The Gunnison River through the Gunnison Gorge offers a technical and remote whitewater experience for rafters, kayakers, and canoeists. Your trip can vary widely, depending on time of year and flow from dam releases and winter snowpack.

Expect high releases of 2,000 to 10,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) in late May and early June. Summer flows can range from 300 cfs in low water years to 2,000+ cfs during big water years.

At flows below 800 cfs, the Gorge is highly technical and is not recommended for rafts over 12 feet in length.

Flows over 5,000 cfs make the Gorge extremely dangerous for boating. Currents become swift and swirly, eddies disappear, and swims are very long.

Rescue is very difficult in the Gorge.  If in doubt, SCOUT!

The River Map provides locations and class of rapids.  Each raft must carry an extra oar or paddle, first aid kit, repair kit, and extra PFD.


In 2009 and 2010, the BLM partnered with Bicycle Colorado, Singletrack Trails, Inc., local trail user groups, and the Western Colorado Conservation Corps to design and build the Sidewinder Trail.  The project was funded with stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Construction was completed in the fall of 2010. The construction phase employed 40 youths from Colorado’s West Slope over a ten-week period. 

Snaking in and out of canyons as it contours the western flank of the Gunnison Gorge NCA, Sidewinder is aptly named. All single-track users including hikers, equestrians, motorcyclists, and mountain bikers are welcome on this rocky, sinuous trail.

Running 20 miles one way through pinyon-juniper forest and semi-desert shrub, this is one of the longest trails in the Gunnison Gorge.  By linking to other routes, trail enthusiasts can enjoy sections of Sidewinder without committing to its entire length.  Depending on which routes are linked, a number of loop options of various lengths are possible. 

Most trail sections are considered moderate in difficulty for hiking and equestrian use (with just a few hundred feet of elevation change).  For those on two wheels--whether on a mountain bike or motorcycle--Sidewinder is a challenging expert-level trail with a number of technical sections.  “Unrelenting” is a common description.

One recent trail rider had this to say about Sidewinder: 

This trail doesn't let up...not even a little. The rocks are everywhere, and seem to be getting bigger as the day has gone on.  Don't let this freak you out.  The trail is really fun and challenging.  It's just constant--you don't get a break unless you stop and take a breather.

Motor Sports

The Recreation Area offers two designated “play areas” where crosscountry motorcycle, ATV, and mountain bike riding is permitted. Motorized and mechanized travel in all other NCA areas is limited to designated, signed routes. Elephant Skin, Flat Top and Peach Valley staging areas provide access to large expanses of adobe hills and arroyos, as well as pinyon-juniper uplands along the NCA’s west side, offeringscenic settings and 95+ miles of challenging single track and primitive dirt road trail systems for a multitude of mountain biking, hiking, horseback and off-highway vehicle (OHV) riding adventures.