I arrived at the park a little before noon. No one was working at the front gate. I was a bit disappointed because I wanted to finally use my national park annual pass. The pass costs $80 a year and not only allows you free entry into every national park that charges admission but also a half off discount on camping reservations.
I stopped to take a photo of the sign and met a nice guy from Ohio who was on a solo motorcycle trip. I didn’t realize it yet but this would be the first of many really great encounters with people inside our national parks.
It took two million years for the Gunnison River to create these canyons. They are so incredibly steep it will blow your mind. I have been wanting to come here for years and was happy I was finally going to see the canyon first hand.
I read and heard that some of the best trout fishing is at the bottom of the canyon. The only problem is that it is so steep that there are no official paths into the canyon. There are a few routes but you are basically rock scrambling and using chains to make the 2.5 hour decent to the river. I read it takes 4 hours to pull and climb your way out. So even though I was up for an adventure I had no intentions of heading down to the river.
I really was impressed by this park and could see why this was one of the best overlooked National Parks in America. It gets overshadowed by all the Utah Parks (Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, etc). There are so many parks you have to pick and choose what to go see.
At this park you drive along the rim of the canyon and stop at overlooks along the way. Make sure you see the Painted Wall. At the end of the road there is a hiking trail with amazing views. I walked until the trail disintegrated and turned into brush. There was also a sign warning of bears and stating that a backcountry permit was required to go further.
After hiking I went to find my campsite. I had brought my hammock and tent but since this park only had small juniper trees, which would not support my weight in a hammock, I opted to set up my tent. I also used the time I had to rearrange my car and organize everything. This task became a regular park duty as I was frequently pulling things in and out. Knowing where everything was located saved me a lot of time along the way.
For dinner I had a Mountain House dehydrated meal (Chicken and Rice) and went down to the amphitheater to hear a ranger educate us on the history, plants and animals of the park. It was really quite interesting and something I feel is important to do in each park.
If you camp in the park there are ranger led programs. If you are driving in each day a lot of major parks have a theatre where they will repeat an educational movie throughout the day.
While we learned about the park a few deer were feeding in the forest behind us. They were really close to us and I could tell they were used to being around humans. I also found out there was a problem bear walking around the park and that we had to be careful at night and store our food appropriately. In bear country that usually means using the box at the site where you can lock up your food. Other options are using bear boxes or storing things in your car. A problem bear was not the thing I wanted to hear before my first night in a national park.
Overall I really liked this park and recommend it if you have a day to spare. Everything can be seen in a day.