The Lake Fork is the southernmost of the four forks (East, North and South being the others) that form the Gunnison River. This section begins just north of Lake City in Hinsdale County and ends just south of Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County. The first 18 miles are easy Class II to III whitewater, and the last 4.5 miles are Class III to IV-, depending upon flow. Four access points create sequential runs of 11 miles (Lake Fork Box), 7 miles (The Gate to Red Bridge), 4.5 miles (Red Bridge to Gateview), 18 miles (Lake Fork Box to Red Bridge), 11.5 miles (The Gate to Gateview) or 22.5 miles (Lake Fork Box to Gateview). At the end of each section is a campground, so overnight trips are easy and convenient to plan and arrange.
The scenery here is awesome! The Gunnison is a very beautiful river, and this section is well suited to paddlers of multiple skill levels in a variety of craft including canoes, kayaks, rafts and duckies. The Lake Fork Box starts at an elevation of 8,320 feet and drops to 7,980 feet msl at a rate of about 31 fpm. The Gate to Red Bridge drops to 7,770 feet msl at 30 fpm, while Red Bridge to Gateview ends at 7,520 feet msl with a gradient of about 56 fpm. Features on this run include crystal clear blue water, 100 foot high canyon walls, tall spruce trees, Bighorn sheep and an occasional log jam that is usually easily avoided if paddlers are paying attention. This is a very photogenic run, so bring along a camera and take home some memories.
The BLM requests that all paddlers running The Gate to Red Bridge section stop in and register at The Gate put-in so that they may monitor use of the river in this area. The first four miles of the run from The Gate to Red Bridge borders VERY private property on river left, where some people along the banks may express displeasure with boaters in the area. Do not engage in conversation with them, and avoid trespassing on their land.
The San Juan National Forest of Hinsdale County, flowing south to north through Lake San Cristobal, past Lake City, by the eastern edge of Uncompahgre National Forest to Blue Mesa Reservoir in Gunnison County between Montrose and Gunnison.
Durango 200 miles; Grand Junction 165 miles; Denver 286 miles; Santa Fe 412 miles; Albuquerque 412 miles; Phoenix 654 miles; Oklahoma City 955 miles; Tulsa 1,060 miles; Dallas 1,064 miles; Austin 1,254 miles; San Antonio 1,334 miles; Houston 1,440 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
The Gunnison River usually flows clean, clear and cold with a beautiful blue color, but it is not drinkable without purification. The Lake Fork Box is rated Class II to III. The Gate to Red Bridge is rated Class II. Red Bridge to Gateview is rated Class III, with at least one Class IV rapid at 400 to 1,000 cfs, increasing by one step at flows exceeding 1,000 cfs. Drysuits or wetsuits with a base layer, Neoprene gloves and Neoprene hard-soled river boots are recommended to prevent hypothermia if you go swimming.
The Lake Fork usually runs in May, June and July, depending upon winter snowpack and seasonal rainfall, which may extend or reduce the season accordingly.
Above Red Bridge the only significant hazards are log jams that can pin and damage boats or injure paddlers. About midway between Red Bridge and Gateview is Rattlesnake Rapid, with multiple holes that can cause problems. It is also the site of a log jam that becomes a matter of concern, especially at high flows. Great care should be exercised to avoid swimming in Rattlesnake Rapid. There are no other significant hazards on this section of the Gunnison River.
Ryan Ranch bridge off SH 149, north of Lake City, at 0.0 miles; The Gate Campground on river left off SH 149 at 11.0 miles; Red Bridge Campground on river right off the intersection of 25 Road and 64 Road at 18.0 miles; and Gateview Campground on river right at the end of 64 Road just above the Blue Mesa Reservoir at 22.5 miles.
There are two campgrounds off SH 149 and one more off 20 Road at Lake City. The Gate Campground, on river left, is at SH 149 (mm 89) about 11.0 miles below the Ryan Ranch bridge put-in; Red Bridge Campground is on river right, near the intersection of 25 Road and 64 Road, at 18.0 miles below the put-in; Gateview Campground is at the end of 64 Road, just south of Blue Mesa Reservoir, at 22.5 miles below the put-in.
Numerous commercial outfitters offer rentals, shuttles, guided trips and river information on the Gunnison River.
This is a decent length run of 22.5 miles in generally moderate whitewater, with few obstructions or hazards, that almost any boater in any boat type with intermediate of higher whitewater skills can enjoy immensely. It is a run of magnificent scenery and more than a little fun, though you do have to watch for occasional log jams. Several campgrounds on or near this section allow for day trips or overnight downriver trips of varying lengths. This area is starting to see an increase in popularity, so you might not be alone when paddling the section. Be sure to register with the BLM at the put-in of The Gate to Red Bridge if planning on running that part of this section. There is no permit required, and no fees will be charged, but BLM does want to monitor activity, and your cooperation will be most helpful. Be sure to heed the admonition about the private property on river left just below The Gate put-in. Paddlers are encouraged to join and support the American Whitewater Affiliation (http://www.americanwhitewater.org/) in their efforts to protect paddlers' rights of access to this and many other rivers nationwide. It is a small price to pay for the great efforts AWA makes on our behalf.