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Gunnison River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Gunnison Gorge
~ 13.4 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Gunnison Gorge can be an exciting 13.4 mile trip in Class II to IV (depending upon flow) whitewater, or a continuation of the 27.7 mile trip that begins above Black Canyon. A run through Gunnison Gorge begins with a hike down a chukar trail to the river. Your 4-wheel drive vehicle will get you to the trailhead, but it will not get you, your boat and gear down to the put-in. The upside is that it is all downhill. The run is rated Class II to III whitewater at 700 to 3,500 cfs, and Class III to IV above 3,500 cfs, with a shallow gradient of 21 fpm along a pool-and-drop section of the river.

This section of the Gunnison River is absolutely beautiful, and because of that it is becoming increasingly more popular, even with a difficult put-in access. Campsites are numbered and assigned, so be sure to register at the trailhead if you are planning an overnight trip. Access permits are required for commercial groups, but not for private groups. However, a user fee is required for all boaters, and must be paid at the trailhead. Pack animals can be rented for the mile plus hike to the put-in, but they do NOT carry ice chests, so prepare to lug those yourself. Contact Larry Franks (970-323-5155) to rent pack animals.

This section is dependent upon dam-released water from Crystal Reservoir, but in normal snowpack years it will have adequate flows for paddle trips throughout the summer months. The water is always cold, and paddlers should dress to prevent hypothermia. This is an ideal place to bring along a camera and capture some memories, but make sure it is either waterproof or carried in a water-tight case that is securely lashed to your boat.


The San Juan National Forest of Hinsdale County, flowing south to north through Lake San Cristobal, past Lake City, by the eastern edge of Uncompahgre National Forest to Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County between Montrose and Gunnison.

Distance from major cities

Durango 200 miles; Grand Junction 165 miles; Denver 286 miles; Santa Fe 412 miles; Albuquerque 412 miles; Phoenix 654 miles; Oklahoma City 955 miles; Tulsa 1,060 miles; Dallas 1,064 miles; Austin 1,254 miles; San Antonio 1,334 miles; Houston 1,440 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 usually flows clean, clear and cold with a beautiful blue color, but it is not drinkable without purification. Gunnison Gorge is rated Class II to III at flows of 700 to 3,500 cfs, and Class III to IV above 3,500 cfs. Drysuits or wetsuits with a base layer, Neoprene gloves and Neoprene hard-soled river boots are recommended to prevent hypothermia if you go swimming.

Best times to go

Most summer months are navigable on this section of the Gunnison River because of dam-released water from Crystal Reservoir. Contact the Black Canyon National Monument Visitor Center (970-249-1915) for water release information.

Hazards to navigation

There are numerous Class II to IV rapids on this section, but none are particularly hazardous for paddlers with intermediate or higher level whitewater skills.

River Access Points

Put-in at Chukar Trail off Peach Valley Road on river left at 0.0 miles; Take out at Gunnison Forks Campground just over a mile south of SH 92, on river right at about 13.4 miles (at the confluence with the North Fork of the Gunnison River.)

Campgrounds and accommodations

Gunnison Forks Campground at 27.7 miles is the only campground on this section of the Gunnison River.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Reviewer's comments

Gunnison (Gunny) Gorge is a gorge-ous place that is as photogenic as it is exciting to paddle. It is runnable in canoes, kayaks and rafts during summer months, when water is being released from Crystal Reservoir above Black Canyon, and is an excellent trip for paddlers with intermediate or higher level whitewater skills. Growing popularity makes it necessary to register for an overnight campsite at Gunnison Forks Campground if you plan on sticking around after your run. A user fee is required, and will be collected at the trailhead to the put-in, and permits are required for commercial groups, though not for private groups. A nice feature of Gunnison Gorge is its close proximity to other great sections of the Gunnison River, as well as any of several other beautiful rivers in the general vicinity.

Technical Data
Class Rating II to IV
Length 13.4 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Chukar trail off Peach Valley Road
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Gunnison Forks Campground
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 5,375-5,100 feet msl
Gradient 21 fpm
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season June through August (dam releases)
Permits Commerical groups only

Scouting a boulder garden on the Gunnison River - photo courtesy Wilderness Aware Rafting
Scouting a boulder garden on the Gunnison River
photo courtesy Wilderness Aware Rafting

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 Forks 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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