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Henson Creek, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Trail 877@ Nellie Creek to 20 Road @ Lake City
~ 6.7 Miles


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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Henson Creek, a tributary of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River, forms in the Uncompahgre National Forest of Hinsdale County along the Continental Divide, then flows west to east to the Lake Fork at Lake City. The "popular" run is 6.7 miles of hairboat excitement from Trail Road 877 at Nellie Creek to the intersection of 20 Road and SH 149, about 60 miles south of Blue Mesa Reservoir. This run is for expert kayakers ONLY! The run is just too steep, too tight and too dangerous for canoes and rafts. In fact, it is probably too dangerous for most serious whitewater kayakers, but I ain't gonna be the one to tell them so!

The creek shows signs of once having been a very pretty and scenic place, but abandoned mining operations have left an ugly mess and severely damaged much of the natural beauty along it. There are two non-functional dams, each with a large hole in the bottom through which boaters can paddle, though stagnant water has collected behind them in the eddies created by flows through those openings. The hair starts about a mile below the put-in, and ends less than a mile before the take-out. Three campgrounds are located at the end of the run where the creek flows into the Lake Fork at the intersection of 20 Road and SH 149 in Lake City. Hairboater kayakers can usually run Henson Creek in late-spring through mid-summer, depending upon winter snowpack and spring rainfall in the surrounding area.


Hinsdale County, in the Uncompahgre National Forest about an hour south of Blue Mesa Reservoir. Cebolla Creek flows parallel to the Lake Fork just a few miles to the east, and the headwaters of the Rio Grande form just a few short miles to the south. Nearby towns include Powderhorn, Telluride, Ouray and Silvertop.

Distance from major cities

Durango 210 miles; Grand Junction 175 miles; Denver 295 miles; Salt Lake City 460 miles; Albuquerque 422 miles; Phoenix 664 miles; Oklahoma City 920 miles; Dallas 1,079 miles; Austin 1,125 miles; San Antonio 1,033 miles; Houston 1,311 miles; Little Rock 1,226 miles; Kansas City 901 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally very good to excellent except right behind the dams, where it is stagnated from lack of movement over many years. Flow depends upon smowmelt and spring rainfall in this high elevation region of the Uncompahgre National Forest near Powderhorn and Telluride Ski Areas.

Best times to go

In normal snowpack years the optimum flow will be from about May through July, with June being the best possible time to run Henson Creek. In years of below normal winter snowpack the creek may not sustain boatable levels, and in wet years the season may be extended slightly.

Hazards to navigation

Starting about 1 mile below the Nellie Creek put-in Henson Creek becomes a nightmare hazard that requires careful scouting and even more careful running. S-Turn is a twisting drop through rock ledges and must be scouted. Approaching the first gorge is the first dam, with a keeper hole at the bottom of the drop. Scout this one, then run it cleanly to avoid disaster. Between the two dams is a really nasty wood-choked rockpile with a mandatory, but very difficult, portage. A two-step drop with keeper holes follows the portage, and is the last of the serious hazards on Henson Creek.

River access points

Trail Road 877 alongside Nellie Creek off 20 Road about 6 miles west of SH 149 in Lake City at 0.0 miles; Intersection of 20 Road and SH 149 in Lake City where Henson Creek flows into the Lake Fork at about 6.7 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of Henson Creek.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Campgrounds are located on either side of the creek near the take-out, and another is located off SH 149 north of the confluence in Lake City. Numerous other excellent campgrounds can be found nearby in Gunnison and Uncompahgre National Forests.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or shuttle services operating on or near Henson Creek. Paddlers planning on a Henson Creek run should setup and run their own shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

Henson Creek is for expert whitewater kayakers ONLY! The rest of us need to find another place to play. This run has a natural beauty that has been scarred by human intervention to the point where many paddlers find it downright ugly. However, the run is such that more attention should be paid to the creek than surrounding areas. Unlike most dammed rivers and streams, on Henson Creek you can actually paddle right through holes that have been made in those containments - how they got there I have no idea! This is a late-spring through mid-summer run IF adequate snowmelt is running from the surrounding drainage basin in Uncompahgre National Forest. Runs start at the nose-bleed elevation of 9,520 feet msl, so wear wetsuits or drysuits with a water-repelling base layer to prevent hypothermia. Better yet, you might want to consider any of several other nearby runs on the Gunnison, Rio Grande, Piedra, San Juan, Animas, Dolores or other southwestern Colorado streams.

Technical Data
Class Rating V- w/ mandatory portages
Length 6.7 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Trail 877 @ Nellie Creek
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out 20 Road @ Lake City
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 9,520-8,700' msl
Gradient 115, 130, 115, 105, 185, 110, 86 fpm
USGS Gauge
Season May (?) through July (?)
Permits No

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

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