A little-traveled reach of the Gunnison River is the 20 miles between Gunnison Forks through Austin and Delta to Escalante Creek, a Class I to III- run on a basically flatwater stream with a shallow gradient of about 15 fpm. The run starts at an elevation of about 5,100 feet msl, then drops 300 feet over its course. This section leaves behind the deep canyons of Gunny Gorge and the tributary steep creeks where hairboaters go to play, offering instead a more leisurely run that is well suited for just about anybody in a raft, and canoeists and kayakers with intermediate or higher level whitewater skills, many of whom come here to hone their abilities for more formidable runs upriver or on other waterways. It is also a good place to tone paddling muscles that have been dormant over the winter months.
The Town of Delta is about midway through this run, and provides an excellent intermediate location for access, food and beverages. Colorado SH 92 closely parallels the river above Delta, and US Highway 50 closely parallels the river from Delta to Grand Junction. This high desert run cuts through an area of red rocks and near wilderness as the river begins its descent to its confluence with the Colorado River at Grand Junction about 50 miles northwest of Delta. Within a few miles in either direction are the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River to the southeast, Gunnison National Forest to the east, Grand Mesa National Forest to the north, the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west and the Uncompahgre National Forest to the west-southwest. For those wanting a day on the river with a few exciting rapids and no death-defying hazards the run from Gunnison Forks to Escalante Creek is an excellent trip. Bring your camera!
Southcentral Delta County, beginning where the North Fork meets the mainstram of the Gunnison River east of Delta, about 60 miles southeast of Grand Junction.
Durango 138 miles; Grand Junction 60 miles; Denver 250 miles; Salt Lake City 345 miles; Albuquerque 350 miles; Phoenix 592 miles; Oklahoma City 875 miles; Dallas 1,034 miles; Austin 1,053 miles; San Antonio 961 miles; Houston 1,203 miles; Little Rock 1,191 miles; Kansas City 856 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Water quality is generally good to very good, flowing clean, clear and cool to cold, depending upon season. Flow is usually steady, but moderate from late-spring through summer months, depending upon dam releases many miles upriver.
April through June, and possibly July are customarily the optimal months, depending upon conditions at Crystal Reservoir and the other lakes upstream.
This reach of the Gunnison River is usually hazard-free for competent paddlers. Occasional boulder garden rapids in the Class I to III- range will provide a small challenge and some excitement, but most are not particularly technical and can be run by novice paddlers in rafts with little or no difficulty. The shallow gradient and slower current make this run generally safe for most boaters most of the time.
Gunnison River Pleasure Park about 1 mile south of SH 92 between Austin and Hotchkiss at 0.0 miles; 2200 Road bridge at Austin at about 7.0 miles; SH 92/US Highway 50 at Delta at about 10.0 miles; Escalante bridge about 3 miles south of US Highway 50 at about 20.0 miles.
Gunnison River Pleasure Park, at the Gunnison Forks access, offers tent camping facilities. There are no other campgrounds located along this reach of the Gunnison River. Nearby camping is available at Sweitzer Lake State Recreation Area off US Highway 50 just southeast of Delta, Crawford Reservoir State Recreation Area off SH 92 about 11 miles south of Hotchkiss and at several other excellent campgrounds in the area of Grand Mesa National Forest off either side of SH 65 about 20-30 miles north of Delta and Austin. Other campgrounds may be available in the near vicinity, though most will be a couple of hours away by car.
Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information on the Gunnison River.
The Gunnison Forks to Escalante reach of 20 miles is an interesting and not-too-challenging run on moderately moving flatwater with a few Class I to III- rapids that most boaters can enjoy without risking life and limb. This late-spring through mid-summer run is well-suited for paddlers in canoes, kayaks and rafts, offering possible intermediate distances of 3, 7 or 10 miles with easy access, depending upon where you start and stop. The area is scenic, but the big canyons are above this reach, and the river mellows as it heads toward its rendezvous with the Colorado River at Grand Junction about 60 miles below the Gunnison Forks access. Escalante Creek enters the river where this run ends, unless you want to continue downriver another 26 miles to Whitewater or on down to Grand Junction. If you are hairy enough, the the Class V Escalante Creek run of 6.5 miles might be worth your while, but if that is your cup of tea, then you probably will not be paddling this section of the Gunnison River. This leisurely trip is quite enjoyable when it flows, and offers great photographic opportunities, so bring your camera and capture some of those "Kodak moments" that you will treasure and share for the rest of your life.