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 upper 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.
A river permit is required to float the upper Rio Chama from April 15 to September 15. A lottery system is used for weekend (Friday or Saturday) launches. Weekday permits are available through advanced reservations on first-come, first-served beginning April 1. 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. 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. Boaters should monitor 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, (575) 758-8851.
Attention ALL Rio Chama Permit holders. New Mexico defines the health risk of Covid-19 individually by county. The Rio Chama is in Rio Arriba County, NM. BLM Taos Field Office adheres to New Mexico State Public Health Orders, which is currently limiting the group size to 10. The maximum Rio Chama group size is 16 people and is effective year-round; HOWEVER, we will continue to adjust the group size on the Rio Chama according to the current New Mexico level of restrictions, as was done during the 2020 boating season. To avoid the potential confusion of the refund process, we recommend you initially pay for five people or fewer. You may change the group size up until the time that you print your permit.
Please review the information in the Overview, Need to Know, and the Fees and Cancellations tabs.
• All launches should be prepared to have required gear inspected (to include a fire pan/except during fire restrictions) and will not be permitted to launch without required gear.
• Permit holder must be present to launch on the date specified on the permit, no split launches allowed.
• Permit holder is responsible for all actions of the party and can be cited for the actions of any member under the permit.
• Permit must be printed and be available at check-in to launch and while on the river.
Attention 2020 Rollover Permits:
Weekday and Friday Launches:
Weekday rollover launches have been reserved. Because of a continuing issue with the payment processing system, we have extended the deadline to accept rollover permits from April 10 to April 20. We do expect this issue to be fixed very soon. Please do not alter your permit yet, but do not panic if you have. The issue is being addressed and we will inform you when it has been resolved, and what you should do.
To apply for a lottery-assigned launch date, you must be at least 18 years old. The Rio Chama has two permit seasons. The Early season is from April 15 to July 15, and flows typically reflect inflow to upstream reservoirs. The Release season is from July 16 to September 15 and flows are augmented with water that was in storage being delivered to downstream users. Individuals may obtain one floatboat permit for each of the two seasons (Early and Release) for groups up to 16 people.
Weekend launches (for a Friday or Saturday launch) are available through a lottery process. The lottery application window is open between December 1 and January 31
Lottery Launch winners will be notified by Feb. 14, 2020 and must accept reservation bt March 15, 2021.
Unclaimed weekend and all weekday permits will become available at 8:00 am. on April 1, 2021 on this site.
After April 1, canceled permits will be available on recreation.gov immediately after being canceled.
River Flow and Water Levels
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, 226 Cruz Alta Road, 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, as listed above, with you to launch.
Canceled Permits are made available on-line immediately and are shown 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 226 Cruz Alta Rd. 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