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Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area

Gunnison Gorge in Colorado. Bureau of Land Management Colorado office.
Gunnison Gorge. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado office.
Established: 1999
Location: Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area is located about seven miles northeast of Montrose in west central Colorado, just downstream from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Size: 56,000 acres

The Gunnison National Conservation Area may sound like a poor second to its upstream neighbor, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, but it is its own, splendid place.

"Some people think the adobes are moon-like, a stark wasteland, But many others who come to visit Gunnison Gorge, particularly at sunset, discover the beauty and fragility of the badland adobes, and the diversity of species they harbor." Bill Patterson, Western Colorado Congress.

The NCA encompasses 56,000 acres of surreal adobe badlands, 17,700 acres of wilderness, and a deep narrow river canyon famed for rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and world-class trout fishing. The richness of wildlife that an intrepid hiker or camper might spot in the area includes deer, elk, bighorn sheep, river otters, beaver, mink, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, ringtail cats, Gunnison sage grouse, and several species of raptors.

Unfortunately, today much of the NCA also serves as a playground for off-highway vehicle users, who have carved webs of trails across the landscape. The result is noise, air pollution, and massive landscape disturbance such as erosion and damage to fragile soils and wildlife habitat.

Conservation groups are calling for an end to "open" unregulated cross-country motorized travel in the Gunnison Gorge NCA, and requesting that ORV travel instead be constrained to designated routes/trails. Along with largely unregulated open OHV use, other problems (some of them also directly related to ORV activity) include garbage dumping and trash strewn by people partying. Livestock overgrazing continues.


Congress established the NCA in 1999 and made it part of the National Landscape Conservation System to protect the integrity of the area's entire ecosystem and the NCA's awesome viewsheds, diverse recreational opportunities, biological values and historic sites, and its serene and rural western setting.


With public input, the BLM is currently developing a Resource Management Plan for Gunnison Gorge NCA. This is an opportunity to implement stronger long-term protections for this special place. For current status of the plan see: the BLM's planning site or for more detailed information see this BLM site.


Colorado Environmental Coalition, Contact: Jeff Widen, 970-385-8509
The Wilderness Society - Four Corners Office, 303-650-5818
Western Colorado Congress, Contact: Matt Sura, 970-256-7650

Updated December 2003