This photo needs editing.
Difficulty I-III
Length 33 Miles
Flow Range 200 - 1500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 31 minutes ago 614 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 12/28/2017 11:21 pm

River Description

Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River
The Rio Chama, a major tributary of the Rio Grande, flows through a multi-colored sandstone canyon whose walls grow to 1,500 feet. The river runs through areas that are designated as wilderness or as wilderness study areas. Towering cliffs, heavily wooded side canyons, and historical sites offer an outstanding wild river backdrop for the angler or float boater. Co-managed by BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, the Rio Chama offers the perfect family weekend, with something for everyone - paddling, trout fishing, hiking, exploring dinosaur tracks, and simply relaxing in the shade. The Rio Chama is a Wild and Scenic River, and was designated by Congress in 1988. To protect the river environment and maintain an opportunity for a high quality experience, boating use has been limited since 1990.
Because of the demand for trips in late spring and summer, there is a lottery system to assign launch dates. (See "Boating Information" below.) Activities: Boating, camping, fishing, hiking/backpacking, wildlife viewing. Fishing is especially good on the upper mile of this river segment. Car camping is popular on the lower 8 miles, and float boaters enjoy two- or three-day trips on Class II rapids on the entire 31-mile segment (advance permits required), or half-day trips on the lower segment (no advance permits required).

Restrooms and drinking water--are located at El Vado Ranch.

Location & Access
El Vado Ranch is reached via NM 112 from US 84 near Tierra Amarilla. Forest Road 151 just north of Ghost Ranch on US 84 reaches the lower part of the river. Forest Road 151 is dirt and not easily accessible when wet.

Boating Information
The BLM manages a 31-mile stretch of the Rio Chama - from El Vado Ranch to the Big Eddy takeout.
Another put-in/takeout spot is Chavez Canyon, which is about 22.25 miles from El Vado Ranch and 8.25 miles from the Big Eddy takeout.

* Private or Self-Guided Trips / Chavez Canyon -- No advance reservation or fees are required for day trips launching from Chavez Canyon, just below the Monastery. All you need to do for this day-run is fill out a boater registration form with the BLM before you launch.
* Launch Lottery / Summer Season -- BLM's Taos Field Office administers a lottery to distribute weekend launch dates from May 1 through Labor Day. Applications are due before January 31. The office accepts telephone reservations for weekday launches after April 1. To apply for a lottery-assigned launch date, you must be at least 18 years old, fill out the postcard completely and send it back with a check for $6 made out to "USDI-BLM." Please submit 1 application per individual. You will increase your chance for success if you put down more than 1 choice for a lottery-assigned launch. By March 1, we will notify all applicants by return postcard of their launch date, if their application was drawn, or that they were unsuccessful. If a trip leader must cancel, he/she can transfer the permit to another member of the group, or can give the launch up so that BLM can reassign it to someone on our waiting list. If you were unsuccessful in the lottery, please call April 1 or later to put your name on a waiting list. You may specify up to 3 dates; if a cancellation occurs, we will notify you by telephone. All boaters, regardless of season, must fill out a boater registration form at the launch site, pay BLM a $5 fee per person, and any fees required by the owners of the launch site (El Vado, aka Cooper's Ranch, 505.588.7354).

* Summer Season, May 1-Sept. 4 Launches between May 1 and September 4 require an advance reservation. Weekends are assigned by lottery and weekdays by telephone reservation. Flows are highly variable, based on water availability, irrigation demand, and rainfall. Please watch for flow information on the USGS website or call 1-888-882-6188 for a recording that includes flow status. You may also use this telephone number after April 1 to place a weekday launch reservation.
* Winter Season, Sept. 5-April 30 No advance reservations are required. However, minimum flows are around 100 cfs. Please self register at the put-in with the number of people in your group. River Flow Information River Flow Levels -- River flow levels are unpredictable, so boaters should monitor the USGS website, or contact BLM, for current information. o USGS Water Resource Division - New Mexico District o BLM 888.882.6188 (Recorded Message). Rio Chama flows for September, 2007 are expected to be 600 CFS every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the end of the month. No advance permits are required.

Planning Your Trip
We highly recommend that you obtain a copy of the Guide to Wild & Scenic Rio Chama, published by the Public Land Interpretive Association (formerly known as the Southwest Natural and Cultural Heritage Association). Copies are available at the Public Land Information Center, at 1474 Rodeo Road in Santa Fe (BLM's New Mexico State Office), or by mail from PLIC (505-438-7542). A new edition was published May 1999.
Most outfitted trips on the Rio Chama last two days, beginning at Cooper's Ranch just below El Vado Dam and ending 31 miles downstream at Big Eddy takeout. Day trips are also available which last about 5 hours.
The river passes through designated wilderness on the upper stretches; the lower section is lightly developed and very scenic. Commercial river outfitters are permitted by the BLM to provide trips to the public. All companies meet strict guidelines for equipment safety and guide experience. You may also take your own (or rented) boat down these rivers. Please review BLM's recommended river safety tips.




















Rapid Descriptions


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Bureau of Land Management
13 years ago

The upper section put in is on private land and a fee is required. Cooper Ranch Telephone 505 588 7354. This sections is managed as wilderness and a permit is required and a $5 launch fee per person, max of 16 per trip. The lower section along forest service road 151 is a day run no permit required or launch fee.

Gage Descriptions

This is the gauge for the lower (day) section of the run. All the best play is found in this section.

Directions Description

We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

No Accident Reports



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We Need your Help to Protect Paddlers’ Access to New Mexico Rivers and Streams

Kestrel Kunz

Rivers once promoted by the New Mexico State Parks Division in their publication “New Mexico Whitewater - A Guide to River Trips” are now being blocked by private landowners with barricades, cables and No Trespassing signs. This includes upper Chama and Pecos river segments. Privatizers have filed additional applications that would close several other river segments in New Mexico, and their lawyers are threatening an “immense wave” of constitutional “litigation” in the event that “any action by the Court, the Legislature, the Department, or the Commission… restrict[s] landowners’ rights to prevent the public from using their streambeds underlying public waters.” American Whitewater has been working with our local partners in New Mexico to ensure that this new Rule is rescinded. We need your support to win this battle. If you’re in a position to contribute, doing so will help us with legal expenses for our partners and outreach.

article main photo

NM Senators Introduce Wild and Scenic River Legislation - Help us thank them!

Kestrel Kunz

We are celebrating a great win today after New Mexico Senators Udall and Heinrich announced the introduction of the M.H. Dutch Salmon Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act. The Act, officially introduced on May 8, would protect over 440 miles of free-flowing rivers and streams in the Gila and San Francisco watersheds. If passed, the Gila and San Francisco Rivers and their tributaries would receive permanent protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act - the strongest protection a river can receive. While the Gila legislation gives flexibility to existing uses and landowners, the free-flowing nature and outstanding values of these rivers and streams would be protected now and for future generations to enjoy. The main stem Gila and San Francisco Rivers offer some of the most remote and wild paddling opportunities in New Mexico and have been explored and loved by paddlers for decades. Please help us thank the Senators for their commitment to protect these rivers by filling out this super easy form! 




Thomas O'Keefe


Matt Muir


Kestrel Kunz


Mark Blakemore


Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1197723 05/24/10 wreeves
1198888 12/01/10 Thomas O'Keefe photo edit
1198887 12/01/10 Thomas O'Keefe permit update
1198889 12/01/10 Thomas O'Keefe permit update
1198842 11/30/10 Matt Muir Cleaned up text for Matt ing; added sig photo and abstract.
1208622 12/28/17 Thomas O'Keefe permit link fixed
1208094 07/15/17 Kestrel Kunz
1208123 07/15/17 Kestrel Kunz
1191014 08/09/05 Mark Blakemore n/a