Recreation in the Gunnison Basin

General information regarding water resource-related recreational issues in the Gunnison Basin

flyfishermanMost of the recreational and amenities economy in the Gunnison Basin is based around two “resources”: public lands and water – resources that are intimately related, with nearly all of the Gunnison River’s tributary streams originating on public lands. No comprehensive study has been done for the economic impact of the recreational, educational and other “amenity” activities in the Gunnison Basin, but visitor statistics collected by the various public land agencies are good indicators:

~Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests attract around 2 million visitors a year, many for multi-day visits at 50+ public campgrounds. Because the ski trails are on Gunnison National Forest, this number also includes…

~Crested Butte Ski Resort averages 350,000-400,000 skier days every winter. (It might be noted that, since the advent of snow-making, skiing is not entirely a non-consumptive use; about 10 percent of snowmaking water is used consumptively.)

kayaker~Curecanti National Recreation Area, surrounding the Aspinall Unit reservoirs, has 800,000 to 1 million annual visitors.

~Black Canyon National Park and the Gunnison Gorge add another 250,000-300,000 visitors.

~Commercial whitewater rafting companies cater to 20,000 whitewater enthusiasts, just on commercial rafts (not including the private boaters).

~Sport fishermen are hard to get statistics on, but areas like the Taylor River and the Gunnison Gorge have international reputations with anglers.

~Western State Colorado University in Gunnison and the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory above Crested Butte depend heavily on the environmental attributes of the Gunnison Basin, and have huge cultural as well as economic impacts.

(Gunnison River Basin Handbook, 2013)


As part of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable efforts, supported by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the following tables provide a catalogue and a map of stream reaches that have certain, defined recreational and environmental benefits. This table shows the benefits (aka attributes) of the water resources in the stream, this includes things such as fish species, habitat quality, flat- and whitewater recreation, etc..  The portion of water that is not being diverted from the stream that provides benefits for the environment and recreational needs are called ‘non-consumptive needs’.

Catalogue of Stream Segments in the Gunnison Basin