- The Gunnison is a long and varied river, from the Lake Fork section to the Black Canyon to the Lower Gunnison. Although the Gunnison is famous for the Black Canyon, the Lake Fork is off the beaten path with opportunities to enjoy both gentle and more difficult rapids and the Lower Gunnison River is a quiet meandering stream perfect for canoeing expeditions.
Recreation - Although the entire Gunnison River can provide good fishing, the Black Canyon has the really noteworthy fishing. This 53 mile section of the Gunnison is famous for its leaping rainbows, stonefly hatches and very difficult access. Below Blue Mesa Reservoir, where the "Black Canyon" begins, there are two dams that help create some great tailwater-type fishing. However, the access by foot can be difficult as the drop on the trail is almost 3,000 feet in some places. If you are going to hike in you need to be sure that you contact authorities, are in good physical condition and plan ahead. Better yet, contact one of the local outfitters that float the lower section of the canyon. They are very familiar with the area and the descent is much easier in the lower section. One should not consider floating this section without full knowledge of the river and its obstacles.
The best time for fishing is June during the Stonefly hatch. But it can be hard to hit it just right. The water during June can also be high and discolored. Check at a local fishing shop for the flow rates, the best are below 1,500 c.f.s. Nymph fishing is good all year. The breathtaking views and superb fishing combine to make this one of the finest destinations in the state.
The Lake Fork and Black Canyon sections of the Gunnison River provide some very entertaining and varied whitewater action. The Lake Fork is off the beaten path with opportunities to enjoy both gentle and more difficult rapids. The upper five mile stretch of the river is mainly class II water, which begins at the Gate campground. The river winds through varying landscapes from rocky pine studded hillsides to wide open meadows. Much of this segment flows through adjacent private land, take care not to trespass. Camping is available in three developed campgrounds along the way, or continue on to the lower, more difficult five miles. From Red Bridge Campground to Blue Mesa Reservoir is recommended for experienced boaters; the river is more technical and potentially hazardous.
One of the remote river experiences in Colorado is floating through the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness Study Area. Access to the river can only be gained on foot or on horseback via one of four trails one to five miles long and over very steep terrain. The scenic gorge and its abundant wildlife are major attractions, as are the many challenging rapids from Classes II-IV. The trip is 14 miles and can be made in a one or two day trip. A limited number of campsites are available along the river.
The Lower Gunnison River is a quiet meandering stream that is very popular with canoeists. Open canyon scenery, scattered with piñon-juniper and cottonwood canopies, give the river traveler much to appreciate. Most scenic is Dominquez Canyon. Its shallow and gentle sloping configuration makes for gentler Class I-II rapids. Small ranches and apple orchards along the shoreline for a pastoral landscape for those seeking serenity and a place to get away from it all.
Climate - The Gunnison River is situated in high mountain altitudes. Persons coming from lower elevations should be aware that time is needed to adjust to the higher elevations.
Warm days and cool to freezing nights can be expected in the mountains during the summer. July and August are usually the warmest months. During this time afternoon thunderstorms are common. Be prepared for both warm and chilly weather, as well as for rain showers.
Being at high elevation and fueled mainly by melting snow, the Gunnison is a rather cold river. During the spring runoff the river is full of freshly melted snow, and the temperature of the water is especially cold.
Please make sure that you dress appropriately when participating in whitewater sports. Wear shoes that can protect feet if you bounce off rocks or walk out of a canyon in the event of an accident. Wet suits are mandatory when air and water temperature added together total 100 degrees or less. If total is less than 80 degrees, a full set of waterproof or wool garments on top of the wet suit should be worn.
The Gunnison River basically follows Interstate 50 from Gunnison to Grand Junction, except for the Black Canyon Section which separates from the highway. To reach the Black Canyon, head east from Montrose on Highway 50 about ten miles. The Monument entrance is on County Road 347. You can also travel west on Highway 50 from Gunnison passed Blue Mesa Reservoir. There are enjoyable trails on either side of the canyon and from Peach Valley Road, south of the town of Austin. Use local maps and information from an area fly shop to find other access.