Difficulty V
Length 16 Miles
Flow Range 600 - 3000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 43 minutes ago 688 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 02/26/2020 1:40 am

River Description

The Black Canyon is a classic Colorado run through a spectacular chasm.
Although this is really a class IV run with some spice of V, it has a solid V adventure rating. The canyon is very deep and committing with strenuous portagingÂand poison ivy; donÂt forget about the poison ivy. For a place that gets about an hour of sunlight a day, it has produced some of the healthiest poison ivy on the planet. At any rate, if you like being in deep remote canyons and enjoy high adventure, then this run is for you. Most of the drops are boulder-style and of the highest quality, at least the ones that are runnable. Many rapids in the canyon completely sieve out and require strenuous portaging. In 1997, Chuck Kern, a world-class paddler, drowned in an unseen undercut while attempting to run part of the section that's commonly portaged. A short description of the accident can be read here. Luckily, most of the portages are no-brainers; itÂs either a sweet drop or certain death. This run is usually done in two days but can easily be done in one long day if you know what you are doing, and if you are training for the Iron Man. A person spending the night in the canyon will be rewarded with a beautiful sandy beach and one of the best camping experiences ever.

Day 1

Shortly after the put-in, the river moves through class III boulder-slalom type rapids. Be on the lookout for the first major drop, which can sneak up on an unctuous paddler. This drop comes just after a sharp right-hand turn and is one of the few drops that will require careful consideration. The line is down a thin slot on the far left and into a powerful hole (this hole canÂt be seen from the scout on the right bank). Next, whether you are still looking at the sky or not, you must go through door Number 1, 2, 3, or 4. Door Number 1 = sieve, Door Number 2 = sieve, Door Number 3 = freedom, Door Number 4 = piton, jacking, then freedom. The portage is on the right.

The river continues with a class III/IV nature and an occasional class V- drop or portage for several miles. As a general rule of thumb, if the river looks like it is dropping off the face of the earth, it probably is. Just paddle to the right bank, pick up your boat, and start walking. Almost all of the portages on day one are on the right.

Eventually the canyon will really start to close in. This is the Narrows, and this is where some of the best class V drops can be found. Be sure to note the 1500-foot vertical walls that extend out of the water on both sides. DonÂt get hurt here! The last treat of the Narrows is the 18-footer. A totally calm pool spills through a perfect U-shaped spout. Boof left through the center spout with left angle, and keep your nose up. The landing is deeper than it appears, but no need to take a chance. Now for the mile-long portage over VW Beetles. This portage can either be 45-minute grunt if you take the right path or a 3-hour nightmare if you donÂt, and totally avoiding the poison ivy is impossible-yes impossible!

The Portage

Pull over on the right bank about 100 yards past the 18-footer. DonÂt bother trying to run some of the drops in the portage; the river is under boulders more than it is exposed to the air. Stay close to the right wall and high above the river. Continue on the right until the right wall angles down to the river, forcing a decent (donÂt be surprised if this takes more than 30 minutes or so, and donÂt descend prematurely). Descend down large boulders aiming for a large calm pool with a rope across it. This spot is a good alternate camp in rainy weather, because of a natural cave that exists there. Next, ferry across the pool to the river left bank. Climb directly up to the left wall and continue along it for 100 yards or so, until you are forced down to the river again. This time the descent is on steep loose dirt, so lowering boats with a rope may be a good idea. Run one small drop and then ferry to the right bank fast. Get out (itÂs almost over) and carry 50 yards down the right bank past a cool looking waterfall, and put in when things look reasonable. At this point you are at the base of S.O.B. gully, which is a possible, yet grueling escape from the canyon. After one long rapid, beach camp is reached on the right.

Day 2

Immediately after beach camp things get interesting. Class III+ boulder slalom leads to a ledge-type drop. The best line seems to be down right of center and angling left. Scout river right. Closet Rapid comes soon after the ledge and is composed of a long tight boulder maze. Eddy hop, go slow, and choose your line carefully, because a wrong turn could lead to a dead end with a sieve. The general path starts left, works right, and then back left again. Be careful not to get lured right at the end, or you will loose the main current and will be forced to portage. Some more boogie water leads to a calm pool backed up by the end of the earth. There is no mistaking this thing  ever gotten vertigo in your boat before? There looks to be a possible line down the right, but this is usually a portage. If you are thinking of running this thing scout on river right, but first look up and try to figure out how your buddies are going to get your broken body out of there. The portage is on the left and getting out of your boat involves some creativity. Once at the base of this monster, the only thing left is a short, fun, class IV drop and a long paddle out. If you opted for the Chukar Trail take out, paddle for several miles while watching for an obvious beach and trail on the left. This is where you will burden your shoulder one last time for the uphill slog to the parking lot. For the Confluence takeout, continue paddling down the never-ending Gunny Gorge until the North Fork is reached.


Take-out: To get out of the canyon, one must either paddle the never-ending Gunny Gorge to the confluence with the North Fork, or carry up the mile long Chukar Trail (think about how sore your shoulder will be by the time you get there). The road to Chukar Trail will require a vehicle with good ground clearance. The confluence take-out is located at Forks of the Gunnison, which is 1 mile south down a dirt road located 6.2 miles west of Hotchkiss and 14 miles east of Delta on Rout 92. To get to Chukar Trail, head east on Falcon Rd., which is located just south of Olathe on Hwy. 50. Follow the signs to Chukar Trail.

Put-in: Take Hwy. 50 east out of Montrose. Turn left (north) on to Rout 347 following the signs to the national park. Just after the entrance station (and a fee) turn right following signs to East Portal. Once at the bottom of the canyon, turn left into the campground and park by the river. Before launching, a permit must be obtained from the visitors center. Permits are available upon request and should be obtained before descending to East Portal.

Rapid Descriptions

Still in Progress

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Day Wrecker

Class - 5.2 Mile - 1

On Ramp w/ S-Turn

Class - IV Mile - 2

Upper Intestine

Class - IV+ Mile - 3

Lower Intestine

Class - V Mile - 4

Tripple Drop

Class - VI Mile - 5

Principal's Office

Class - V Mile - 6

Corner Pocket

Class - IV Mile - 7

Pillow Move

Class - IV Mile - 8

Ball Crusher

Class - 5.2 Mile - 9

Lost Boy Slots

Class - IV+ Mile - 10

18 Footer

Class - V Mile - 11

Hell Portage

Class - VI Mile - 12
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Beach Camp

Class - N/A Mile - 13
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Next Generation

Class - V Mile - 13.5

Life in the Fast Lane

Class - IV+ Mile - 14

Sieve City/Closet

Class - IV+ Mile - 15
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Great Falls

Class - VI Mile - 16
Rapid Thumbnail Missing


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Nate Halpin
4 months ago

I want to iterate the comment from Nick David 11 years ago. By all standards this is a Class V run and the description is misleading. Sieves are endless in the Black Canyon, portages are mandatory and arduous and any rescue would have to come from the air as the walls are sheer. I am positive consensus amongst the state is this is for seasoned class V+ boaters. This video captures the nature of the run well: https://vimeo.com/36298473 I would edit the post but someone has spent a lot of time on it and the beta is high quality.

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Brandon Thompson
2 years ago

Best video of this run I've been able to find: https://vimeo.com/36298473

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Nick David
12 years ago

The description posted here is deceptive to say the least. I ran the Black Canyon last year at a medium/low level, and nothing about this run is Class IV in nature. Until the relative flatwater near the end, there are numerous class V rapids, and the portage is very strenuous, it took our group quite a bit longer than what the description indicates. In addition these rapids are some of the most most sieved out pieces of shit I have ever seen. This is a true multi-day class V run, and while not as difficult as the stuff in the high sierra, it definitely deserves a V+ rating when taking the remote nature into account.

Gage Descriptions

CO Water Talk: 303-831-7135
Division 4, Station 6 (4*6*). Gunnison Below East Portal

The Black Canyon can be run as low as 400; however, a good level is around 700 and above. The river is still high quality at low flows, except for the 18 foot waterfall which requires a creative portage (rappelling, jumping, or scrableing) at flows less than 550 or so.
The season for this run is whenever it is free of ice, since the Crystal dam keeps the flow running at a fairly constant rate. The best time to hit the Black Canyon is usually late summer when most of the snow-melt rivers are spent for the year.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

Date Flow Result Factor  
1997-08-14 High Fatality Other Read More



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AW releases Saint Vrain and Lefthand Creek Recreational Flow Study - CO

Nathan Fey

Longmont, Colorado - As part of a comprehensive Stream Management Plan for the St Vrain Creek Watershed, American Whitewater is collecting and compiling data on recreational uses, and identifying projects and strategies to improve stream health, recreation, and environmental conditions in the region. You can help with this extensive effort. Please participate in the Recreational Flow survey.


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Support Colorado River Access on Colorado Gives Day!

Kestrel Kunz

Colorado Gives Day is on December 4 this year and is fast approaching! Go here to schedule your online donation to support American Whitewater's Colorado River Access Program. All donations made to American Whitewater on Colorado Gives Day (December 4) will be put towards our River Access Program in Colorado. American Whitewater works to improve river access and public safety throughout the state by working with landowners and managers, paddlers, law enforcement, and lawmakers to understand Colorado's river access laws and the ongoing threats to public safety. Thank you for your support!

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Voluntary River Closure Proposed On the Slate River (CO)

Kestrel Kunz

Crested Butte CO - Alleged disruption to a Heron Rookery and concerned private landowners have led to a "Voluntary Closure" of the Slate River from the Gunsight Bridge to the Town of Crested Butte between March 15 and June 21 for the 2019 season. The Slate River between Oh Be Joyful Campground and Skyland Bridge, a 10.5 mile stretch, provides an incredibly scenic and unique flatwater paddling experience in the Gunnison Valley. The Voluntary clsoure is a product of the Slate River Floating Management Plan, created by a Working Group convened by the Town of Crested Butte and the Crested Butte Land Trust. The Working Group was created in direct response to pressure from the local community including conservationists and private landowners adjacent to the river, who are concerned that a recent increase in boating activity is disturbing a Heron Rookery that straddles the Slate River. 

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AW Comments on Colorado Nat'l Forest Wilderness Process

Kestrel Kunz

Today, September 5, marked the close of the public review process for the DRAFT Wilderness Evaluation Report. The Evaluation Phase is the second step of 4 different steps required in the assessment of lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). American Whitewater thoroughly reviewed the DRAFT Wilderness Evaluation Report and submitted our comments to the Forest Service on September 4, 2018. Overall, we found that key paddling reaches throughout the GMUG area were greatly under-represented in the Polygon narratives and thus weren't acknowledged as contributing factors to the Polygon's respective Wilderness Ratings. We let the Forest Service know this, highlighting specific paddling reaches that should be added to each Polygon and which Polygons we believe should have a higher Wilderness Rating based on the high-quality recreation opportunities that each area has to offer. 

Please stay tuned as we continue to report on the GMUG Land Management Revision Process and in the meantime you can learn more about the GMUG here. (Photo of Josh King by Nick Spitzer)

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TAKE ACTION: Comment on the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Management Plan

Kestrel Kunz

ARKANSAS RIVER, Colo. - The Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) is revising their Management Plan for the first time since 2001. The new Draft Plan was made publicly available in October and the AHRA is accepting public comments through November 10, 2017 (next week!). In order to design effective and productive comments, American Whitewater has thoroughly reviewed the Draft Plan, discussed the Plan with our local Affiliate Clubs, attended AHRA Public Open Houses, and reached out to key members of the local paddling community. To make it easy for you to SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS, American Whitewater staff have compiled our key concerns and comments for your review. 

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Colorado Honors the legacy of Matt Brown

Nathan Fey

Gunnison, Colorado - Last Wednesday, Matt Brown - longtime river guide, adventurer, and pillar of the Gunnison Valley community- passed away tragically after an accident in Moab. Matt was so much to so many.  At the request of his family and friends, contributions in Matt's memory can be made to American Whitewater’s River Access work in Colorado.  Matt was a strong ally and advisor in our work to protect the public’s rights to float and fish in the State.  We miss him immensely.

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Comments needed on Upper Colorado River Recreation Area Management Plan

Nathan Fey

Kremmling, Colorado - The Bureau of Land Management has released for public review and comment a set of preliminary alternatives for managing about 40 miles of the Upper Colorado River between Parshall and State Bridge - including Gore Canyon and Pumphouse. This is your chance to weigh in on whether there should be a day-use permit;  a camping permit with designated campsites in the popular stretch between Pumphouse and State Bridge; and expanding the developed Pumphouse Campground.

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Gore Fest 2017 is a few weeks away!

Nathan Fey

Bond, Colorado - American Whitewater is presenting Gore Canyon Festival - August 25-27th 2017Online registration is open and there are events for everyone, so sign up today! 

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A Successful River Cleanup on the St. Vrain (Lyons, CO)

Kestrel Kunz

On Sunday, nearly 50 people gathered on the banks of the St. Vrain River to pick up trash from the water and the shoreline. We started the day off with Hotbox Roasters coffee and donuts, and a few words about River Stewardship – the common cause that brought us all together. We found bedframes, rusty nails, lawn chairs, car doors, plastic water bottles, candy wrappers, fast food containers, and it doesn’t stop there. Our findings are likely a combination of leftover debris from the floods, illegal waste dumping along the river, and built up trash from years of careless passers-by. Thank you to all those that came out for the river cleanup! American Whitewater depends on our affiliate clubs, members, and dedicated volunteers in order to tackle our many River Stewardship projects.  

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Releases to Lower Dolores River certain in 2017.

Nathan Fey

Cortez, Colorado - Last week, American Whitewater met with local water managers, fisheries biologists, an other interests in Dolores River water, to start negotiating releases from McPhee Dam - like we do every spring.  This year, things are looking very good for the Dolores...

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Upper Colorado River Access funded by Land & Water Conservation Fund - CO

Nathan Fey

Dotsero, Colorado - A key river access point on the Upper Colorado river, once threatened with closure, has now been permanently protected through a partnership between BLM and Eagle County. 

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One more day to submit input on Colorado's Brown Canyon National Monument!

Kestrel Kunz

There is only one more day left to share what you value most in the Browns Canyon National Monument planning area! The Bureau of Land Management, U.S Forest Service, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife are working together to develop a Coordinated Management Plan for Browns Canyon National Monument. In order to design a plan that most benefits citizens and visitors of Colorado, the agencies designed an Online Survey and Mapping Tool to understand how the public interacts with the Browns Canyon planning area and what aspects of the area are most important to the public.


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New Report on Impact to San Miguel River From Proposed Reservoirs

Evan Stafford

Colorado - American Whitewater has released a new study on whitewater recreation in the San Miguel River Basin. The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) requested that Montrose County consult with American Whitewater on recreational needs and future impacts for the San Miguel River. Montrose County acquired conditional water rights to the San Miguel River in hopes of building multiple new reservoirs on BLM land. American Whitewater worked with Montrose County’s agents to assess the impact its conditional storage proposals would have on existing recreational opportunities. 

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Proposed Asphalt and Gravel Mine threatens the Upper Colorado River

Evan Stafford

A new proposal to allow the development of a 90- acre open pit mine in Eagle County at the gateway to the Colorado River has local river users asking questions. We encourage everyone to attend an Open House December 6 at 6 PM at the Gypsum Recreation Center, and to make your voices heard at the Town Council meeting where they will discuss the application on December 13 at 7 PM.


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Gunnison Flow Study: Success, Next steps underway

Chris Menges

American Whitewater is pleased release a full report on the results of our summer 2013 Gunnison River Flow Survey, in addition to recommendations for regional water managers. This data will enable the management community to better evaluate opportunities to protect recreational flows in the Gunnison Basin now and into the future. Please read the post for full results and how we are using them.

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Action Alert: Take the Gunnison River Flow Survey, win KEEN shoes

Chris Menges

If you have ever paddled Gunnison Basin Runs like Oh-Be-Joyful, the Taylor, the Uncompahgre, the Black Canyon or Gunnison Gorge, please help us protect flows on these western Colorado gems by completing the Gunnison River Flow Survey. When you do, we'll enter you in a drawing to win a free pair of KEENS!

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Lyons Outdoor Games and Burning Can to Support AW

Nathan Fey

Lyons, Colorado - For the second year in a row, Oskar Blues Brewery is hosting the Burning Can Festival at this year Lyons Outdoor Games.  Burning Can, which takes place under the backdrop of Rocky Mountain National Park and the St. Vrain River, is a celebration of good beer, served in a can.  This year, All money raised from Lyons Outdoor Games recycled cans will be donated to American Whitewater. See you there!

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2013 Gunnison Flow Survey is live. Share your thoughts & protect rivers!

Chris Menges

American Whitewater (AW) is pleased to announce the launch of our 2013 Gunnison River Basin Flow Survey. By participating in the survey, you can help us define recreational flow needs thoughout the Basin, and protect flows in the future. Your participation is incredibly valuable; the more responses we get, the more robust our findings will be which will strengthen our represention of paddler interest.

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AW Needs Your Input On Western River Flows!

Nathan Fey

Colorado River Basin - American Whitewater is asking for paddler input on flows and recreation quality for rivers across the Southwestern United States. We are gathering this information to help define recreational flow-needs, and to inform the US Bureau of Reclamations' Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study. Whether you live in Boston, San Francisco, or Jensen, UT, your input will help AW protect healthy rivers - TAKE OUR SURVEY TODAY!

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AW launches Flow Study for Yampa River

Nathan Fey

Colorado - American Whitewater is conducting a study of flow-recreation relationships for the Yampa Basin, and identifying specific metrics for use in the Watershed Flow Evaluation Tool. This study is intended to inform local, state, and federal planning efforts as to the full range and quality of recreational boating opportunities for the Wild and Scenic suitable Yampa River, as well as the Elk and White Rivers, and their tributaries. Your participation in the flow survey is requested.

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River Access Task Force Submits Recommendations to Colorado Governor

Nathan Fey

Colorado - On December 23, Governor Bill Ritter issued a report outlining a series of proposals for resolving disputes between landowners and rafters in Colorado. He also signed an executive order creating the River Access Mediation Commission to provide a way for some of the most contentious conflicts between boaters and property owners to be addressed. The Governor’s River Access Dispute Resolution Task Force was a 17-member group created in July of 2010 to help craft ways to sort out conflicts on Colorado rivers on a stretch-by-stretch basis as those disputes arise.

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Help Protect the Yampa River - Colorado

Nathan Fey

Colorado - Last month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released their proposed management plan for the Little Snake Resource Area, encompassing over a million acres of soaring plateaus, wild and scenic rivers, and sweeping sagebrush basins.  Special interests are trying to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s plans to protect portions of the Yampa River – one of the nation's last free flowing rivers.    Let BLM know that protections for these rivers are important to you!

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Park Service seeks input on Management of Black Canyon of the Gunnison (CO)

Nathan Fey

As paddlers, we have the opportunity to help in creating a long-term vision and plan for the wilderness and backcountry of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado.

The landscapes under consideration include the Inner Canyon of the Gunnison River which contains some of the best backcountry whitewater in the West. We have until May 12th to comment.

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Take Action on Colorado's Right to Float Bill!

Nathan Fey

This spring, the Colorado Legislature is considering a bill, which helps protect the rights of commercial boaters to float on commercial sections of river, and increases the safety of boaters by decriminalizing incidental contact with private land to portage obstacles. HB -1188 is a good bill, but doesn't go far enough! HB-1188 passed out of the House by a vote of 40-25, and is scheduled to be introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a vote on March 17th. We urge you to contact members of Colorado’s Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to support HB-1188, and to amend the bill to include all members of the paddling public.

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Vote Today! Should Recreational Boaters have a Right to Float in Colorado?

Nathan Fey

A couple of Colorado media outlets came out opposed to HB 1188! But we can fight back and let our opinions be heard too.

VOTE NOW in the ONLINE POLL - it takes 1 minute!


Spencer Huff


Kestrel Kunz


Nate Halpin


Molly Buirgy


Nathan Fey

Colorado Stewardship Director


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1213817 10/21/19 Spencer Huff updated image position
1208408 10/26/17 Spencer Huff photos added
1207916 07/09/17 Kestrel Kunz rapid update
1213818 10/21/19 Kestrel Kunz updated name
1214406 02/26/20 Nate Halpin updated stats
1190195 04/19/09 Molly Buirgy
1202482 07/31/13 Nathan Fey