Gunnison Gorge Wilderness
Gunnison Gorge Wilderness
The Gunnison Gorge Wilderness is about 17,784 acres along the Gunnison River inside the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, about 9 miles northeast of Montrose (but a couple hours drive over some great dirt roads). The Wilderness begins at the northwestern boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and runs north through the double canyon (a unique system of black granite cut with layers of red sandstone) of the Gunnison River to about 1 mile upstream from the confluence of the mainstem of the Gunnison and the Smith Fork (the Smith Fork flows westward from Crawford and along the northern base of the Fruitland Mesa before flowing into the Gunnison). Gunnison Gorge is known for its Gold Medal trout fishing and for its whitewater rush.
Outfitters on the river need a Colorado river outfitter license and a BLM commercial permit (preferably on their person). There are day-use and overnight fees for accessing the wilderness. Folks going into the wilderness must register at either the Gunnison Forks, Duncan, Bobcat or Ute trailheads or at the Chukar river put-in. Maximum group size is 12, maximum stay is 2 nights, no campfires are allowed and bring a portable, reusable camp toilet. Pack it in, Pack it out. Bag limit on brown trout is 4 but all rainbows you catch must be released immediately. Fishing is with artificial flies and lures only.
Rafters, kayakers and whitewater canoeists find the Gunnison Gorge to be a world-class remote, technical experience. Most of the water is rated Class II to Class IV. If you run into a problem, you're in serious trouble. In the Gorge, rescue is very difficult. From the Chukar put-in to the take-out at Gunnison Forks (the confluence of North Fork of the Gunnison River and the Gunnison River mainstem) is about 15 miles of often rocky adrenaline rush. When water flows are below 800 cfs or above 5,000 cfs, the river is very dangerous.
Hikers and campers in the wilderness may come across some of many pre-historic and historic cultural sites located in the Gorge. Cultural surveys and site stabilization projects are on-going with the aim of providing visitors with enhanced interpretation facilities and an increased awareness of the value of and the need to protect these features.
Wildlife in the area includes elk, mountain lion, mule deer, ringtail cats, coyote, small mammals, raptors, neo-tropical birds, river otter and chukar. There are a number of sensitive (threatened or endangered) species in the area, including a 200-300 bird population of Gunnison sage-grouse managed under a special Partnership Conservation Plan. The Gunnison River itself is a designated Gold Medal Trout Fishery offering brown, cutthroat and rainbow trout.
As this is designated wilderness, no motorized or mechanized equipment (mountain bikes included) is allowed below the canyon rim of Gunnison Gorge or upstream of the confluence with the Smith Fork.
Passing by Nixon Rock (that proboscis on the right)
The heart of Gunnison Gorge Wilderness
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