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Backpacker Magazine – September 2005

Paddling's Greatest Getaways

16 wild ways to find backcountry solitude and big-time scenery. All this, and you can bring the ice chest, too.

by: Larry Rice


{Colorado}

Top Fish-and-Float
Pack a fly rod for the wild Gunnison River Gorge.

Ever been bounced from a restaurant for being underdressed? This river's difficult put-in unceremoniously rejects underprepared paddlers. But come ready for the notorious Chukar Trail, a mile-long path that descends 550 switchbacking feet from trailhead to launch, and you're in for the best wilderness float-and-fish trip in Colorado. The fat rainbows and browns have inspired anglers to dub this section the Gold Medal Gunny. You start just downstream from Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, where the cold, clear river slices through a deep rift of dark granite and basalt and blood-red sandstone. Sealed in by high walls, you paddle 14 miles of alternating whitewater and quiet pools through Gunnison Gorge, where it's just you, the fish, and perhaps a bald eagle or three. It's possible to make the trip in one long day, but it's a better vacation to spend one or two nights in the canyon. No permit is required, and designated campsites (first-come first-serve, register at the trailhead) ensure solitude. Stay at Boulder Garden, midway through, and the sound of the next morning's rapids will lull you to sleep-or keep you awake.

Get there The Chukar Trail is located at the end of a 7-mile high-clearance 4WD road. From Olathe, drive south 2 miles on US 50, then east 11 miles on Falcon Rd. and follow signs. Hire pack horses to carry gear down the Chukar (970-323-0115). The take-out is at Forks of the Gunnison, 14 miles east of Delta on CO 92. Gunnison River Pleasure Park (970-872-2525) provides shuttles.

Season May through September. Avoid June, when the salmon stonefly hatch attracts high numbers of anglers.

Difficulty Advanced. The Class II-IV rapids are best at 800-2,000 cfs (much below and it's very rocky; much above and the hydraulics become expert level).

Contact Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area, (970) 240-5400; www.co.blm.gov/ggnca




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READERS COMMENTS

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Pennyyork
Feb 02, 2013

was wondering if anyone knew my father kenneth York he guided the Allagash for years.I would be interested thank you

Markus Harrild
Apr 02, 2012

Although you've listed some great waterways, and have limited space for your article, you know, your readers are going to chide you about not listing their favorites. So, to add to that list of incredulousness, when was the last time you paddled down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, in Central Idaho. For raw jaw-dropping beauty, aqueous power, a wicked challenge, and a great trip, you've got to list this gnarled ribbon of water that slices through the River of No Return Wilderness. I could understand leaving other waterways off your list, but not this beauty!

Anonymous
Mar 30, 2012

Wow, I can't believe the (insert favorite) river wasn't included. This is the best! Some of the most beautiful scenery is found on the (insert favorite) river....

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Peter Swiderski
Mar 29, 2012

Wait a minute. Just wait a minute. You left out the Green River in Utah? Whether its Desolation Valley or Labyrnth Canyon or Stillwater, we are talking the most spectacular rafting and canoeing in the country, bar none, nothing even close. Please. Just my humble opinion, but seriously. Green River, for like 200 miles. THAT'S amazing.

Richard M McFadden
Mar 29, 2012

WOW! Do not depend on Larry Rice on this one. First off. The Glory Hole pictured is not even in the Buffalo watershed. Second, the LOWER section will be low in the Fall. The upper half of the river will be virtually dry. The Buffalo is rain dependent, not spring fed. Summer is hot and humid with low algae filled water. The Buffalo is my river. It is by far my favorite river and I spend a lot of time there. Obviously Larry Rice does not. I will be joining Kenneth L Smith tomorrow for a week of trailbuilding on the Buffalo. Ken will be trailbuilding in the fall. If you love trails it is a chance to be in a wonderful place extending the Buffalo River Trail.
rmmcfadden@yahoo.com.

DblKnt
Mar 29, 2012

The Allagash is indeed beautiful in Sept / Oct
but the river sections are very shallow and rocky.
You will likely be limited to the lakes.

Summer months usually have the best river flow.
Bring 100% DEET and a head net!

David Scarborough
Mar 29, 2012

I cant believe yall left out the Alabama Scenic River Trail, a trail that spans from NE Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico and includes the Bartram Canoe Trail, a trail that meanders through the beautiful Mobile/Tensaw River Delta.
http://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/
http://www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/bartram/index.htm

Anonymous
Mar 29, 2012

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