Gunnison is the perfect summer drive from the metro-Denver area. A little more than four hours from the Mile High City, it makes for a sensational weekend getaway from the heat and hustle and bustle of the city. Located 250 miles southwest of Denver, Gunnison is a wonderland of activity and fresh air. Luckily, those traveling to this remote town in the warmer months have the option of taking the scenic shortcut over Cottonwood Pass to save a few minutes where you might even be lucky enough to spot a moose! There are homey lodging options, authentic Colorado food choices and abundant outdoor activity.
What To Do
The Blue Mesa is a must!
It’s Colorado’s largest body of water in the state and offers numerous recreation options from fishing to swimming (albeit chilly), sailing, canoeing, dinner cruises and more. The Blue Mesa is also home to the largest lake trout and Kokanee salmon fishery in the United States, offering a wide range of fishing for anglers of all levels. Sail Western Colorado offers both sunset sails and instructional sailing lessons at Elk Creek Marina on Blue Mesa.
Scenic River Tours also has launched a zipline outfit neat Almont, a neighboring Gunnison town 10 miles away. There are two ziplines that run approximately 70 yards and cost $25 to $30 per person depending on the combination of activity chosen.
Summer months provide Gunnison with all the outdoor activities popular in mountain towns such as hiking, camping, horseback riding, golf, rafting and more. Gunnison serves as a convenient central base to access many recreational sports. Winter offers typical mountain agendas as well. Mt. Crested Butte is only a 45-minute drive (30 miles) from Gunnison; however, there is plenty of ice-fishing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing closer town.
Festival Season: Not to Miss
Gunnison, along with the entire county, is a mecca for festivals come summer and fall. Here are a few to put on the roster when you visit:
Put this one on your calendar for next summer—the 9th annual Gunnison River Festival usually takes place in June, and presents a mix of river sports including a parade, hooligan race and Strider Cup bike race and foam boat race for kids.
Celebrating 111 years this year, Gunnison is host to the annual Cattlemen’s Days, July 8th–17th. Authentic Western events such as a county fair, parade, live music and dance, horse show, cowboy poetry, rodeo events and more await guests of this long-standing festival.
Marble Fest, August 5th–7th in nearby Marble, offers food and craft vendors, bands playing everything from the blues to bluegrass to jazz along with killer bar-b-que at the town’s only restaurant, Woody’s Rollin Smoke. Check their website for a line-up of music.
And finally, the 24th annual Car, Carving & Art Weekend, is held in Gunnison August.
Where to Stay
While Gunnison is big on activity, it’s not big on high-end lodging. Don’t panic, you will find the majority of accommodations comfortable and friendly.
Water Wheel Inn on the Dos Rios Golf Course is about two minutes from downtown Gunnison and has 49 guestrooms with either one or two beds and kitchen suites on their second floor. All rooms have free wireless, telephone service, cable television and daily maid service. A continental breakfast is also served each morning from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m.
For quaint cabin options, check out Rockey River Resort along the Gunnison River. The cabins are open year-round with 15 units to choose from, all dog-friendly. Townie bikes are available for guests to borrow along with basketball, volleyball and horseshoes for activity. Meals can be catered or kitchenettes allow for guests to cook up their own meals.
Gunnison also has a Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, Comfort Inn, Days Inn and other traditional chain hotels. But just outside of town, east of Gunnison, is Waunita Hot Springs or an all-inclusive guest ranch, Harmel’s Ranch Resort in nearby Almont.
Dining Best Bets
Best martini selection and high-end food in town: Brick Cellar Bar & Bistro.
The restaurant has their own farm for growing veggies and herbs, making it a fantastic farm-to-table eatery in town. All of the food served up also comes from within a 100-mile radius of the bistro and the menu is constantly changing. The stiff, yet tasty martinis will complement any meal and there is an excellent wine selection. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. ‘til close.
Best patio: Garlic Mike’s.
Located on the Gunnison River, the patio alongside nature’s beauty is one popular spot come summer. You will find every traditional Italian item on the menu, and at reasonable prices! The Buffalo Ravioli is not offered at too many other places and so worth trying, but it’s also hard not to order Mama’s Meatballs. Open every day from 5 until 9 p.m.
Traditional bistro cuisine with a touch of Gunnison: Gunnisack Cowboy Bistro.
This restaurant offers great burgers, chicken fried steak, pastas, salads and even a sizable kids menu. There is a full bar to keep the drinks topped off. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday.
The town brewery: Gunnison Brewery.
It’s hard to not visit the local brewery and sample some homegrown hops. Try their Summertime 69, it received a Gold Medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2007. The bar menu is full of classics such as tacos, fish and chips, salads and wraps. Summer hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until close and Sunday from 4 p.m. until close.
The pizzeria: Mario’s Pizza.
This local favorite has been around for 40 years. Their food substantiates the restaurant’s longevity. Pizza pies, pastas, great Italian appetizers, burgers, calzones, salads and killer lunch specials are available seven days a week from 11 a.m. until close.
Touch of History
Gunnison is steeped in typical Colorado history. Most communities were either mining towns or mining supply towns. At a relatively moderate elevation, it’s obvious this was a supply town. Incorporated in 1880, its history mimics that of most Colorado mountain towns. From aiding the harvesting of precious metals and natural resources to an agricultural transformation, modern-day Gunnison is now home to Western State College. The school provides a strong backbone for the local economy with 2,400 undergraduate students.
Gunnison is also known for its VERY cold winters. Although the town’s elevation isn’t considered too high, it is located in a combination of valleys that make for one of the coldest spots in America every winter. Luckily, summertime visitors will not be burdened with Mother Nature’s bitterness and will enjoy relatively mild temperatures.
Come summer, the drive southwest on Highway 285 is a sure-fire option over a more subdued I-25. With majestic ranchland scenery in Park County and impressive views of the Collegiate Peaks and numerous 14-ers in Chaffee County, this route is impressive.
In Chaffee County you have the option to drive through Buena Vista and take Cottonwood Pass to Gunnison via Almont. This shortcut will take you over the Continental Divide. The road will turn into gravel as you enter Gunnison County and drive through Taylor Park Reservoir and Taylor Canyon. You will pass the small town of Almont where you can stop by Three Rivers Smokehouse and grab some tasty food or drink on the patio. Just 10 miles up the road from here is Gunnison.
Gunnison Quick Look
Average Winter Temps: Upper teens to low 20s (it’s actually one of the coldest places in the United States due to the geography)
Average Summer Temps: Mid 70s to low 80s
Elevation: 7,703 feet
Sun Shines: What can we say…it’s located in Colorado…the sun shines more than 300 days a year!
Population: 5,854 (as of 2010 census)
Find more info here or here.