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