Gunnison River (Gunnison Gorge)
|Stretch:||Chukar Trail to the North Fork of the Gunnison|
|Flows:||550 to ?0,000 cfs. Current American Whitewater gauge|
|Gradient:||21 fpm average|
|Take-out:||Access at the North Fork Gunnison confluence|
|Shuttle:||~45 miles (60-75 minutes one-way, high clearance required)|
|Season:||Summer and fall from dam release|
We decided to paddle this section as our paddle out of the Black Canyon rather than hiking out. This run is very popular for fisherman and the official camping throughout the upper half is quite nice. You can arrange camping in the sites through the Bureau of Land Management. If it weren’t for the place we just paddled out of, I would call the scenery in this canyon spectacular as well. It is just not nearly as spectacular as the Black Canyon… but that isn’t this gorge’s fault now is it?
The river is split into thirds in my mind. The first canyon is pretty mellow with a few small rapids. Then there is a wide open valley before you finally enter the second canyon which has more action and climaxes with the biggest rapid of the run. At the end there is a brief paddle out before you get to the confluence with the North Fork and take-out.
I thought the run was worth doing as a take-out option for the Black Canyon. Why not see another cool place? I don’t know if I would do it every time just because it is quite long. But then again, it is still better than hiking. For paddlers, I think class III skills would be sufficient and could be a great first overnighter as well. 600 cfs was for sure on the lower side of it. I think it would move more and the rapids would be more fun at the 800 flow. But beggars can’t be choosers.
- First Canyon Entrance (II to III). The first canyon had two stand out rapids in it. Both were straightforward and we ran down the middle/left of both.
- End of First Canyon
- Valley Entrance. You enter a super cool valley that was just class I. Something about coming out of the canyon above (and for us the Black Canyon above that) into this valley made it stand out as beautiful. At this point, I was also between the front and back group as we paddled out so I had the valley completely to myself. The far end of the valley marks the hallway point. I felt the bottom half went faster than the top half.
- Second Canyon Entrance (II to IV-). This canyon has more action, albeit it is only class II+ for the most part. But there are a few standout rapids.
Stand-out (IV-). This rapid is near the end of the canyon, it stands out as the hardest on the run in my mind. From above it didn’t look bad, but we worked left and there was a boxed in ledge with some punch. Would give a class II/III boater a freight for sure.
- End of Second Canyon
- Bluffs. Some super scenic bluffs greet you as you exit the second canyon. A littlw ways downstream you will see the take-out and hit the confluence.
Take-out: From the town of Hotchkiss at the junction of CO-133 and CO-92, travel west on CO-92 for 6.6 miles. Turn left onto Pleasure Park Rd and continue for 0.9 miles to the parking at Gunnison River Expeditions.
Put-in: So we actually didn’t use the Chakar trail put-in so this is what I have pieced together from other sources. From take-out, take CO-92 west for 14 miles to the town of Delta. When you get to US-50 head east (south at this point). Follow this for 12 miles to the town of Olathe. One mile south of the town of Olathe, turn off of Highway 50 onto Falcon Rd. That is all the info that I have for sure. It says follow the signs to Chakar Trail. Looking at the map… it looks like after 3.8 miles the road changes names Peach Valley. I would assume after 1.3 miles on that, you take a right on a road which looks to be a major dirt road. The info says you will need high clearance. It looks like you want to stay left at a few intersections. It looks to be maybe 10 miles out to the parking place. I imagine they are slow miles.
Shuttle Service: We used “Gunnison River Pleasure Park” to run our shuttle. It was somewhere near $120 if I recall correctly for the full shuttle for Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. We just drove to put-in for the Black Canyon and then car was at take-out for the Gunnison Gorge.
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