Rio Grande - 03. Chiflo Campground to Little Arsenic Trail

Rio Grande, New Mexico, US


03. Chiflo Campground to Little Arsenic Trail (Upper Taos Box)

Usual Difficulty V (for normal flows)
Length 6 Miles
Avg. Gradient 69 fpm


Photo of Jered Johnson by Craig Cardella taken 03/03/04 @ 500cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-08263500 300 - 3000 cfs V 00h24m 50.7 cfs (too low)

River Description

This is truly one of the classic runs in the west. The Taos Box is actually where the Rio Grande has fallen into one of the largest rifts on earth. The entire Taos Box is almost 100 miles long. The Upper Box refers to the 6 mile Class V run from the Chiflo Trail to the Little Arsenic Trail. There is no access at all in between these two points so make sure to bring spare paddles and rescue gear as a hike out in the middle is not an option.

The one major thing you have to watch out for on this run are the sieves, they are everywhere! Some are much worse than others. Don't be fooled by the gradient. This river is the definition of pool-drop and doesn't waste any of its' gradient on easy rapids in between the big rapids. In general the rapids are long technical boulder gardens with lots of sieves. The riverbed is composed of large angular basalt rocks that have fallen from the cliffs above. Keep in mind that this is not Gore Canyon, keep the playboat at home! In fact, this run is always a good solid grade higher in difficulty that Gore at similar levels. The 3 mandatory scouts are NCO, Hell Hole, and Big Arsenic. These rapids have big drops at the entrance, and currents that push hard into sieves below. Swimming is not recommended! Fortunately there is ample opportunity to scout and portage as the cliffs are located high up on the rim, not at river level.

For many the run is defined by the takeout. You have 2 less than appealing options. You can float out on 9 miles of flat water, or take a 45 minute hike to the rim at Little Arsenic Trail. Although the Little Arsenic takeout is by far preferred, it does climb 750 feet up in .8 miles. The best camping is at the end of the takeout trail.

The reaches of the Taos Box area are...

Ute Mountain (Class II),
Razors (Class III/IV),
Upper Box (Class V/V+),
Lower Box (Class III/IV),
Pilar (Class III/IV),
Otowi Bridge (Class III),
Red River (Class IV),
Rio Pueblo (Class V+), and
Rio Embudo (Class V+).

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2017-07-15 04:21:14

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.5Powerline RapidIV+
2.0NCO5.0Hazard Photo
2.3Hell Hole5.1Hazard Photo
2.5Long Rapid5.0
3.5Pleasure PlungeIV+Photo
4.0The Great CalmI
4.5Boulder Fan Rapid5.0
4.8Freight TrainIV+
5.0Big Arsenic Rapid5.1Hazard
5.5Little Arsenic Rapid5.0Hazard Photo
5.8Little Arsenic Rapid Junior5.0Hazard Photo

Rapid Descriptions

put-in (Class IV)
The hike is what is rated class IV, a 350 foot descent down Chiflo Trail. The whitewater is going to be mostly pools with scattered Class III for the next 1.5 miles.

Powerline Rapid (Class IV+, Mile 1.5)
The first major rapid, directly under the powerlines spanning the gorge.

NCO (Class 5.0, Mile 2.0)

NCO Brian

NCO Brian
Photo of Brian Adkins by Craig Cardella taken 03/21/04 @ 700cfs low

A steep entrance drop that pushes left, into multiple sieves, in the runout. It is possible to set safety to prevent someone from getting stuffed.

Hell Hole (Class 5.1, Mile 2.3)

Hell Hole

Hell Hole
Photo of Brian Adkins by Craig Cardella taken 03/03/04 @ 500cfs

A large ledge with a large undercut rock center right, and the main current pushing hard left into a mean sieve. Safety is very difficult to set.

Long Rapid (Class 5.0, Mile 2.5)
Long and technical boulder dodging, sieves but not as bad as the previous rapids.

Pleasure Plunge (Class IV+, Mile 3.5)

Pleasure Plunge

Pleasure Plunge
Photo of Max Sullivan by Craig Cardella taken 03/21/04 @ 700cfs low

Highly fun boofs to be had in the center and right channel.

The Great Calm (Class I, Mile 4.0)
Long stretch of placid river

Boulder Fan Rapid (Class 5.0, Mile 4.5)
Long and technical boulder dodging, keep an eye out for those sieves!

Freight Train (Class IV+, Mile 4.8)
Big wave train leading into a large hole, boof hole on left side.

Big Arsenic Rapid (Class 5.1, Mile 5.0)
Sieves, mank, and steepness. Mandatory scout

Little Arsenic Rapid (Class 5.0, Mile 5.5)

Little Arsenic Rapid

Little Arsenic Rapid
Photo by Craig Cardella taken 03/13/04 @ 500cfs (low)

Long and technical boulder dodging with an abundance of sieves.

Little Arsenic Rapid Junior (Class 5.0, Mile 5.8)

Room of Doom

Room of Doom
Photo of Natural Born Killer by Craig Cardella taken 03/14/04 @ 500cfs low

Long and technical boulder dodge rapid, with the infamous "Room of Doom" seive.

Take-out (Class III, Mile 6.0)
The takeout for Little Arsenic Trail is notoriously ambiguous. The whitewater will obviously mellow out, look for the trail on river left, takeout about a 1/4 mile after when the trail climbs up and on top of a bench and is no longer next to the river. I look for a large dead tree with the top broken off, it's probably about 40' tall, it has been dead for a while and has no bark. The hike to the rim is 750 foot up in .8 miles and will take about 45 minutes. Your only other option is to paddle 9 miles of Class I. The pain is unavoidable.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 25 2012 (2398 days ago)
1.) It is possible to put in at Bear Crossing, the trail is steeper and you will miss the class III
warm up section. I don't recommend it. 2.) NOC and Hell Hole, scout, portage left. 3.) Boulder Fan,
scout left. Might be a good idea to set safety 2/3's of the way down on river left hand side by the
obvious sieve. Possible to portage on the left but, hike is brutal and takes a lot of time. 4.) Big
Arsenic portage right above the big boulder on the screen field. Easiest portage on the river if
done correctly. 5.) Little Arsenic, ran this on river right mostly. Eddied out and portaged the
tail end of the rapid as it really starts to sieve out near the end. It is possible to take out
sometime after Little Arsenic on river left and follow a trail to the trailhead for the Little
Arsenic / recommend take out. 6.) Wear long pants as Poison Ivy is everywhere!

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