New Mexico's Scenic Rio Chama River

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Towering cliffs, rolling sagebrush covered hills, and heavily wooded side canyons provide the backdrop for the dramatic beauty of the Rio Chama River. Beginning in the southern San Juan Mountains of south-central Colorado, the Rio Chama runs about 120 miles (193.1 km) before joining the Rio Grande near Espanola, New Mexico. Designated a Wild and Scenic River in 1998, 31-miles (49 km) of the Rio Chama in are now recognized and protected for their beauty and ecological importance.

A vibrant landscape unfolds along the Rio Chama

Part of the Rio Chama winds 24.6 miles (39 km) through the Rio Chama Wilderness Study Area managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Chama River Canyon Wilderness managed by the U.S. Forest Service. This corridor boasts soaring canyons climbing more than 1,500 feet (457 m), superb fishing, and wildlife viewing including mule deer, black bears, elk, coyotes and mountain lions.

Popular with float boaters and hikers, the country-side is filled with brightly colored cliffs and badlands made famous by artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Boaters typically float the Rio Chama in two and three day trips enjoying the serene nature of this river, including several moderate Class II rapids and one Class III.

Several kayakers and a canoe floating the Rio Chama.

Rio Chama, New Mexico (BLM)

From April 15 to September 15, a river permit is required to float the upper 23 miles of the river from Cooper’s El Vado Ranch to Chavez Canyon. Because of the demand for trips in late spring and summer, a lottery is used to reserve weekend (Friday-Saturday) launch dates. The lottery opens December 3, 2019 and closes January 31, 2020. Beginning April 1st, weekday permits are available for advanced reservations. 
Keep in mind, flows are not guaranteed and are highly variable based on water availability, irrigation demand, and precipitation and may change with little notice. Early season (April 15 to July 15) flows often coincide with inflow to reservoirs above El Vado Dam. Release season (July 16 to September 15) flows are augmented for weekends (Friday to Sunday) for boater needs.

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