Rio Chama River Permits

Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River

The Rio Chama is 120 miles long, making it the third largest tributary of the Rio Grande. Beginning in the southern San Juan Mountains of south-central Colorado, it joins the Rio Grande near Espanola, New Mexico. In 1978, Congress recognized the canyons as a special place of beauty and ecological importance by designating 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 Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) primary objective is to ensure that wilderness resources and experience are protected.

The 22 miles of the river from Cooper’s El Vado Ranch to Chavez Canyon flows through a BLM Wilderness Study Area and the designated Chama Canyons Wilderness Area. This ‘wilderness section’ contains Class II-III rapids. A Permit through is required between El Vado Ranch and Chavez Canyon from April 15 to September 15. Between September 16 and April 14, boaters must self permit on-site prior to launching. All private launches outside of the permit season are required to follow all regulations.

Rio Chama 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, but may be adjusted due to water storage operations. 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).

A lottery system is used for Friday and Saturday launches. Permits for all other days are available on first-come, first-served beginning April 1, at 8 AM

On the Rio Chama Wilderness section, because of release schedules, the term 'Weekend' is used for Friday and Saturday launches. Sunday through Thursday launches are termed 'Weekday'. Water is released from El Vado Reservoir 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.

Downstream from the Chavez Canyon access, nine miles of additional class II-III rapids flows along Forest Road 151 to Big Eddy access. This ‘Day’ section is popular for day trips and has car camping opportunities. A permit is not required between the Chavez and Big Eddy boat ramps. 

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. Extremely low flow (ELF) runs are possible. Please call for more information about ELF trips.

Taos BLM: (505) 484-8673

Permit & Season Information

All launches must be permitted. Permits between April 15 and September 15 are only available through, and are not transferrable.

Please note the No Show and Cancellation Policy.

Permit holder must be 18 years old, and individuals may obtain one permit for each season.

The Rio Chama has two Lottery permit seasons: 

The Early Season (April 15 to July 15) weekday flows typically reflect upstream reservoir inflow and weekends are augmented with downstream delivery water. 

The Release Season (July 16 to Sept 15) weekday flows may be minimal and weekend flows are augmented. 

The lottery application window for Friday and Saturday launches is open from December 1 to January 31.

Unclaimed Friday and weekdays will become available at 8:00 am. on April 1, 2024 on this site.

After April 1, canceled permits will be available on within 24 hours of cancellation.

Friday permits may launch either Friday or Saturday.

All other permits must launch on their scheduled day.

Need to Know

River Flow and Water Levels

Flow requirements:

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 

Permit violations will result in permit holder being restricted from having a Rio Chama Permit for 3 years.

Permit Printing

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. 

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.

Fee Policy

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

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. Permit may be canceled 5 days before launch date to avoid the no-show penalty

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).

Contact Information

Mailing Address

BLM - Taos Field Office 1024 Paseo del Pueblo Sur Taos NM 87571

Mailing Address

Up the Creek Shuttle PO Box 6 Tierra Amarilla NM 87575

Mailing Address

BLM Taos Field Office 226 Cruz Alta Rd. Taos NM 87571

Phone Number

(505) 484-8673

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