The Rio Chama is the third largest tributary of the Rio Grande, about 120 miles long. Beginning in the southern San Juan Mountains of south-central Colorado, it joins the Rio Grande near Espanola, New Mexico. The canyons of this remote area have been recognized as a special place of beauty and ecological importance. In 1978, Congress designated the river as a State Scenic and Pastoral River and portions of the Santa Fe National Forest as the Chama Canyons Wilderness Area. Thirty-one miles of the river were protected as a Federal Wild and Scenic River in 1988.
The 23 miles of the river from Cooper’s El Vado Ranch to Chavez Canyon flows through a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Wilderness Study Area and the designated Chama Canyons Wilderness Area. This river segment contains Class II-III rapids. The lower eight miles of the river along Forest Road 151 to the Big Eddy is very popular for day trips and has plenty car camping opportunities. A Permit through recreation.gov is required between El Vado Ranch and Chavez Canyon from April 15 to September 15. Before April 15 and after September 15, boaters can self-register and pay for a permit on-site prior to launching. A permit is not required between the Chavez and Big Eddy boat ramps.
A float down the river offers access to many interesting side canyons, peaks and mesa tops. This country of brightly colored cliffs and fascinating badlands was made famous by the paintings of Georgia O'Keefe.
On the Rio Chama, because of release shedules, the term 'Weekend' is used for Friday and Saturday launches. Sunday through Thursday launches are termed 'Weekday'. Water is released from El Vado Reservior between 10:00 am and Noon on Friday and reduced between 10:00 am and Noon on Sunday. The water takes about 12 hours to either reach, or recede at, Chavez Canyon access site.
A river permit is required for the upper Rio Chama from April 15 to September 15. A lottery system is used for Friday launches. Permits for all other days are available on Recreation.gov first-come, first-served beginning April 1, at 8 AM. Private launches outside of the permit season are required to follow all regulations, and do not require a permit.
Flows are not guaranteed and are highly variable - based on water availability, irrigation demand, and precipitation - and may change with little notice. Please read the Cancellation Policy. 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. Check flows: USGS flow information (Rio Chama below El Vado).
If you are in a canoe or kayak, you can have a good run from El Vado to Chavez Canyon at flows as low as 200 cfs or to Big Eddy, at flows of 300 cfs. For small rafts, minimum recommended flows are 300 to 400 cfs. For large rafts (14’ or bigger) minimum flows of 500 cfs are recommended.
Please call Taos BLM with questions, (505) 484-8673.
The Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) and BLM Farmington District have each implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions on April 22, 2022 and April 27, 2022 to reduce the risk of human-caused wildfire during extreme drought conditions, historically low fuel moisture levels and high fire danger. Under Stage II restrictions, fires, campfires, charcoal grills, and coal and wood stoves are not allowed within Forest Service lands within the Santa Fe National Forest, or BLM lands within the Farmington District, and therefore on the Rio Chama.
Stoves and grills fueled by propane or other liquified petroleum fuels may be used if they meet manufacturer’s safety specifications and have on/off switches. Propane devices require an area at least 3 feet in diameter that has been cleared of flammable materials.
Smoking is allowed only in enclosed vehicles or buildings, at developed recreation sites or while standing in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that has been cleared of all flammable material. Fireworks and other pyrotechnic devices are always prohibited on national forests.
Santa Fe National Forest is entering Stage 3 Fire Restrictions on May 19, 2022. As a result, all 2022 Rio Chama river permits will be canceled and refunded on a month by month basis beginning May 19, 2022. The cancelation of your permit and refunds will be automatic. The hope is that the monsoons will return and the forest and the Rio Chama will reopen in late July or August, although this is not guaranteed.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will institute a hold-over permit process for 2023. For those permits that the BLM cancels, we will be notifying permit holders of the canceled permits and how and when you will need to claim the 2023 permit for the same day of the week that you are currently scheduled.
All Launches must be permitted. Permits are only available through Recreation.gov, and are not transferrable.
Please note the No Show and Cancellation Policy.
Permit holder must be 18 years old. The Rio Chama has two permit seasons. The Early season (April 15 to July 15) and flows typically reflect inflow to upstream reservoirs. The Release season (July 16 to Sept. 15) when flows are augmented with water being delivered downstream. Individuals may obtain one permit for each season -- Early and Release.
Only Friday launches are available through a lottery process. The lottery application window is open between December 1 and January 31.
Unclaimed Friday and all other days of the week will become available at 8:00 am. on April 1, 2022 on this site.
After April 1, canceled permits will be available on recreation.gov.
Friday permits may launch either Friday or Saturday.
All other permits must launch on their scheduled day.
River Flow and Water Levels
Below 200 cfs are very low flow conditions. No Show policies still apply. For kayaks (inflatable or hard shell), canoes, and rafts less than 12', at least 200 cfs is recommended. For rafts over 12' in length, a minimum of 500 cfs is recommended.
Rules, Permit Stipulations and Other Requirements
Shuttle Service is provided by Up the Creek Shuttle (575) 588-7704 from El Vado Ranch to Big Eddy or from El Vado Ranch to Chavez Canyon.
Be sure to have sufficient fuel in your vehicle to travel 100 miles from El Vado Ranch. There is a gas station in Tierra Amarilla. From Tierra Amarilla to El Vado Ranch is 15 miles. El Vado Ranch to Chavez Canyon access is 56 miles. From Chavez to Bode's gas station in Abiquiu, NM is 30 miles.
Please call Taos BLM for questions on boating or resource management in the upper stretches of the Rio Chama (575) 758-8851 or write to Taos Field Office, 1024 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, Taos NM 87571. Please call US Forest Service, Coyote Ranger District for questions on recreation and resource management in the lower stretches (Chavez Canyon and downstream) at (575) 638-5526. Call El Vado Ranch for questions about fishing, fees and services at the privately owned launch site at (575) 588-7354.
You will be allowed to print your permit 14 days before your launch date. Changes cannot be made to the permit once it has been printed. You must have your permit and a copy of the Rules, Permit Stipulations and Other Requirements, with you to launch.
Canceled Permits are made available on-line on the availability calendar.
Application Fee: There is a non-refundable $6.00 lottery application fee.
Reservation Fee: To accept an awarded launch, at least 1 participant's recreation fee of $5.00 must be paid.
Recreation Fee: $5 per person, per launch -- may be adjusted up until the time that your permit is printed.
Cooper's El Vado Ranch Launch site is a private facility and requires a $5.00 per person launch fee in addition to BLM fees.
Cancellation Policy: If you cancel your permit 14 days or more prior to your reservation date, you will receive a full refund, minus the non-refundable reservation fee. If you cancel 13 days or less prior to your start date, you will not receive a refund.
Change Policy: Prior to printing your permit you can modify the group size. If you wish to increase the group size and space is available, you must pay additional recreation fees depending on the number of people added. If the group size is decreased, a refund of the recreation fees will be processed as applicable. The permit date cannot be modified and permits can not be transferred.
If you would like to change your reservation date, you will need to cancel and book a new reservation (all reservation fees apply).
BLM - Taos Field Office 1024 Paseo del Pueblo Sur Taos NM 87571
Up the Creek Shuttle PO Box 6 Tierra Amarilla NM 87575
BLM Taos Field Office 226 Cruz Alta Rd. Taos NM 87571