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Gunnison National Forest

Gunnison County, Colorado is home to more than two million acres of public lands. Most of those lands is part of Gunnison National Forest and is managed and protected by the United States Forest Service. Nearby forests combine with the Gunnison National Forest to form the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, often referred to as GMUG. These vast forests are a playground for outdoor recreation in western Colorado.

Where is the Gunnison National Forest?

The Gunnison Ranger District sprawls across a wide region. It ranges from the West Elk Mountains on the west side of the Gunnison Valley to Taylor Canyon and Taylor Park on the east side of the valley. It encompasses the land on the west side of Monarch Pass and continues south to Lake City. Download free Gunnison National Forest maps on your phone through Avenza.

A man hikes on a rocky ridge overlooking a mountain valley with yellow aspen leaves.

What is there to do in Gunnison National Forest?

The peaks, valleys and waters of the Gunnison National Forest offer endless possibilities for exploration. Hiking and mountain biking are among the most popular activities in Gunnison National Forest. The trails around Crested Butte are nearly endless and include some of the state’s most famous mountain biking trails. Car camping is plentiful on Slate River Road, Washington Gulch Road, Brush Creek Road and Cement Creek Road, among others. Explore places like Ohio Pass and Paradise Divide via passenger vehicle or OHV. Backpack through the wilderness areas, go rafting on Taylor River, or try your hand at fishing or hunting in the West Elks.

Wilderness areas in Gunnison National Forest

There are parts of five different designated wilderness areas in the Gunnison Valley: the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, the Raggeds Wilderness, the West Elk Wilderness, the Fossil Ridge Wilderness and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. They offer scenic trails for hiking, backpacking and horseback riding. Motorized and mechanized travel, including mountain biking, is prohibited in wilderness areas. 

A nature scene of a lake, lake shore, trees and a mountain peak
A nature scene of a lake, lake shore, trees and a mountain peak

Other public lands in the Gunnison Valley

The Gunnison Valley is a public lands paradise. Some public lands are directly adjacent to the towns, making access to the backcountry close and convenient. In addition to Gunnison National Forest, there are several other public lands areas in the Gunnison Valley. Near Gunnison, Hartman Rocks Recreation Area is a rocky, high-desert playground for mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Boaters, anglers and hikers enjoy many recreational opportunities at Blue Mesa Reservoir and Curecanti National Recreation Area. 60 miles west of Gunnison are the stunning views of Black Canyon National Park. On the east side of the valley, near Almont, is Taylor Park, a haven for off-roading, camping and fishing. 

Trail Advice and Expectations

Here are some tips for taking care of the forest so it stays beautiful for generations to come.

  •  Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return.
  •  Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in summer.
  •  Know regulations for the areas you’ll visit.
  •  Only ride wheeled vehicles on designated routes. 
  •  For solid human waste, dig a cathole at least 6-8 inches deep at least 200 feet from trails, campsites, and water. Pack out toilet paper and hygeine products; don’t burn it. Pick up and pack out after your pet, too.
  •  Pick up and pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
  •  Take only pictures. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them. Do not build structures or cairns; do not dig trenches.
  •  Camp in designated areas/established campsites. Check fire restrictions before you go. If you do have a fire, don’t build new fire rings.
  •  Observe wilderness boundaries, private property boundaries and seasonal closures.
  •  Follow instructions on gate signs. If there is no sign, leave the gate as you found it.
  •  Observe wildlife and cattle from a distance. Do not follow, approach or yell at them.
  •  Never feed animals. Feeding them alters natural behaviors.
  •  Protect wildlife and your food by storing food and trash securely.

Trip Ideas to get you started

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