Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park vs Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are two of America’s most unique and breathtaking national parks. Both parks are known for their awe-inspiring natural features, but they couldn’t be more different. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a narrow, steep-walled canyon that stretches for 48 miles along the Gunnison River in western Colorado. The park is home to some of the most dramatic and rugged landscapes in the United States, with steep cliffs, deep gorges, and towering spires. On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is known for its towering sand dunes, which are the tallest in North America. The park’s otherworldly landscapes are a combination of desert, mountains, and grasslands, and offer visitors the chance to explore a unique and diverse ecosystem. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure, these two parks are sure to deliver. Whether you’re a nature lover, a hiker, or a photographer, you won’t be disappointed by the natural wonders that Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve have to offer.

Hiking Trails in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve both offer unique hiking experiences. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park boasts challenging trails that take you deep into the steep and narrow canyon, offering stunning views of the Gunnison River below. Some of the most popular hikes at Black Canyon include the South Rim Road Trail, which offers a scenic hike along the rim of the canyon, and the North Vista Trail, which takes you to the edge of the canyon for panoramic views.

On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers a completely different type of hiking experience. The park is home to the tallest dunes in North America, and hiking here means trekking through soft sand and climbing steep dunes. Some of the easiest hikes at Great Sand Dunes include the Medano Pass Primitive Road, which is a scenic drive that takes you to the base of the dunes, and the Dunes Overlook Trail, which is a short hike to an overlook that offers great views of the dunes. For a more challenging hike, visitors can try the High Dune Hike, which takes you to the top of the tallest dune in the park.

Both parks offer a diverse range of hiking trails, but Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park is more challenging and offers more scenic views while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is an unique experience of hiking through the sand dunes.

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
Warner Point Nature Trail 1.50 mi 406.72 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Oak Flat Loop Trail 1.30 mi 311.60 ft loop Moderate 4/5
Gunnison Route Trail 1.80 mi 1,781.04 ft out and back Very Hard 4.5/5
Painted Wall View Trail 0.20 mi 6.56 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Chasm View Nature Trail 0.60 mi 108.24 ft loop Easy 5/5
Exclamation Point 2.89 mi 364.08 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Green Mountain Summit Via North Vista Trail 6.49 mi 1,226.72 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Gunnison Point Overlook 0.20 mi 78.72 ft out and back Easy 4.5/5
Rim Rock Nature Trail 1.50 mi 186.96 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Warner Route 4.19 mi 3,034.00 ft out and back Very Hard 4.5/5

Most Popular Hiking Trails in Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Name Length Elevation Type Difficulty Visitor Ratings
High Dune Trail 2.99 mi 629.76 ft out and back Hard 5/5
Mosca Pass Trail 6.39 mi 1,459.60 ft out and back Moderate 4.5/5
Dunes Trail from Pinyon Flats 4.49 mi 954.48 ft loop Hard 4.5/5
Sand Dunes Loop Trail 4.99 mi 741.28 ft loop Moderate 4.5/5
Upper Sand Creek Lake Trail 7.38 mi 1,964.72 ft out and back Very Hard 4.5/5
Medano Lake Trail 7.88 mi 2,289.44 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Montville Nature Trail 0.50 mi 88.56 ft loop Easy 4/5
Dunes Overlook Sand Ramp Trail 1.50 mi 265.68 ft out and back Moderate 3.5/5
Little Medano Creek Trail to Medano Lake 25.04 mi 3,542.40 ft out and back Moderate 4/5
Wellington Ditch Trail 1.80 mi 157.44 ft out and back Easy 4/5

Wildlife in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and black bears. Visitors may also spot a variety of birds, including golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and the canyon wren. The park is also home to a number of reptile and amphibian species, including the northern leopard frog and the western terrestrial garter snake.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is known for its unique landscape of towering sand dunes. The park is home to a variety of desert wildlife, such as pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and coyotes. Visitors may also spot a variety of birds, including the mountain plover, the burrowing owl, and the horned lark. The park also has a number of reptiles and amphibians, including the Great Basin collared lizard and the western spotted frog.

Both parks are great for wildlife viewing, but the types of animals and plants you’ll see will be vastly different. Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers a diverse range of species in the canyon and mountain environment. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers a unique desert environment with a variety of animals that are well adapted to the harsh conditions.

Below are lists of the most commonly spotted wildlife at Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve. However, you can see a full list of wildlife at each national park here.

Birds

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Peregrine Falcon Peregrine Falcon
Northern Harrier Northern Harrier
Sharp-Shinned Hawk Sharp-Shinned Hawk
Osprey Osprey
Tree Swallow Tree Swallow
Mallard Mallard
Canada Goose Canada Goose
Lincoln’s Sparrow Lincoln’s Sparrow
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
American Robin American Robin
Great Horned Owl Great Horned Owl
Red-Tailed Hawk Red-Tailed Hawk
Northern Flicker Northern Flicker
Merlin Merlin
Barn Swallow Barn Swallow
Great Blue Heron Savannah Sparrow
Hermit Thrush Great Blue Heron
American Kestrel Hermit Thrush
Bald Eagle American Kestrel
Song Sparrow Bald Eagle
European Starling Song Sparrow
Northern Pintail European Starling
American Wigeon Northern Pintail
Green-Winged Teal American Wigeon
American Pipit Green-Winged Teal

Mammals

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Coyote Coyote
American Beaver American Beaver
Muskrat Muskrat
Big Brown Bat Big Brown Bat
Bobcat Bobcat
Striped Skunk Striped Skunk
Little Brown Bat Little Brown Bat
Deer Mouse Deer Mouse
Raccoon Raccoon
Black Bear Black Bear
Porcupine Porcupine
Silver-Haired Bat Silver-Haired Bat
Hoary Bat Hoary Bat
Red Fox Red Fox
Long-Tailed Weasel Long-Tailed Weasel
House Mouse Mule Deer
Mountain Lion Gray Fox
American Mink Long-Legged Myotis
Mule Deer Long-Eared Bat
Common Gray Fox Badger
Long-Legged Myotis Ermine
Long-Eared Myotis Snowshoe Hare
American Badger Masked Shrew
California Myotis Water Shrew
Snowshoe Hare Brazilian Free-Tailed Bat

Fish

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Rainbow Trout Brook Trout
Brown Trout German Brown Trout
Long-Nose Sucker Cutthroat Trout
Northern Pike
Mottled Sculpin
Speckled Dace

Reptiles

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Gophersnake Bull Snake
Terrestrial Gartersnake Western Terrestrial Garter Snake
Common Sagebrush Lizard Western Prairie Rattlesnake
Greater Short-Horned Lizard Greater Short-Horned Lizards
Milksnake Milksnake
Striped Whipsnake Eastern Fence Lizard
Tree Lizard
Eastern Collared Lizard

Amphibians

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve
Northern Leopard Frog Northern Leopard Frog
Tiger Salamander Tiger Salamander
Woodhouse’s Toad
Plains Spadefoot

Beautiful Landscapes in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park is known for its dramatic and steep canyon walls, formed by the Gunnison River cutting through ancient rock. The park’s namesake feature, the Black Canyon, is a unique and spectacular sight to behold, with sheer walls rising up to 2,700 feet above the river. Visitors can hike to the rim of the canyon to take in the views or even venture down into the canyon on a strenuous hike.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is home to the tallest dunes in North America. These massive sand dunes rise up to 750 feet and are surrounded by mountains, forests, and grasslands. The park offers a variety of activities such as sand sledding, sandboarding, and hiking on the dunes. Visitors can also explore the nearby Medano Creek, which is fed by the snowmelt from the surrounding mountains, and enjoy the beautiful views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Both parks offer unique and beautiful landscapes that are worth visiting. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park is ideal for visitors looking for a more rugged and wilderness experience, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers an otherworldly desert landscape that is perfect for those looking for a more unique and adventurous experience.

Things To-Do and Activities in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offer visitors very different experiences when it comes to wildlife and popular activities.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is known for its diverse wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk, black bears, mountain lions, and many species of birds such as golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and turkey vultures. Visitors can also see a variety of plants, including wildflowers in the spring and aspen trees in the fall.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, on the other hand, is known for its massive sand dunes, which were formed by the erosion of the surrounding mountains. The park is home to a variety of animals, including pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and black bears. Visitors can also see a variety of bird species, such as the mountain plover and the burrowing owl.

When it comes to popular activities, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park offers visitors the opportunity to hike, rock climb, and fish. There are several hiking trails that lead to the bottom of the canyon and offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Rock climbing is also popular in the park, as the steep canyon walls provide challenging routes for experienced climbers. Fishing is also a popular activity, as the park’s rivers and streams are home to a variety of fish species.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, visitors can hike, sandboarding, and stargazing. The park’s sand dunes offer visitors the opportunity to hike to the top for stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Sandboarding and sand sledding are also popular activities, as visitors can slide down the dunes on specially designed boards and sleds. The park also offers stargazing programs where visitors can learn about the night sky and see stars, planets, and other celestial objects.

Overall, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is better suited for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, rock climbing, and fishing, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is better for those who enjoy hiking, sandboarding, and stargazing. Both parks offer a unique and memorable experience.

Best Time to Visit Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both located in the western United States and have distinct seasonal weather patterns.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, located in Colorado, experiences four distinct seasons. Spring and fall are generally mild, with temperatures ranging from the high 40s to low 70s during the day. Summer is hot, with temperatures often reaching the 90s and even 100s in the canyon bottom. Winter can be cold and snowy, with temperatures dropping below freezing and snowfall common. The best time to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is during the spring or fall when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, located in Colorado, also experiences four seasons but with a different weather pattern. Summer is the most popular time to visit the park, with daytime temperatures in the 90s and low 100s. Spring and fall are also pleasant with temperatures in the 60s and 70s. Winter is the least popular time to visit the park, with temperatures dropping below freezing and snowfall common. The best time to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is during the summer when the dunes are most accessible. However, it’s important to note that the park can be quite hot, so it’s best to plan for an early morning or evening hike.

In summary, both parks have distinct weather patterns and offer different experiences depending on the season you decide to visit. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is best visited in the spring or fall, while Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is best visited in the summer.

Family Friendliness of Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve are both great places to visit with families, but they offer different experiences. Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park offers a unique and dramatic landscape with steep canyon walls and a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels. The park also has a visitor center with educational exhibits, making it a great place for families to learn about the history and geology of the area. However, the park may not be as suitable for very young children or those with mobility issues due to the steep terrain and lack of paved paths.

On the other hand, Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers a completely different landscape with the tallest sand dunes in North America. This park is great for families that enjoy outdoor activities such as sand sledding and hiking. The park also offers a playground and a visitors center with educational programs. Additionally, visitors can also explore the nearby Medano Creek, which is perfect for children to play in during the summer months. Overall, both parks offer different experiences, but Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve may be a better option for families with young children or those looking for more accessible activities.

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