New foundation seems about right given how little was probably under that building previously.

My son and I did a Lupine Loop variation. Approximately 900' vertical climbing. Parked in town itself then realized that I had literally everything but our helmets with us. Fortunately Handlebar bike was open and rented helmets by the day, for only $10/helmet. Screaming deal IMHO.

At 13 my son is probably as good as I am as to technique, but he's currently much faster in the cardio department. Though I am getting more time for activities this summer and coming up the curve. This time I think it was the combo of altitude and cardio slowing me up. No issues with leg strength or any of that. probably 1/3 along the ride.

Some wildflowers, but most of the actual lupine is done for the year.



Yes, he's bored on the double track and doing wheelies on the slight uphill...

Nice mix of open and aspens to ride through.

After a couple of hours of riding Lupine we biked all around town and had a late surprisingly reasonable priced lunch ~2p before needing to head out for the 4.5+ hour drive back home. I didn't get the more interesting downhill parts with pics since my son was raring to go. You'll just have to trust that they were a lot of fun with only some rare rocks.
That looks great fun. And wonderful scenery,
I’m looking for good places for a hiking and city break holidays for early October (not specifically this year). I assume early October in the Rockies would generally be clear of snow? Even though it’s between seasons can I assume hospitality venues are all open?
Great looking trip!!!..CB is high on my MTB list..
In May we drove from Colorado Springs to Moab ,beautiful drive..
Riding in Moab was amazing... yes that's the trail on the last pic...crazy fun
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early October in the Rockies would generally be clear of snow? Even though it’s between seasons can I assume hospitality venues are all open?
I would suggest late September for the Colorado part of the Rockies in general. From mid-Sept to mid-Oct things usually (though not always) are changing pretty fast as to temperatures and possibility of snow in the mountains. For example Breckenridge holds its 'Octoberfest' party (a crowded, but good time) in mid-Sept since the chance of cold and snow increases significantly after that. That said, certain places like Moab are likely to be near perfect temperatures in early October. Somewhere in the end of sept/early oct time frame much of the mountain areas become very low in visitors so some restaurants may close or be closed more days of the week until things start to pick back up for tourists (usually mid-late Nov). Also, summer amenities at resorts in the mountains usually become weekend only, or even close down for a couple places, after our Labor Day holiday (and eventually close ~end of Sept). Cities in the region of course are generally in the warmer, lower altitudes so any snow will quickly melt out and all services are always running.

All that said I'm certain you can piece together a very solid trip in that early Oct time frame that would get you activities and cities both. But probably a touch more planning required as some things will be only open on weekends or etc...

May we drove from Colorado Springs to Moab
April/May is near perfect temps for Moab, just like late sept-oct are as well. That rock can wear tires out in no time too.

Ironically I bought my son a new 'oversized' bike this May... Then he proceeded to grow 4" (he's almost 5'10" at only 13). I might have to inherit his and get another new one for him again next year; which is not a cheap thing to do. I thought he would have a minimum 2 years on that frame...
I would suggest late September for the Colorado part of the Rockies in general.
In the Colorado Rockies most attractions are at 9,000+feet and will be cold in October but not with enough snow to be useful. I agree that October is a prime time for Utah's numerous national parks and monuments, so if that's sbooker's timeframe that's where he should go.

High altitude locations can close sometime in October. Mesa Verde's cliff dwelling tours close Oct. 21 this year, which is why we did not go there after the 2014 Solar Eclipse Conference in New Mexico. We are returning to New Mexico for the annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14, and so have reserved Mesa Verde before that.
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Sept 3) Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a very remote National Park for most.

That's my park! I also like Mesa Verde.

It's not remote when you land there a few times a year. I try to sneak visits in.

But great photos! I have got to get there mid-summer.
Thanks for sharing EMSC. I drove by the entrance off 50 four times in 2019. Each time in too much of a hurry to stop and check the place out. Maybe next time. Knew it wasn't too far up the road!?!