Round Trip Distance: 5 miles
Cellphone: 3-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Biking - Dogs - No OHV
Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Trailhead: Gunnison Bluffs/Spanish Trail
View Gunnison Bluffs in a larger map
The Gunnison River Bluffs trail is popular with hikers, bikers, joggers and equestrians alike. It is a place where you can exercise in your own way and let your dog loose for a good run. There are plenty of signs to keep you on the right trail. There are also plenty of side trails available if you want to go off on your own.
The trailhead is located just outside of Whitewater. Since the trail forms a loop you can decide which way you want to go. I usually go in a clockwise direction but if there is someone else just starting out in that direction then I might go the other way.
They have this nice big sign showing distances between this trailhead and the upper Old Spanish Trail trailhead on Orchard Mesa. If you take the Gunnison Bluffs trail to your left and follow it for almost 3 miles you will come to the junction with the Old Spanish Trail. Continuing on the Old Spanish Trail to Orchard Mesa is almost another 4 miles. Hiking the entire loop of the Gunnison River Bluffs Trail, without taking any shortcuts, is 5 miles. I have taken my GPS dozens of times and it always comes out within 1-2 tenths of a mile. If you take the trail to the right you will reach the junction of the Spanish and Gunnison Bluffs trail after about 2.1 miles. From that point it is another 3 miles to the upp Old Spanish Trail trailhead on Orchard Mesa.
After taking the trail to the left and hiking west until the trail starts it's northward bend you will have completed the first mile of the hike. The hill in front of you is the first of many that you can use to gauge your physical fitness. (Or your biking skills).
The next mile and a half parallels the Gunnison river climbing in and out of a half dozen or so washes. The lowest point of the trail is at the half way distance, 2.5 miles. The next half mile of easy hiking takes you to the junction of the Gunnison Bluffs and Old Spanish trail. Take the right fork as the trail bends to the east and then back towards the trailhead.
Other than one deep wash that you will encounter the next mile of the trail rises gently in a south easterly direction. The ground along this stretch is very soft and easy going. Every little bit the prairie dogs will announce your approach and then disappear into their hole at the last minute. Occasionally, coyotes can be seen in this area.
I came upon a little Horned Toad about one quarter mile from the trailhead. I've seen some much larger ones in the area on past trips. The toad blended in so well that I had trouble finding it when I would look through the camera lens. This is a good hike for the cooler months when you need to get a little exercise to keep the holidays from taking their toll on your body. In the winter it is more common to see deer in the bluffs area. Eagles will sore above the bluffs, sometimes directly over head, making for good pictures. In the summer you may lift a rock and find you have disturbed a scorpion that was escaping the suns heat. If you would like to walk where the Indians and Fathers Dominguez and Escalante walked then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.