The Gunnison Gorge Wilderness is a BLM property near the city of Montrose in the state of Colorado. Covering a total area of almost eighteen thousand acres, the wilderness lies entirely within the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area. The rugged wilderness has a striking landscape intercut by two deep canyons and surrounded by several craggy peaks peppered with sparse vegetation. The white waters of the Gunnison River flow through the gorges for over fourteen miles, adding a scenic element to these otherwise stark and arid-looking BLM lands.
The Gunnison Gorge Wilderness is the place to escape to if you want to enjoy some solitary backcountry time while pondering on the incredible power of nature that created it. Hike through the wilderness and you'll see rocks eroded to unusual formations by nature's abrasive forces. You may also spot the creatures who can tolerate the harsh environment, as well as reminders of the humans who tried but failed to survive there. The swift-flowing waters of the Gunnison River provide the ideal habitat for trout and it's a great spot for fishing that also attracts many enthusiasts of whitewater rafting to paddle down its meandering course.
Access to the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness is restricted to pedestrian or equestrian only, so there are no RV campgrounds inside the wilderness boundaries. There are three national forests within an hour's drive of the wilderness where there are plentiful campgrounds for RV camping near the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness. There's a small campground in the Gunnison Gorge NCA and in the Peach Valley OHV Area on the edge of the wilderness. The Gunnison National Forest is located to the east of the wilderness, the Uncompahgre National Forest which incorporates the stunning Bridal Veil Falls is to the south and the Grand Mesa National Forest with its three-hundred lakes is to the north.
There are two main access points into the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness; one on the south-west side and the other on the south-east side. If you chose a campground in the Uncompahgre National Forest, you'll need to travel north along the US 50 towards the town of Olathe and take the turn-off for the Falcon Road just before you hit the urbanization. Falcon Road is a well-trafficked road as it initially leads to the Peach Valley OHV Area. As you head away from Montrose, you may want to stop off at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. While it's not the Grand Canyon, it's pretty impressive and well worth stopping to take a look at.
If you've camped up north of the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness or are traveling in from that direction, you'll be on the US 65 passing through the town of Delta to get to Olathe. You could turn-off in Delta onto the CO 92 in the direction of Hotchkiss to access the wilderness from the south-east. If you do, once you're through the town be prepared for a trying drive along the B50 Road which is full of twisting turns and switchbacks.
There is a parking facility at the Peach Valley OHV Area which carries a small day-use fee.
RV camping is permitted at the Peach Valley OHV Area although stays are limited to a maximum of two days. While it is a convenient spot to pitch up for hiking into the wilderness, it might not give you the peace and quiet you're searching for.
There are limited primitive pitches dispersed around a dirt surfaced field with no utility hook-ups, and the only on-site amenities are a block of vault toilets. The camping area also serves as the OHV staging area, so expect some engine noise as the vehicles head off into the OHV play area.
The Cottonwood Grove Campground is located to the north of the Gunnison NCA and offers a limited choice of six primitive campsites situated under tall cottonwood trees. The pitches have no utility hook-ups but are furnished with picnic tables, fire rings, and grills.
The campground operates on a first-come-first-served basis and is open twelve months of the year, but access can become difficult after heavy rain as the road is unpaved. The only on-site amenities are a block of vault toilets and a boat ramp for non-motorized craft.
If you're into backcountry hiking, you'll be right at home in the BLM lands of the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness. While there are some marked trails, they are often undefined and difficult to follow. The Ute Trail is over ten miles long and has an elevation gain of over two-thousand meters, so it will really test your leg muscles, but also reward you with stunning views from high above the Gunnison River.
Hiking in the wilderness can be dry and dusty, so you'll need to pack your backpack with plenty of water. Think twice about taking your dog as there are lots of prickly cactus along most of the routes.
Practise your fly fishing skills before heading to the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness, and once you're there, you could find yourself reeling in some trophy-sized fish. The Gunnison River is teeming with trout and not small ones either. There are several species you could hook including brook, cutthroat, rainbow, cutbow, and tiger, many of which could well measure over twenty-five inches or more.
The fourteen miles of the Gunnison River running through the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness is a popular spot for whitewater rafting and kayaking. The section of the river running through the gorge is not the easiest to access and you'll need to hike it from the boundary carrying all your equipment.
If that sounds like too much hard work, there are tour companies in Buena Vista who organize rafting trips and carrying the equipment in on horseback. Once on the river, you'll find there are patches of tranquil waters leading to more exciting and challenging rapids. The best time for rafting is from May to September.
If you enjoy combining some backcountry time with off-roading, you'll find the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness the perfect place to do just that in Colorado. Right on the boundary of the wilderness is the Peach Valley OHV Open Play Area.
The area is nine-hundred acres of off-roading heaven in a desert environment, with twisting rocky tracks and plenty of hills to challenge even the most advanced rider as well as loops for beginners. The OHV park is equipped with a staging area furnished with loading ramps and trailer parking.
When you're up at the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness, don't miss making the trip down to Telluride to see the breath-taking Bridal Veil Falls. The magnificent, three-hundred and sixty-five-foot high waterfall is located at the end of a trail that runs along a box canyon.
Above the falls on the top of the cliff is a castle-like historic power station, that together with the pine-forested mountains all around will make you feel as if you've been transported from the US to a European fairy-tale scene.
Stop off in Montrose and visit the Museum Of The Mountain West, and you'll get a real feel of what it was like to live in Colorado in the 19th century. Walk into the museum and you'll walk into a Wild West town complete with saloon, drug store, doctor's office, and school. The museum is crammed with artifacts dating back to the late 1880s, which all help to add that authentic wild west atmosphere to the museum.