The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Colorado’s most spectacular natural wonders, a gorge that is 2,200 feet deep in places; yet so narrow the bottom receives just 33 minutes of sunlight per day. Most people experience it from the rims of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, atop some of Colorado’s highest cliffs. But descend into the gorge and you’ll find an angler’s paradise. In the national park, the East Portal Road, a ridiculously steep and twisting road that is closed in winter, will take you into the shady recesses of the gorge.
There are also several “trails” into the gorge, but we use the term lightly because they aren’t trails so much as steep routes down that will leave your legs burning and tired. Only the most dedicated anglers take these to the bottom.
Once along the river you’ll find Gold Medal trout waters, from 200 yards downstream of Crystal Dam through the length of the park and beyond. Special regulations here include the use of artificial flies and lures only and a daily bag limit of four brown trout. Also, rainbow trout are catch-and-release only.
The Gold Medal waters continue as the Gunnison River exits the national park and enters the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. This 62,000-acre area is less visited than the national park but still offers great fishing for those willing to make the short hike to the river. There are also miles of motorized and non-motorized trails and ample camping.
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The national conservation area also offers an activity you can’t do in the national park: rafting. The river is too small and shallow for rafts in the Black Canyon, but the canyons just downriver offer some of the most remote and scenic rafting in Colorado.
Most people raft the 14-mile stretch starting at the Gunnison Forks Day Use Area. This run has rapids from class II to IV, making for an exhilarating outing. For a true wilderness experience, you’ll need to take the rough, four-wheel-drive Chukar Road to the Chukar Trailhead, and then carry your gear for a mile to the river. But the effort will be rewarded as you float through a pristine stretch of the West, with plenty of amazing campsites to make for an epic multi-day adventure.
You can bring your own boat or book a trip through a commercial outfitter in the area. Either way, prepare to be awed.
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