Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area

2009 Visitors: 90,000.

A view of Gunnison Gorge

A view of Gunnison Gorge    Photo: Photograph by Richard Durnan/BLM

Main Drag: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
2009 Visitors: 2,822,325
There's no need to name names. But last July, when a group of Outside editors floated the Gunnison River, we brought a guest—let's call him Slash—who plays guitar in a prominent folk-rock band. We'd hoped he might entertain us at one of Gunnison Gorge's 23 sandy campsites ($15 per person for two nights; 970-240-5300), but from the moment we launched at the Chukar trail put-in—just west of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park—Slash showed more interest in beer than in music, rafting, or fishing. One day, while casting like a NASCAR flag waver, he shattered a gorgeous (and borrowed) fly rod on one of the Gunny's slick walls. But even Slash caught fish, and so will you. The 14-mile-long gorge, which starts just below the Black Canyon, is a perfect combination of fun Class III rapids and big, wild trout. Plus you'll be alone: Black Canyon is a national park in name only, and the gorge is no more populated. You'll need a horse to get your raft to the put-in ($90 per animal; call Larry Franks at 970-323-0115). Last year we caught the tail end of the salmonfly hatch; this year, we're going at the peak. Without Slash. BEST CAMPSITE: Caddis camp, a wide-open spot eight miles downriver from Chukar. BEST LODGE: Black Canyon Anglers fishing lodge (two-person cabins from $170; blackcanyonanglers.com).

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