The irony of Gilman Gorge is that its incredible beauty is offset by its status as a Superfund Cleanup site, as indicated by slag piles from mining operations flowing into the river. The river channel can be clogged by log jams, ruins of collapsed railroad trestles, huge boulders and other debris that can pose dangers and risk to life and limb. As if that were not bad enough, Colorado's often blatant disregard for federal law and the Commercial Navigable Waterways Act sometimes leads to paddlers being harassed by local law enforcement officers.
Gilman Gorge is a Class IV+ to V run of about 4 miles, and is best suited to expert level kayakers and rafters. The gradient starts at about 100 fpm, incresing to 110 fpm, 130 fpm and 140 fpm in different segments of this run. Gilman Gorge an be a treacherous place for unprepared paddlers.
Eagle County in the White River national Forest of west central Colorado, near Vail. Nearby streams include the Yampa, Colorado, Fryingpan, Roaring Forks and Arkansas Rivers, with many feeder streams in close proximity.
Grand Junction 174 miles; Denver 98 miles; Santa Fe miles; Albuquerque miles; Phoenix miles; Oklahoma City 739 miles; Tulsa 844 miles; Dallas 948 miles; Austin 1,138 miles; San Antonio 1,218 miles; Houston 1,194 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The water in Gilman Gorge flows white and cold. Difficulty ranges from Class IV+ to V- at flows below 400 cfs, increasing to Class V when flows exceed 400 cfs. Gilman Gorge drops some 480 feet, from 8,580 feet to 8,100 feet msl in just 4 miles.
Typically, May through July, depending upon the winter snow pack and/or recent local summer rains. Heavy snowpack and/or heavy rains can extend the season by a few days to a few weeks, while drier years may result in a similarly shortened season.
Basically, Gilman Gorge is one hazard after another. An overhead railroad bridge signals the first major rapid where possibly toxic slag piles flow into the river. Below Fall Creek, entering on the left, is a double waterfall drop that can be scouted from a mine access road on river right. A calm pool leads up to a ten-foot waterfall called "Megadrop" that can be clogged with tree debris, but is runnable if the drop area is clear. A tight technical S-turn, where an eyebolt protrudes from a rock, signals the onset of a very rocky and technical double drop. A few Class II rapids prelude the final, and most dangerous, drop on this section of the Eagle River, where a collapsed railroad trestle has piled crossties, steel rails and bridge supports into the rapid. Portage is STRONGLY recommended - this is a killer drop!
Put in on the dirt road off US Highway 24 near Redcliff (park off the highway, not on the dirt road!); take out on Tigawan Road (FR 707) about 3 miles above Minturn.
There is a campground on Red Sandstone Creek, between Gore Creek and the Piney River. There are numerous accommodation facilities nearby that cater to skiers and others, some of which may be open during the Eagle River paddling season, but be sure to bring your wallet!
Rentals and shuttles may be available from any of several outfitters serving the Eagle and surrounding rivers. Other outfitters elsewhere in Colorado and other states may also provide services on the Eagle River.
Gilman Gorge is one of those runs with a split personality - its outward appearance looks so inviting, but dangerous drops, obstacles and potentially toxic slag from abandoned mining operations are present to make paddlers think before launching. This is a run that can be made by advanced to expert kayakers and rafters, but which is not recommended for canoeists regardless of skill or outfitting. This 4 mile section of the Eagle River has about a 3-month winddow, from May through July in normal snowpack years, that offers a real challenge to any boaters who decides to run it.
The last drop could literally be YOUR last drop if you run it. Dangers are greater than rewards for successfully making that drop, so portage is recommended. After the portage it is a short run to the take-out about 3 miles from Minturn. While not offering any great whitewater run, paddlers do have the option of continuing to paddle the Eagle River to the Dowd Chute, where Gore Creek flows into the river on your right, then taking out at the Dowd Chute put-in or continuing on through "Das Chute". Paddlers contemplating a run on Gilman Gorge should be advanced to expert level paddlers, properly outfitted and trained in swiftwater rescue and First Aid. This is NOT a beginner or novice run, and even intermediate level paddlers would probably have extreme difficulty escaping with their bodies or lives intact.