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Gunnison River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Whitewater to Grand Junction
~ 15 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The last leg of the Gunnison River is a reach of about 15 miles on a very shallow gradient of about 3 fpm. Approaching its confluence with the Colorado River, this section flows between Whitewater and Grand Junction as a flatwater stream with very occasional Class I to II- rapids. This reach is all high desert on the outskirts of the largest city for many miles in any direction, and it ain't all that large! This run can be made by just about anybody in just about anything that floats, including a little-seen device on Colorado streams called a tube, for those just too "relaxed" to lift and operate a difficult mechanical device like a paddle (though they are probably not too relaxed to pop the top on another beer.) It is said that all good things must end sooner or later, and this is the end of a spectacular river in a state known for its great rivers, creeks and streams.


Mesa County, between Delta to the southeast and Grand Junction to the northwest, where the river ends at its confluence with the Colorado River. Surrounding this reach of the river are the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, as well as the Uncompahgre Plateau on which Grand Junction sits.

Distance from major cities

Grand Junction 17 miles; Durango 187 miles; Denver 263 miles; Salt Lake City 302 miles; Albuquerque 400 miles; Phoenix 641 miles; Oklahoma City 888 miles; Dallas 1,047 miles; Austin 1,102 miles; San Antonio 1,010 miles; Houston 1,284 miles; Little Rock 1,204 miles; Kansas City 869 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, but not drinkable without purification, especially when a beer-drinking toober crowd is on the river (remember the book, The Little Yellow River by I.P. Freely?) Flow is dependent upon dam released water from Crystal Reservoir many miles upstream, where releases are based upon conservation levels at the lake. Years with below average snowmelt and spring rainfall will likely have a lower flow and lower water quality. When there is adequate water the flow will be slow, at best, except after a significant local rainstorm.

Best times to go

Navigable flows are usually best in late spring to mid-summer, but may be extended or shortened according to the status of the water table at and above Crystal Reservoir. A light winter snowpack portends a shorter season, and a heavy snowpack, with or without heavy late spring or early summer rains, signals a slightly longer season. Typically, May through late June is the optimum season, though the river may be navigable at other times.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards (other than drunk tubers) on this section of the Gunnison River. Rapids in this section are Class I to II-, with little in the way of dangerous waves, holes, cross currents or other conditions that can result in accidents. However, even a small rock in a slow-moving current is capable of pinning and wrapping a canoe or kayak, so don't get TOO relaxed on this, or any other, river.

River access points

SH 141 bridge just south of US Highway 50 near Whitewater at 0.0 miles; SH 340 in Grand Junction near US Highway 50 at about 15.0 miles. There may be other access points in and around the Grand Junction area.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Saddle Horn Campground off SH 340 in Grand Junction offers camping with drinking water, restrooms and other amenities. There are no other campgrounds located along this reach of the Gunnison River. Motel accommodations are available in Grand Junction. Several campgrounds are available within 50 miles of Grand Junction for those wanting a more remote campsite.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

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

Reviewer's comments

The approach to Grand Junction signals the end of the Gunnison River. The last few miles, from Whitewater down to the Colorado River are primarily flatwater, regardless of the name of the town where this run starts. There are some small rapids, but this is basically an easy trip that nearly any able-bodied person can enjoy in canoes, kayaks, rafts, tubes, bath tubs or anything else that floats, providing there is sufficient flow. The high desert temperatures are warmer and sunnier than on reaches above the Gunnison Forks area, where the big canyons loom larger than life. This is a run through the flatlands atop the Uncompahgre Plateau of far western Colorado near the Utah border. Convenience is the name of the game for this run. Grand Junction has restaurants, motels, gasoline, a paddle shop or two and about anything else you need for enjoying a day or more on one of Colorado's premiere waterways. Major highways connect Grand Junction to just about anywhere you want to go. This section of the river is very popular in late spring and summer months when it has enough water to boat, so expect to be on the river with others who are also out to have fun on a lazy river.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II-
Length 15 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 141 bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 340 in Grand Junction
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 4,974-4,929 feet msl
Gradient 3 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Delta
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through July
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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