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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.


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;

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