America’s Best Secret National Parks

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Gunnison, Colorado

The snow atop Colorado’s towering West Elk Mountains melts into the roaring Gunnison River, which plunges west toward the mighty Colorado River, carving this 53-mile chasm—one of the deepest and narrowest canyons in North America. Reaching depths of 2,722 feet, this canyon is an (expert) rock climber’s dream; Painted Wall is the tallest vertical rock wall in the state at 2,250 feet, and even seasoned climbers struggle with the North Chasm View Wall at over 2,000 feet. The park offers plenty of action for the less-extreme adventurer: The hike to the canyon’s bottom is exhilarating, and the Long Draw trail accesses one of the narrowest parts of the canyon. The Oak Flat Loop Trail wanders along the rim through Gambel oak before ascending through Douglas fir and aspen to an unmarked overlook peering down the Gunnison into the abyss. Winters are also wonderful here; the park rents snowshoes for guided treks over Devil’s Lookout, where white snowdrifts contrast brilliantly with the canyon’s black walls.

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