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Top 10 Things to Do in Gunnison, Colorado

things to do in gunnison

With more than 2 million acres of public land to explore, hundreds of miles of singletrack trails, three major rivers, the state’s largest reservoir, and two world-class ski resorts less than 50 miles from campus, incredible experiences exist in every direction from Western. And the adventure doesn’t stop when you step inside. Live music and theater abound in the Gunnison Valley, and the arts available here would rival many mid-sized cities. To help you get a taste of what might be waiting around the next turn, here are ten things to treat yourself to when you visit the Valley.

gunnison observatory

1. Take a Hike. Fall asleep under the stars.

Whether you prefer a backcountry adventure or pitching a tent on the edge of town, Gunnison is known for having some of the best hiking trails and campsites on the Western Slope. With a network of trails that starts right on campus and connects to trails that can take you in any direction, the opportunity for day hikes and overnights is endless. The campus is even the western terminus of a spur of the Colorado Trail, a premier backcountry trail that runs 490 miles through some of the most breathtaking landscapes between Denver to Durango. If you’re looking for something a little more refined, there are also more than a dozen campgrounds in the area that are maintained by the National Forest Service, National Park Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

2. Take a trip to Blue Mesa Reservoir

Sitting at the center of the Curecanti National Recreation area is Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest body of water. The reservoir and surrounding public lands bring people from across the state and around the country to fish, boat, swim or just take in the scenery. With eight well-maintained campgrounds and several public beaches surrounding the lake, there are plenty of places to stretch out, launch a boat or build a campfire and watch the sunset.

3. Enjoy the Arts Scene

One of the many advantages of Western’s proximity to so many tourist destinations is the flourishing arts scene that comes with it. On a Friday night, or any night for that matter, Gunnison or nearby Crested Butte can be alive with the sounds of live music, theatrical performances, or gallery exhibits. In fact, any of those things can often be found right on campus at Quigley Hall or in one of Western’s galleries. The arts also give students who want to take the stage or show their chops an opportunity to contribute to the flavor of the place like few other outlets can.

4. Ski, Snowboard and Snowshoe

While all the seasons are filled with fun things to do, this place really comes to life in winter. Back in 1939, Western students and faculty were instrumental in opening the now-defunct Pioneer Ski Area, home to the state’s first aerial ski lift, and the interest in snow sports hasn’t let up since. Students have access to world-class alpine skiing and snowboarding at Crested Butte Mountain Resort or Monarch Mountain, ski mountaineering in the Elk and West Elk Mountains, or Nordic skiing on miles of groomed trails right in town, as well as sledding The Green Monster, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, skating on wild ice and even dog sledding. With three sheets of ice at Jorgensen Ice Arena just across the road from campus, students can skate or play on the Western club hockey team, join a town league game, or just watch their fellow Mountaineers take on teams from across the state.

If you’re new to the area, or the great outdoors, or don’t have the gear you need to take on your next adventure, don’t let that slow you down. Western is home to Wilderness Pursuits, which offers Wilderness Based Orientation where you can learn new skills and make new friends as well as a huge supply of outdoor gear, from skis to stand up paddleboards.

Wilderness Pursuits Wilderness Based Orientation

5. Look Up and Wonder

Located just outside of town, halfway between Western’s campus and the International Dark Sky Park at Curecanti National Recreation Area, The Gunnison Valley Observatory is a great place to take in the night sky. The observatory offers members of the public uncommon access to a professional-quality, 30-inch telescope that allows for an intimate look at distant celestial bodies. With its high altitude and low humidity, Gunnison has some of the best conditions for stargazing found anywhere. In addition to the telescope, people can hear lectures, attend workshops and even see movies under the stars.

6. Ride like Never Before

From endless singletrack to mile after mile of gravel and plenty of heart-pounding downhill, mountain biking in all its forms is one of the biggest draws to the Gunnison Valley. Because of Crested Butte’s unique place in the history of the sport, with its world-famous Klunker Tours of the 1970s and 80s, the Valley was once home to the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame and Museum. You can ride trails consistently ranked among the best trails in the country, like the 401 or Doctor’s Park. If you’re a mountain biker looking to ride from campus, try hitting Aberdeen Loop, Evans Loop, Signal Peak Loop, or head just down the road to the granite slabs of Hartman Rocks to experience some of the best trails in the region.

7. Step Back in Time

Did you know the gneiss and schist found at the bottom of the Black Canyon is some of the oldest exposed rock found anywhere on earth? Have you heard of the dinosaurs being excavated from the mudstone found along the shores of Blue Mesa? The Gunnison Valley and all the drainages that feed into it are filled with a fascinating natural and human history that keeps the curious asking questions. From the Folsom people and, later, Ute tribes who came to the valley for thousands of years to hunt, to the travelers on the Old Spanish Trail, which ran through the mountains south of campus, and finally to the miners and ranchers who have occupied the area for the last 150 years, the span of history represented here is simply astounding. You can learn all about it in the old ghost towns that still dot the valleys or on the faculty-led tours that will teach you all about the past.

8. Experience the Thrill of Whitewater

When spring arrives and mud season starts, whitewater becomes one of the best ways to get outside. With two navigable rivers in the valley, students can test their mettle on Class III, IV, and V rapids of the Taylor River, take a raft or kayak through the manmade water features at the Gunnison Whitewater Park a mile from campus, or just take a rollicking pleasure cruise down the Gunnison through town. Every year, Western students participate in the Gunnison Whitewater Festival and experience an event they’ll never forget.

No raft? Wilderness Pursuits rents them out to students for a minimal cost!

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gunnison white water rafting

9. Wet a Line

No matter if you like flat water, hard water or casting a fly, the Gunnison Valley has some of the best angling opportunities you’ll find anywhere in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife rates more than 30 miles of rivers in the area as Gold Medal Water and maintains trophy lake trout and kokanee salmon fisheries in Blue Mesa Reservoir. Three world-class rivers and countless miles of creek fishing can be found close to campus and the opportunities to explore new water are endless. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike to one of the area’s high mountain lakes where people can find the angling experience of a lifetime.

10. See What’s Happening on Campus

With three seasons of Division II Mountaineer sports, theater performances, guest lectures, art exhibits and concerts, there is always something happening on Western’s campus.  But sometimes, after so many incredible experiences, the best thing to do is find a quiet corner of the library and a good book or grab a cup at the Coffee Lab with a friend and just relax.

Mountaineers come to Western not only to get a high-quality education – but to experience one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Get Your Degree in Gunnison

Incoming students travel from all around the world to experience Western, not only for the location but because it is one of the best value colleges for out-of-state students. Here, they have the opportunity to live and learn in Gunnison — and experience outdoor adventures and exciting downtown destinations while getting an excellent education. Many of our hands-on learning experiences get students out of the classroom and doing fieldwork in the mountains and forests surrounding the University. Being a Mountaineer means being able to explore and discover in every way possible.

Want to discover Western from home? Check out The College Tour to see what it’s like from the student’s perspective!

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To schedule a campus tour, visit western.edu.

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