The Best Camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Posted by
Kristen Arendt
July 14, 2023

Black Canyon of the Gunnison camping
Photo: Becca in Colorado/Shutterstock

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of Colorado’s must-see destinations. Plus, thanks to its more remote location, it sees a lot less traffic than some of Colorado’s better-known national parks.

The park is accessible from either the North or South Rim. The Inner Canyon is a designated wilderness area, and no road or bridge connects the two sides from within the park. That means your choices for camping in Black Canyon of the Gunnison are relatively limited, and you’ll want to choose wisely based on which side of the canyon you want to experience during your stay.

Luckily, this staggeringly beautiful landscape has lots to offer, whether you want to take in expansive views from the many overlooks or are looking for a more hands-on adventure along one of the rugged routes down to the Gunnison River below. Don’t forget to build some stargazing time into your camping plans for the weekend — the dark skies in this national park are not to be missed.

1. South Rim Campground


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Why you should go: Book at stay the South Rim Campground on the more developed side of Black Canyon of the Gunnison for a chance to stop off at the park’s visitor center and to check out the 12 developed overlooks, which include three accessible overlooks at Pulpit Rock, Chasm View, and Sunset View, all along the paved park drive.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes from mid-May to mid-September; first-come, first-serve the rest of the year
  • Best season: Late spring, summer, early fall
  • Campsite type: Tent/RV
  • RV hookups: Loop B offers 20 and 30-amp electric hookups

Pros: The larger campground of the two developed campgrounds in the park, South Rim Campground offers a prime spot for exploring the canyon, especially if you’re interested in day hikes or a scenic drive along South Rim Drive. The sites are relatively open which means they’re sunny during the day and offer great views of the stars at night.

The lack of shade at some of the sites isn’t too much of an issue, as the campground sits around 8,000 feet in elevation. Apart from a few hot days during the summer months, most nights are pretty cool, so that morning sunshine will feel great as you’re making your coffee.

Cons: Being located on the more popular half of the national park, this campground gets busy during peak season. Don’t expect a ton of solitude as the 88 sites are fairly close together, though you do get some privacy from scrubby bushes and small trees.

As one visitor noted, the tight quarters “made it challenging with loud, rambunctious neighbors.” During the summer, drinking water is available at the campground and the visitor center, but there are no showers or wash stations, so plan accordingly.

If you go: South Rim, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Montrose, CO 81401, (970) 641-2337

Related read: Traveler’s Guide to the Best Colorado National Parks

2. North Rim Campground


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Why you should go: Escape to the North Rim and get away from the weekend crowds. The North Rim Campground offers a more rugged and remote feel that will reward adventurous campers with stunning views of the canyon and some great hiking right on your doorstep.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Late spring, summer, early fall (closed in winter)
  • Campsite type: Tent/RV (max combined length of RV, car, and/or trailer is 22 feet)
  • RV hookups: None

Pros: This campground is smaller and decidedly less busy than the one on the South Rim. You’ll enjoy a bit more privacy and solitude as well as several outstanding hikes on quieter trails, including one that leaves right from the campground.

According to one camper, “What I liked best about the campground was that the Chasm View Trailhead is right in the campground, and you can walk out to the first viewpoint in less than 5 minutes and have extraordinary views of the canyon. We walked the trail 3-4 times and saw the canyon at sunset and dawn.” The campground also provides access to rock climbing and several Inner Canyon routes if that’s on your weekend agenda.

Cons: With only 13 dispersed sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis, this campground fills quickly on summer weekends, so you’ll need to arrive early if you want to secure a spot. Keep in mind the last 7 miles of the drive is on an unpaved road and services are limited, so this is the kind of camping trip where you’ll want to come prepared.

If you go: North Rim, Black Canyon National Park, Crawford, CO 81415, (970) 641-2337

3. East Portal Campground

East Portal Campground
Photo: National Park Service

Why you should go: Seeking solitude along a peaceful section of the Gunnison River? The East Portal Campground provides 15 sites at the bottom of the canyon in a quiet, shaded location. If fly fishing, hanging out by the water, or simply soaking up some fresh mountain are your ideal weekend activities, this is the spot for you.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Late spring, summer, early fall (closed in winter)
  • Campsite type: Tent/RV (max combined length of RV, car, and/or trailer is 22 feet)
  • RV hookups: None

Pros: East Portal Campground is technically located within Curecanti National Recreation Area but is only accessible from South Rim Drive, giving you a prime spot to spend the night down by the river and a day out exploring the views from the canyon rim.

As one reviewer noted, “By far my most favorite site I’ve ever camped. It’s quite the experience being able to camp at the bottom of this canyon after seeing it from the top side.” The secluded sites are not right on the water but do provide easy access to the river so you can easily walk down to the water during the day.

Cons: Of the 15 first-come, first-serve sites, 10 are walk-in with a spot for a tent and 5 sites offer an adjacent parking spot for a small RV or rooftop tent set-up. The road to reach the campground is steep and winding, so if you’re looking for a spot for your large RV or trailer, this is not the best campground for you.

Although you will enjoy river access and scenic canyon views, this spot doesn’t offer immediate access to the iconic views and vertigo-inducing overlooks that the more dramatic North and South Rims offer. And while the South Rim is a short drive away for an easy day trip, the North Rim is over a 2-hour drive away.

If you go: East Portal Road, Black Canyon National Park, Montrose, CO 81401, (970) 641-2337

Related read: 7 Gorgeous Winter Camping Spots in Colorado

4. Curecanti National Recreation Area

Curecanti National Recreation Area
Photo: Zack Frank

Why you should go: Located just up the road from Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Curecanti National Recreation Area offers 11 campgrounds (including East Portal Campground) with over 350 campsites to choose from, making it a great choice as a basecamp for your Black Canyon of the Gunnison adventures. With so many sites to choose from, you’ll be able to find the perfect spot in the beautiful sagebrush landscape along the shores of Blue Mesa Reservoir.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes some sites; others are first-come, first-serve
  • Best season: Late spring, summer, early fall
  • Campsite type: Tent/RV
  • RV hookups: Yes, depending on the campground

Pros: Although you aren’t quite as conveniently located within Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the campgrounds at Curecanti offer lots of amenities for campers as well as a central location for exploring the area. If you want to ensure you’ve got a reservation for your vacation (especially in the peak summer months), booking a site at one of Curecanti’s campgrounds can save you the headache of hoping you can snag a first-come, first-serve spot in the Black Canyon.

Plus, if you have a large RV, you’ll have more sites to choose from. Blue Mesa additionally offers hiking, fishing, swimming, and boating opportunities and is just a short drive from the town of Gunnison. If you’re planning an extended stay and want to explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison and other spots in the area, a stay at Curecanti gives you a central location to plan a longer vacation.

Cons: Many of the sites are very exposed — which gives you great views, but also leaves your stuff susceptible to the wind, rain, and thunderstorms that often sweep across the area. I watched several tents and shade shelters get mangled during a summer thunderstorm at Elk Creek Campground, so you’ll want to secure your tent and not leave stuff lying around the campsite.

The summer months can be quite hot, which isn’t much of an issue if you plan to be out on the water or hiking at Black Canyon of the Gunnison during the day, but is less ideal if you want to spend a weekend hanging around camp since the sites don’t have much shade. Keep in mind that Black Canyon of the Gunnison is still about a 60-90 minute drive away (depending on which rim you want to visit).

If you go: 102 Elk Creek, Gunnison, CO 81230; (970) 641-2337

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