navigation bar

Gunnison River, Colorado
Report by Marc W. McCord

Whitewater to Grand Junction
~ 16.2 Miles

navigation bar River descriptions categorized by state First Aid and general safety information Southwest Paddler on-line store Southwest Paddler Yellow Pages listings Environmental issues and concerns Photos of rivers and surrounding areas Trip reports with photos How to advertise on Southwest Paddler Advertiser Index Internet links to related information and services Southwest Paddler visitor comments General disclaimer Product Reviews Federal and state navigation laws Credits for contributors Web Campfire

SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The last leg of the Gunnison River is a reach of about 16.2 miles on a moderately shallow gradient of about 5.9 fpm. Approaching its confluence with the Colorado River this section flows between the community of Whitewater and Grand Junction, the seat of Mesa County, as a flatwater stream with very occasional Class I to II- rapids and one significant obstruction - Redlands Dam (mandatory portage river right) at about 12.5 miles. A road, parking area and boat ramp for non-motorized craft sits below Redlands Dam on river right about a quarter mile from the take-out above the dam, but you do have to carry boats and gear to get around the dam if continuing to the Colorado River confluence about 3.5 more miles downriver or taking out at the parking lot adjacent to the dam. This reach is all high desert on the outskirts of the largest city for many miles in any direction.

The run starts in flat, open agricultural lands around the tiny community of Whitewater before entering into a canyon about 3.5 miles downriver. 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. There are numerous places to take out on the Colorado River, but the one where this description ends is at SH 340 / W. Main Street Access before the bridge on river right in Grand Junction. For those wanting more river time the river is navigable to Loma Access where the Ruby/Horsethief Canyons trip begins and then on down to Westwater Access below which point ypu need a BLM permit. It should be noted that the river MAY be too low to navigate below Redlands Dam in late-summer due to diversions to the irrigation canal that parallels the river. A rail line also parallels the river leading to Grand Junction.

For several years there was vandalism of the access and vehicles at Redlands Dam boat ramp. Periodically, the sign warning of the dam ahead at the upper portage point has been torn down and removed. It is a good idea to use GPS, as well as being observant approaching Redlands Dam, to avoid missing the take-out for the portage around the dam. Efforts have been made to rectify the situation, but it might be a good idea to talk with the Mesa County Sheriff (970-242-6707) to determine if the concern still exists.


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. The nearest and most relevant river gauge is the one at Delta. Ideally, you would have a range between 800 - 20,000 cfs at Delta, and you will lose about 675 cfs at the Redlands Dam diversion canal.

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 is only one significant hazard (other than drunk tubers) on this section of the Gunnison River. Redlands Dam, at about mile 12.5 to the upper portage point (N 39° 01' 36.19" / W 108° 33' 45.28") on river right, is not runnable due to a strong hydraulic current below the dam. Portage about one quarter mile to the ramp at the parking lot to continue downstream of the dam. 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

Whitewater Access (N 38° 58' 16.64" / W 108° 27' 16.54") off US 50 (look for highway signage) on river right at 0.0 miles; Redlands Dam portage access (N 39° 01' 36.19" / W 108° 33' 45.28") on river right at about 12.5 miles; Redlands Dam Boat Ramp (N 39° 01" 47.20"/ W 108° 33' 45.08") on river right below Redlands Dam at about 12.7 miles; SH 340 / W. Main Street (N 39° 04' 02.38" / W 108° 34' 50.45") in Grand Junction near US Highway 50 at about 16.2 miles. There may be other access points in and around the Grand Junction area, particularly along the Colorado Rover below the confluence.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Saddle Horn Campground (N 39° 06' 07.04" / W 108° 44' 03.65") on Rimrock Road off SH 340 south of 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. Redlands Dam, at about 12.6 miles (to the dam itself - 12.5 miles to the portage point) represents the only major obstruction on this reach. The dam offers a road connecting to US Highway 50 and a parking lot where vehicles can be left. 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, though most of the run is in a canyon with walls 200-300+ feet high. 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 16.2 miles
Minimum Flow 800 cfs
Optimum Flow 1,000 - 16,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 20,000cfs
First Put-in Whitewater Access
Lat. / Long. N 38° 58' 16.64" / W 108° 27' 16.54"
Last Take-out SH 340 in Grand Junction
Lat. / Long. N 39° 04' 02.38" / W 108° 34' 50.45"
Elevation 4,652 - 4557 feet msl
Gradient ~ 5.9 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 ]

Southwest Paddler
Click to return to the Southwest Paddler Homepage
Home Page
Southwest Paddler

Colorado Rivers Index
Canoeman River

Guide Services
Return to the homepage
Home Page

CobraGraphics - Web Designs with a Bite!

Send E-mail This web page designed, created and maintained by
Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics
© March 1, 2003. All rights reserved.
Last updated August 9, 2023

Copyright © 1998-2023, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.