The Gunnison River through the Gunnison Gorge offers a technical and remote whitewater experience for rafters, kayakers, and canoeists. Your trip can vary widely, depending on time of year and flow from dam releases and winter snowpack.
Expect high releases of 2,000 to 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in late May and early June. Summer flows can range from 300 cfs in low water years to 2,000+ cfs during big water years.
At flows below 800 cfs, the Gorge is highly technical and is not recommended for rafts over 12 feet in length.
Flows over 5,000 cfs make the Gorge extremely dangerous for boating. Currents become swift and swirly, eddies disappear, and swims are very long.
Rescue is very difficult in the Gorge. If in doubt, SCOUT!
The River Map provides locations and class of rapids. Each raft must carry an extra oar or paddle, first aid kit, repair kit, and extra PFD.
Flow in Cubic Feet per Second (cfs)
300 - 600
Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and rafts 12 feet or smaller
River is less "pushy" but rapids become more technical, with exposed rocks and narrow passages.
Gate Keeper Rapid should be run through left passage
600 - 1,000
Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and rafts 14 feet or smaller
Best flow for less experienced and intermediate rafters
Challenging for intermediate kayakers
1,000 - 3,000
Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and rafts 16 feet or smaller
Solid class III with some IV possible
As flows approach 3,000 cfs, the river becomes "pushy." Many rapids will wash out, while others will form.
3,000 and (Rarely) Over
Canoes, kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and rafts 16 feet
RECOMMENDED FOR EXPERT BOATERS ONLY
CLASS III AND IV
Two of the most technically challenging rapids in the Gorge: The Squeeze (above) and Cable (below).
MAJOR RAPIDS IN THE GORGE
The following is intended to offer a glimpse into running the Gorge during average flows, and does not substitute for individual whitewater training, skill, and experience. RECOGNIZE YOUR BOATING ABILITIES AND LIMITATIONS, AND KNOW THE CURRENT WATER CONDITIONS!
|Located just downstream of the Chukar put-in; most choose to run center at higher water and the right slot at lower flows; watch out for the pyramid rock center right thirty yards downstream.|
|Run left of the large center hole or rock, depending on flows.|
|Mile 1.5; recognized by a small vertical cliff on river right and a prominent rock slide on river left; scout on river left.|
|Upper and Lower Pucker |
|Miles 2.5 and 3.0; both consist of narrow slots at lower flows; at flows over 6,500 cfs, Upper Pucker has very large standing waves and a giant hole on river left.|
|Mile 4.0; offers a wild wave ride; run straight down the tongue and watch out for the cliff on the left.|
Just below Buttermilk Rapid, you swing the corner and enter Ute Park. Ute Park widens out as the Gunnison River hits the Indian Fault Zone. On river right, you will notice red Entrada Sandstone and on the left, black Precambrian granite. The river gradient drops and the canyon broadens. As you leave Ute park, you dive back into the Black Canyon and the steepest section of the Gunnison Gorge (with the gradient increasing to 35 feet per mile).
|Red Canyon |
|Mile 6.0; Crystal Creek enters from the right; very rocky, requiring technical boating skills to navigate; scout on river right.|
|Boulder Garden |
|Beyond Mile 7; look for Baby T-Rex Rock upstream on the right; scout on river left at Boulder Garden boater camp; two routes are most commonly run: (1) at flows above 1,000 cfs, most navigate the narrow slot on river right, while (2) at flows below 1,000 cfs, a slightly more technical route is required, running left and ferrying back to river right at the bottom slot; much more technically challenging (Class III-IV) before a 2010 flood changed it.|
|Just below Boulder Garden; scout river right; very technical and most successfully run on river left, then ferrying back river right; cliff on river left.|
|Mile 7.5; last camp until Smith Fork.|
|Beginning at Mile 9, you encounter the steepest, most difficult section of the Gorge.|
|Throws you into a cliff on river left.|
|Immediately below S-Turn; deceptive, rocky rapid that has wrapped rafts and pinned kayaks; scout on river right; most common run is through the narrow slots at river right.|
|Series of three rapids containing many large holes and narrow slots; scout all from river right.|
|Mile 9.5; extremely technical; scout river right; many large holes enter into two narrow slots; most run the right slot, avoiding the cliff wall on river left.|
|Jumpin' Jack Splash|
|Run left of the large boulder, finishing river right while avoiding the large hole on river left; watch out for the lateral wave.|
|Requires navigating a narrow slot either center at higher flows or left against the cliff at flows below 600 cfs.|
|Scout river right; commonly run by starting river right and avoiding the rocks on river left.|
|Four miles of Class II water remain until the Gunnison Forks take-out at the confluence with the North Fork of the Gunnison River.|
Click on the address above for a map showing the location of the Gunnison Gorge NCA administrative headquarters.