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Gunnison River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Gunnison Forks to Confluence Park (Delta)
~ 18.4 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

A little-traveled reach of the Gunnison River is the 18.4 miles between Pleasure Park Road on the North Fork (at the confluence) through Austin to Confluence (Uncompaghre River) Park in Delta, an easy Class I to II run on a basically flatwater stream with a moderately shallow gradient of about 10 fpm. The run starts at an elevation of about 5,121 feet msl, then drops 185 feet over its course. This section includes the last vestiages of Gunny Gorge for its first two thirds before opening into rural topography down to the US Highway 50 Bridge, shortly below which is the primitive access at Confluence Park. Unlike the river above Gunnison Gorge (in Black Canyon) and the tributary steep creeks where hairboaters go to play, this reach of the Gunnison offers instead a more leisurely run that is well suited for just about anybody in a raft, canoe or kayak. Drift boat fishing is very popular along this reach of the river where large rainbow trout are often found.

The run is close to Grand Junction and Montrose and very near several great Colorado River runs including Ruby and Horsethief Canyons, Westwater and Cisco to Moab, as well as the nearby San Miguel and Uncompaghre Rivers. This reach can be a day trip or an overnighter, depending upon your preference. At least one developed campground and several good primitive campsites can be found in the first 10 miles, but below that point most of the land on both sides is privately owned and care should be exercised to avoid trespassing.

Colorado SH 92 closely parallels the river above Delta, and US Highway 50 crosses the river in Delta just above the take-out for this reach. This high desert run cuts through an area of red rocks and near wilderness as the river begins its descent through Escalante and Domingues Canyons to its confluence with the Colorado River at Grand Junction about 50 river 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 Delta is an excellent trip. It is also a good place to tone paddling muscles that have been dormant over the winter months. Bring your camera!

Location

Southcentral Delta County, beginning where the North Fork meets the mainstream of the Gunnison River east of Delta, about 60 miles southeast of Grand Junction.

Distance from major cities

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 and Flow Rates

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. The river will tend to be silty shortly after a significant rainfall or snowmelt event.

Best times to go

April through June, and possibly July are customarily the optimal months, depending upon conditions at Crystal Reservoir and the other lakes upstream, but much later seasonal paddling is possible into October or later.

Hazards to navigation

This reach of the Gunnison River is usually hazard-free for competent paddlers. Three diversion dams are located along this reach at about 1.4, 4.1 and 14.6 miles below BLM Pleasure Park upper launch, but all are read-and-run structures that pose little threat to boaters at most navigable levels. Occasional boulder garden or small ledge drop rapids in the Class I to II range will provide a small challenge and some excitement, but most are not particularly technical and can be run by novice paddlers in rafts, canoes or kayaks with little or no difficulty. The shallow gradient and slower current make this run generally safe for most boaters most of the time. The last diversion dam is built like a whitewater feature, so pay attention to the current as it pushed through the diversions.

River access points

Gunnison River BLM Pleasure Park (N 38 47' 00.50" / W 107 50' 03.30") about 1 mile south of SH 92 between Austin and Hotchkiss on the North Fork just above the confluence at 0.0 miles; Cottonwood Grove Campground (N 38 46' 45.02" / W 107 51' 13.17") on river left at about 1.60 miles; Orchard Boat Ramp (N 38 46' 05.51" / W 107 54' 11.51") on river left off H75 Road at about 5.50 miles; Highway 92 Primitive access (N 38 46' 36.95" / W 107 57' 42.04") on river right between the bridges at about 9.70 miles; Highway 65 Primitive Access (N 38 46' 20.70" / W 108 00' 10.45") on river left just after the bridge at about 12.20 miles; Confluence Park (N 38 45' 13.50" / W 108 04' 45.50") just below US Highway 50 at Delta on river left at about 18.4 miles.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Gunnison River Pleasure Park (N 38 47' 00.50" / W 107 50' 03.30"), at the Gunnison Forks access, is a privately owned commercial campground and river access offering tent camping facilities. BLM Cottonwood Grove Campground (N 38 46' 45.02" / W 107 51' 13.17") on river left at about 1.60 miles is a free campground with boater access and is also accessible overland by high clearance vehicles. Situated among mature cottonwood trees along the Gunnison River, this campground has six campsites, including one ADA accessible site with an adjacent accessible fishing pier. Site amenities include a boat ramp (non-motorized watercraft only), shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings and a vault toilet. Camping is free with a 7 day / 6 night maximum stay length. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, please contact the Montrose Public Lands Center at 970-240-5300. There are no other campgrounds located along this reach of the Gunnison River, though there are several primitive campsites in the first ten miles on the river left bank. After about ten miles land on both sides is privately owned and finding a legal campsite in the lowet half of this run may be extremely difficult.

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.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There may be one or more commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information on this reach of the Gunnison River.

Reviewer's comments

The Gunnison Forks to Delta reach of about 18.4 miles is an interesting and not-too-challenging run on moderately moving flatwater with a few Class I to II rapids that most boaters can enjoy without risking life and limb. This late-spring through late-fall 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 with gorgeous, small canyon walls tailing out from Gunnison Gorge above along the first 11-12 miles of this reach, and the river mellows as it heads toward its rendezvous with the Colorado River at Grand Junction about 72 miles below the Gunnison Forks access. Just below the Highway 50 Bridge in Delta is Confluence Park on river left where this run ends unless you want to continue downriver another 44 miles to Whitewater or on down to Grand Junction. 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.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 18.4 miles
Minimum Flow 500 cfs
Optimum Flow 800 - 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 3,000 cfs
First Put-in BLM Pleasure Park
Lat. / Long. N 38 47' 00.50" / W 107 50' 03.30"
Last Take-out Confluence Park - Delta
Lat. / Long. N 38 45' 13.50" / W 108 04' 45.50"
Elevation 5,121 - 4,936 feet msl (-185')
Gradient ~ 10 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Delta
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through October
Permits No


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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 ]
[ Pleasure Park to Delta ] [ Delta to Escalante ] [ Escalante to Whitewater ] [ Whitewater to Colorado River ]

Tributaries

[ 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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