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Gunnison River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Escalante to Whitewater
~ 26 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Gunnison River, between Delta to the south and Grand Junction to the north, offers a run of 46 miles in basically flatwater conditions interspersed with easy Class II to III- rapids and a gradient of only 6 fpm. In contrast to the hairboat runs of other Colorado streams (or even other sections of the Gunnison), this is a great trip that just about anybody can enjoy in any type of craft. What it lacks in technical excitement and big water thrills is offset by its natural beauty and historical sites. There are side canyon hikes with high waterfalls plunging into creeks below, and the area contains beautiful red rocks in the high desert setting where ancient Native American petroglyphs can be closely observed. This early form of "grafitti" tells a story that is hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old.

The normal 26 mile trip can be extended by starting off US Highway 50 at Delta adding about 10 miles, or by ending in Grand Junction adding another 15 miles, for a maximum total distance of 51 miles. Flow is controlled by dam releases far upstream, so it is variable. This is a desert river trip where civilization is out of sight and out of mind, yet not too far away. It is an excellent beginner-novice run that can also be enjoyed by more experienced boaters seeking a leisurely trip without constant rock and tree dodging.

It should be noted that the take-out at Whitewater is an unimproved climb with boats and gear up a steep hill, and that it is very difficult for any type of boat, but especially any large, heavy boat.


The high desert between the Uncompahgre, Grand Mesa and Gunnison National Forests of Delta and Mesa Counties in west central Colorado, between Grand Junction to the north and Delta to the south.

Distance from major cities

Durango 130 miles; Grand Junction 46 miles; Denver 292 miles; Santa Fe 412 miles; Albuquerque 342 miles; Phoenix 584 miles; Oklahoma City 891 miles; Tulsa 996 miles; Dallas 994 miles; Austin 1,080 miles; San Antonio 1,160 miles; Houston 1,280 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The Gunnison River quality on this section is usually very good to excellent, but dependent upon dam releases many miles above. The water is not drinkable without purification.

Best times to go

Typically, almost anytime is good to paddle this section of the Gunnison River, depending upon dam releases upstream, conditions of the winter snowpack and/or substantial early spring rainfall.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards on this section of the Gunnison River. There are many Class II to III- rapids that can be easily avoided, or run without requiring too much skill or effort except in flood stage conditions.

River access points

Escalante bridge about 3 miles south of US Highway 50 at about 0.0 miles; Whitewater access off SH 141 and US Highway 50 at about 26.0 miles (this is a very difficult access point with a steep climb-out carrying boats and gear.)

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds operating along this section of the Gunnison River. However, there are numerous natural, primitive campsites all along the river that are great for overnight trips. Off the river, but nearby, are several good campgrounds including the Sweitzer Lake State Recreation Area just southeast of Delta, the Crawford Reservoir State Recreation Area on the South Fork of the Gunnison River southeast of Delta, on the mainstream of the Gunnison River near Montrose, and in the areas of the Ruby Fork and Crystal Rivers to the northeast in Gunnison National Forest.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information on the Gunnison River.

Reviewer's comments

There are few rivers in Colorado that are really ideal for beginner or novice paddlers, but this section of the Gunnison qualifies in spades. It offers trips of about 26 miles in mostly flatwater with numerous decent Class II to III- rapids that can be run or avoided, depending upon the whims of the paddler. The area is very scenic and offers close inspection of some historical sites, including Native American petroglyphs - the storybook of a bygone era before Europeans landed on this continent. While there are no commercial campgrounds nearby or along the river, paddlers who enjoy primitive river camping trips will find this section of the Gunnison perfect. The red rock canyon walls, beautiful river and high desert flora and fauna offer a setting that is uncommon to Colorado rivers. Located near Grand Junction, this area is in somewhat close proximity to Denver, Utah and New Mexico.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III-
Length 26 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Escalante bridge off US Highway 50
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Whitewater access off SH 141/US Highway 50
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 5,100-4,974 feet msl
Gradient 6 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Delta
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round weather permitting
Permits No

Click HERE to visit the web site of Rocky Mountain Canoe Club

Poudre Paddlers Canoe and Kayak Club

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Gunnison River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Gunnison River

[ Gunnison River Homepage ] [ Headwater to Blue Mesa ] [ Upper Lakes ] [ Black Canyon ] [ Gunnison Gorge ]
[ North Fork to Delta ] [ Delta to Escalante ] [ Escalante to Whitewater ] [ Whitewater to Colorado River ]


[ North Fork ] [ East River ] [ Taylor River ] [ Lake Fork River ] [ Ruby Fork Anthracite Creek ] [ Cimarron River ] [ Cebolla Creek ] [ Henson Creek ] [ Kannah Creek ] [ Uncompahgre River ]

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