Gunnison River - Colorado

Date: June 14, 2020; Length: 9 miles; Duration: 2 hours 45 min

Put In: S River Rd

Parking lot at the end of a winding dirt road just upriver of where the North Fork comes in. Not a designated access spot, but accessible from a rock bank a short walk from the parking lot.

Takeout: 2200 Rd Bridge (Austin)

Side of the road parking just south of the bridge. Not a designated takeout spot, but manageable. On river left just before the 2200 Rd bridge with a climb up some boulders back to the road.

Paddling Experience = 4/5

This 9-mile stretch of river was a happy medium of fun riffles and calm waters. The riffles or easy class I rapids intermittently occurred. The calm areas had decent current to them but the strong wind heading straight up river counteracted it most of the time, making it feel like a very long lake paddle.

Natural Scenery = 4/5

This part of the Gunnison River had red rock formations surrounding it, making it feel like a little canyon and more intimate of surroundings.

Accessibility = 3/5

On the south side of the river, a dirt road branched off into three points where it met the river on this 9-mile section. The farthest upriver part of it had a few camprgrounds. The north side of the river had a couple good options for access as well.

Gradient & Water Level

Gradient: Unknown. Decent current with riffles and class I rapids.
Experience Paddling at this Water Level: 
Paddling at this water level was good. The river had a solid current and intermittent riffles and class I rapids at this level. There were also some sections of shallow rock beds to avoid, so a little higher water level could be even better.

Gauge Information

Here is information on stream gauge readings around the date of this paddle (Note: Delta gauge, located 7 miles downriver of the takeout of this section):

  • USGS Number = 09144250
  • Discharge Rate = 870 CFS
  • Gauge Height = 1.95 ft

Overall Experience

Having travelled to Colorado, I wanted to find a more low key river, without all the intense whitewater rapids, as I had just experienced that two days earlier on the Blue River. Looking around, I found this section of the Gunnison River that seemed a perfect choice. There were two 14 mile sections with the main difference being access points and the transportation route needed. I initially chose the 14 mile section upriver, that went from Pleasure Park to Delta, but the long hike of about 15 miles at high elevation in the June heat didn’t seem the most manageable. So I decided to cut that section in half and just do the end of roads W & S (across the river from Pleasure Park) to Austin, instead of Delta.
With my takeout being at the 2200 road bridge in Austin, I parked along a road just down from it. From here it was the rare longer hike than paddle of 8.5 miles hiking along dirt roads that started to wind and rise and drop in elevation. So the hike became a legitimate hike and not just a walk along a flat paved road. Along the way I passed a couple bikers, a good amount of campers and a few designated campgrounds later on, with a couple possible carry in or landing access points in there. When I got to the end of the W & S roads, it came to a big parking lot with a restroom and map, across the river from Pleasure Park. Put in from here took a little walking to the river’s edge off a small island of rocks right before the Gunnison forks meet.
With my packraft inflated and backpack strapped down, I got on the river. After about a minute, there was a big left turn where the forks meet and that’s when the wind first hit me. It was a strong wind that was consistently coming directly upriver. This immediately changed the river trip experience, as without the wind it would have just been a nice and easy float on a cool river with a good current and intermittent riffles and a few class I rapids. And I think that’s what others expected as well, as there were a few different groups of people floating with tubes. A little later I came across a couple pairs of fellow paddlers, in kayaks and then some boats being rowed and fished out of. All the while, the river was surrounded by lots of red rock formations a little farther off the river, yet I don’t remember spotting much of any wildlife. Red rock formations eventually turned to more open areas and a few houses as the takeout was nearing in Austin.
Eventually after a grind of a paddling experience most of the way, I came to the 2200 road bridge and my takeout on river left. The bridge was pretty high up, making for a steep climb up from the river’s edge to the road, but I made it work after taking out and deflating my packraft at some rocks. Overall, this section of the Gunnison, as I’m sure the next 21 miles is as well, has a lot of potential for a great river trip. It has the mix of calm stretches and riffles to easy rapids with a solid current and out on a nice clean river with beautiful surroundings and the potential for solitude.