Gunnison Gorge with the West Elks in the Distance
Gunnison Gorge is located at the northern end of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and extend just past the confluence of the Gunnison and North Fork of the Gunnison Rivers at the Gunnison River Pleasure Park which is roughly 7 miles West of Hotchkiss on Highway 92. The Gunnison Gorge NCA encompasses approximately 62,844 acres of which 17,784 are desingated wilderness.
The interior of the gorge area is popular for it's gold medal fishing, rafting, and hiking while the exterior of the gorge has a network of ATV, 4WD, and single track trails for mountain biking. Gunnison Gorge itself is a unique double canyon system with the lower portion being composed of steep black granite walls while the upper layer is composed of red sandstones and high desert terrain. Several smaller canyons and drainages intersect within the gorge. The majority of the interior of the canyon is designated wilderness while the exterior flanks of the gorge is adobe badlands popular with ATV users. The most common access is from about 10 miles east of the tiny town of Olathe from an area known as Peach Valley. Views from the rim of the gorge are very distinctive with vistas that range from the Raggeds and West Elks to the San Juans while overlooking this unique double layer gorge.
The best information on the Gorge is on signs posted near the trail heads. No where online have I found information on mountain biking trails but they exist near the Chukar trail. The BLM website is a good starting point.
Why should you visit the Gunnison Gorge NCA?
Some of the views from the Western Rim are outstanding, and somewhat like the "Island in the Sky Section" of Canyonlands National Park. Solitude is easy to find within the Gorge. When mountain weather is often poor, the Gorge offers a good alternative with much less visitation than Black Canyon National Park.
Panorama of the Gorge and West Elks
Water is often non existent on the Rim and scarce until reaching the river. In the Summer months, temperatures can be in the 90's and possibly approach 100 near the river.
Elevation ranges from near 8000 feet at some parts of the rim to about 5200 at the Gunnison river.
The Gorge can be accessed from several access points, the following are the primary access points.
- Peach Valley road can be accessed from Falcon Rd east of the tiny town of Olathe off Highway 50 between Montrose and Delta or from 2200 road near the town of Austin of Highway 92 east of Delta. Peach Valley provides access to most of the gorge area. Several access roads leave Peach Valley rd and provide direct access to the hiking trails. Several ATV trails exist in the adobe badlands near Peach Valley and along the western rim of the gorge. Single track mountain bike trails exist in the adobe badlands closer to the Falcon rd entrance. The access roads of Peach Valley will require high clearance and possibly 4WD depending on the season.
Lamborn and Landsend as seen from the Western Rim of Gunnison Gorge through Smith Fork Canyon
Gunnison Pleasure Park
- Is located about 7 miles west of the tiny town of hotchkiss. This area is primarily used for fishing. One hiking trail can be accessed by wading the North Fork of the Gunnison (which should only be done during low flows). A store, guide service, food and bar are located in this area. Commercial camping is also available. This area is primarily used for fishing. This area can also be accessed through a confusing network of dirt roads south of Austin Colorado. This avoids private property limitations associated with the commercial Pleasure Park.
Fruitlands Mesa BLM
- Fruitlands Mesa outside Crawford Colorado provides access to a segment of BLM land that eventually leads to the east side of the gorge. This access is off road B50 approximately 12 miles from Crawford.
Smith Mountain Jeep Trail
- This is accessed from H75 road outside Austin Colorado. From Austin, head south past the Gunnison river to H75 road, turn east, the road winds through the dobies for about 3 miles. A sign will be on the south side of the road. This road, gives access to a lot of ATV or mountain biking trails and can be followed all the way to the Ute trail area. Several rim ATV trails offer excellent vantage points. There is evidence of some camp spots along the rim. There are no official trails that enter the interior of the gorge until Ute trail.
Camping spots are limited by activity as well as a time limit (two days).
There are access fees for the wilderness section and a camping fee for certain parts of the gorge.
Fishing is all Gold Medal however the limit for Browns is more than normal Gold Medal as they try to establish more Rainbows.
No wood fires
Portable Toilets required
External LinksBLM web site for the Gunnison Gorge NCA
Hiker trails in The Gunnison Gorge BLM link
Weather Forecast 8 Miles east of Olathe
Several camping sites sites exist within the inner canyon and near the river. These have a two day limit and are designated for rafting or hikers. These are fee based.
Several make shift sites along the rim that people have used. No water is available along the rim.
This is not a conclusive list. Several loops are available as well as ridge walks and hikes to overlooking view points that are not on a trail.
Gunnison Gorge from Redlands Mesa
- This is the first access point from the Austin side of Peach Valley. The trail is accessed via a rough 2.5 mile dirt road that requires high clearance and often a 4WD. This is the longest official trail within the gorge, and in my opinion accesses the best vistas via some short hikes along the rim. The trail to the river is 4.5 miles one way with about a 1200 ft elevation loss. This trail accesses 4 hiker camps. The trail itself is mostly near flat with a couple areas of switchbacks. There are spectacular overlooks on the to both north and south of the main Ute trailhead.
- This trail is accessed a 4WD road approximately 2 miles south of the Ute trail road of Peach Valley rd. The access is road is 2.5 miles and This trail is 1.5 miles to the river with an elevation loss of 840 ft. Good viewpoints are accessed from along the rim which allows for ATV and mountain biking. The first mile of this trail is moderate but the last half mile is more of a scramble. I measured a RT of almost 4 miles and 1000 ft of elevation gain / loss with my GPS.
- This is the most popular place in the gorge and is closest to the Black Canyon. Access is via Falcon Rd and Peach Valley and then a 7 mile dirt road that requires high clearance and probably 4WD. This is the normal boat put. The trail is a short 1.1 miles with 560 ft of elevation loss to the river.
Other trails exist that are documented on the BLM web site such as Bobcat
and North Fork to Smith Fork
but I have not accessed these. Other trails exist that are not documented on the BLM website and are best found by looking at local maps at trail heads and the entrance point near the intersection of Falcon Rd and Peach Valley. Some of these make for nice loops along the outer ridge of the gorge.