The West River Trail requires no fee and begins in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area near Delta, Colorado. The trailhead parking lot sits above the confluence of the Gunnison River and North Fork of the Gunnison River. The trail travels along the west bank of the Gunnison River and provides access to one of the best Gold Medal rainbow and brown trout fisheries in Colorado.
I hiked this trail in mid-February with my husband, Cory, and our dog. It was a warm 55-degree day with overcast skies. Cory spent the afternoon fly fishing the Gunnison while the pup and I explored and played fetch in the river.
If you've never used the COTREX app, it's a phenomenal resource for hiking in Colorado and definitely worth downloading. I found this trail using the app and I was then able to track our progress along the trail throughout the entire hike.
The trailhead is approximately 34 miles from the Montrose Visitor Center. As you get closer to the trailhead, you'll find yourself on the dirt South River Road. Most vehicles can handle this road, however, there are some rocky spots that may require higher clearance. For reference, we were able to make it to the trailhead without issue in a 2008 Honda CR-V.
From Montrose, head north on Highway 50 for about 17 miles and then turn right onto CO-92 East and follow that for about 5 miles until you keep right to continue onto H75 Rd. After about 4 miles, turn right onto South River Road and follow that past many fishing access areas and trailheads until the road ends at the West River Trailhead. There's a sizeable parking lot that only had three cars in it when we arrived. All of the other trail users were fishermen that kept to themselves. In peak fishing season, I would imagine that this spot fills up quickly due to the stunning views and phenomenal river access. Make sure to lock up your car and store any valuables out of sight.
I had cell service for the majority of the drive and along the trail through Verizon, however, my husband did not have service with AT&T. There is a restroom at the trailhead and we also found a "Flybrary," containing free fishing flies left behind by other fishermen. The Flybrary can be found on the backside of the structure that displays the trail map!
The trail is non-motorized and open to hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and camping (in designated sites). It's an easy 3.5-mile round-trip trek with little elevation gain. We signed in at the registration area and began following the trail south, upriver. Fishermen may choose to walk the social trail that hugs the river bank for better access.
In the beginning, the trail is wide and keeps up away from the river but eventually, it thins out and nears the river's edge. Canyon walls tower above you on the right-hand side as you meander through interesting geology and past a dilapidated structure with initials carved into the southeast corner of it - presumably those of the builder. Eventually, the social trail and the main trail merge, down on the riverbank. The Gunnison River was crystal clear and you could view the fish without disturbing from up on the bank. When the sun peeked through the clouds and pierced the water, it turned a dazzling blue-green color and made spotting the fish even easier.
Throughout the day, we found ourselves eyeing the trail that runs parallel to the West River Trail but sits on the opposite side of the river and made a note to come back again to explore it in the future.
Towards the end of the trail, we found a large, flat boulder sticking out of the river to rest and eat our lunch on. We had picked up our favorite trail meal, sandwiches and chips from Backstreet Bagel, on our way out of Montrose and enjoyed them while basking in the warm winter air surrounded by the sounds of rushing water and wildlife.
After snacking, we continued up the trail, past a pretty cool campsite on the riverbank with beautiful views and tree coverage. The brush became thick and the trail quickly became difficult to navigate. It was nearing 3:30 pm and the sky was threatening us with a rainstorm. We turned back towards the car with full bellies and a tired dog. This hike was beautiful, even in February on an overcast day, and I would highly recommend it.
Cory's Fishing Report
Upon leaving Montrose, we stopped into Ed’s Fly Shop to grab a few heavier tippet sizes that I needed for my pack in hopes of doing a little streamer fishing. Just over an hour later, we arrived at the parking area for the West River Trail which sits directly across the river from the Pleasure Park. The river is wide in this area and full wading gear is recommended if you want to hit the opposite bank. Fishing can certainly be done from the near bank or rocky beaches, which is what I was doing since I only had my Xtratuf boots on. Equipped with a 9’ 6 wt rod, I found a few nice spots to toss a size 4 Black Woolly Bugger, my go-to on the Gunnison.
After hooking only one 16” brown and losing it close to shore, I noticed some midges flying around and switched to a smaller fly setup which proved to be more productive. There were quite a few deep and slow areas in this stretch where the fish were plentiful. I saw over 30 decent-sized fish hanging out in these areas as I hiked the river. Small, but heavily weighted nymphs such as midges or small mayflies were the most productive and it looked like other anglers were having luck with similar setups. All around, the fishing was great and the scenery was even better. In my opinion, there is nothing better than fishing a clear trout river in the middle of the desert, and this area is exactly that. With only a few other people out on the water, it felt very secluded and private. No matter the catch, it is always a treat to fish in the Gunnison Gorge and I cannot recommend it enough.
Care for Colorado
We kindly ask you to read up on Care for Colorado principles before exploring our beautiful state.
- Know before you go | Check for road closures, look into trail conditions, and know the weather forecast. Always have a backup plan and come prepared with any gear or supplies you might need.
- Stick to the trail | Stay on the designated trail to avoid trampling on delicate habitats. Keep nature natural and don't take shortcuts. Wearing proper footwear helps keep you on the trail no matter the conditions.
- Leave it as you find it | Leave plants, rocks, and historical items as you find them so others can experience the joy of discovery. Treat all living things with respect, including plants and trees. Building structures and making your own campsites on public lands is not cool.
- Trash the trash | Pick up any litter you may come across and pack out any trash that you packed in. If you have to go to the bathroom, make sure you're at least 200 feet from trails, water, and people. Based on the environment you're in, know whether to dig a cathole or bag up any waste to pack out with you.
- Be careful with fire | Regardless of the season, Colorado's low humidity creates dry, dangerous conditions. Check the fire restrictions in the area you're traveling to and abide by them.
- Keep wildlife wild | Do not feed, approach, or touch wildlife.
- Share the trail | Be considerate to other trail users and know who has the right of way. Silence cell phones and music on the trail so that nature's sounds can prevail.