Gunnison Bluffs

Round Trip Distance: 5.0-11.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous
Elevation: 4638 - 4920 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Gunnison Bluffs
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic river canyon views

The Gunnison Bluffs trail is located on the southern side of Grand Junction, Colorado near the town of Whitewater. The trail travels along the bluffs above the Gunnison River as it courses its way to its confluence with the Colorado River. By combining the Gunnison Bluffs trail with the Old Spanish Trail, which parallels it to the east, two loops are formed that offer hikers, trail runners, equestrians and mountain bikers a choice between one loop that is 5 miles in length and one that is just over 11 miles.

The trailhead is located 1.3 miles west of Whitewater along the Coffman Road. To get there either drive to Whitewater, turn west on 1st St. and follow the signs for the Old Spanish Trail 1.3 miles or from Orchard Mesa turn south off of Highway 50 on 31 Road, the road that leads to the landfill, and drive 2 miles to the trailhead. The loop begins right at the trailhead by following the Gunnison Bluffs trail to the left and returning along the Old Spanish trail on the right.

There are a lot of side trails in the area but the Gunnison Bluffs trail is well marked.

With plenty of small hills to cross the trail is anything but flat.

After the first 1.2 miles the trail begins crossing the bluffs above the Gunnison River.

Numerous rock shelters can be found all along the river at almost every level. This particular one sits high above the trail at about the 2.5 mile point. The first time that we took notice of it we initially thought it was a granary. It isn't uncommon to come across very small corn cobs when hiking. Like many of the larger rock shelters in the area this one shows signs of modern reinhabitation. If you made it this far you have already passed 6 other rock shelters of various sizes that are tucked away in different places within a quarter mile of the trail. A few are so old that the lichens on the rocks used to make the shelter match those of the cliff itself making it all blend together perfectly.

A little lower on the hillside are what remains of the walls of another structure. It sure would be interesting to know whether a trained archaeologist has ever examined any of these sites and what it was that they found. Digging around archaeological sites, or collecting artifacts, is illegal. It also makes the archaeologists job more difficult or impossible which ruins it for everyone. There is good cellphone service in this area so don't hesitate to report anyone you see tampering with a site. You can call the BLM directly at 970-244-3000.

The second portion of the loop begins at just under the 3 mile point. For those that only want to do the smaller 5 mile loop this is the spot for following the Old Spanish Trail back to the trailhead.

This stretch of the trail continues along a double track. Some of the hills are pretty steep if you are on a mountain bike and most of the use for this part of the Gunnison Bluffs trail comes from MTBs.

Very few people venture onto this portion of the trail. To give an idea of what lays ahead at this point the trail eventually climbs to the top of the mountain in this picture.

The trail travels away from the river at one point where it passes through a scenic wash. After passing by another large rock shelter the trail comes near the upper end of the wash where the official route climbs steeply to the top of the mountain. By continuing on through the wash along an unofficial trail you can close ranks with the Old Spanish Trail and avoid the climb.

Of course, if you opt for the shortcut you will miss out on some more good views of the river and the BLM's Bangs Canyon Management Area on the other side.

As the trail nears its end it passes through a fence line where the trail markers that were once so plentiful that you could see from one to the other totally disappear. The trail is so faint at this point that it is easy to miss where it leaves the double track. Once again the loop can be shortened by continuing straight ahead.

The Gunnison Bluffs trail reaches an end at a private property line where a road serves as a connecting route over to the Old Spanish Trail.

This long downhill stretch of the Old Spanish Trail isn't very steep but if you are on a mountain bike and happen to have a flight suit with you this would be the time to put it on. It only takes about 5-10 minutes to get back to the smaller loop from here on a bike.

The trail does a gradual climb once again when it gets back to the smaller loop. Then from the crest of a small ridge the last 3/4 of a mile is all downhill again. This section of the Old Spanish trail is susceptible to muddy conditions during wet weather. When that is the case we usually stick to the Gunnison Bluffs trail that is much more gravely and instead of a loop we go out and back.

We have hiked, biked and run the Gunnison Bluffs trail on many many occasions. People frequently bring their dogs here to let them get some exercise and run loose. Equestrians use the trail almost daily. However you get your exercise the Gunnison Bluffs trail is suitable for use all year long. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.