Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River


Looking across the valley of the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River just below the Crist in the Desert Monastery
Looking down on the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River from just downstream of the monastery
Several folks in canoes and kayaks navigating the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River

The Rio Chama is a major tributary of the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. The river flows through a long, multi-colored sandstone canyon with walls that reach as high as 1,500' above the river. The river is very popular with fishermen, whitewater rafters and canoeists, however, boating use has been limited since 1990. Because of the high demand for float trips in late spring and summer, a lottery system has been established to assign launch dates. A float through the entire 31 mile canyon, with all its Class II rapids, can take 2 to 3 days.

However, there's more than just rafting here. There are some heavily forested side canyons to explore and quite a few historical sites. A lot of the region is designated as Chama River Canyon Wilderness or Rio Chama Wilderness Study Area, so wilderness rules and regs apply to just about everything except the lower 8 miles of the canyon (which is accessible from FR 151 just north of the Ghost Ranch on US 84).

The BLM manages the 31-mile section of the river between El Vado Dam and the Big Eddy take-out. About 8.25 miles upstream from the Big Eddy take-out is the Chavez Canyon put in/take out, where 1/2 day rafting trips on the lower segment of the river begin. (Chavez Canyon is just below the famous Peace Monastery of Christ in the Desert, which is where FR 151 ends.) This 8.25-mile section of the river has earned the Wild and Scenic River designation.

The Rio Chama Scenic and Wild River Corridor is embedded in Santa Fe National Forest, with a small section near El Vado Dam being in Carson National Forest.

Folks who want to boat down the river from El Vado Dam either go commercial or are subject to the BLM lottery. Either way, there's fees. For those who put in at Chavez Canyon and float the lower 8 miles through the National Forest zone, it's free (unless you go commercial). The river is open all year but winter conditions can be very severe.

Maps: BLM - Chama, Abiquiu

The Rio Chama opens up a bit and slows down at the Big Eddy Pullout
At the Big Eddy Pullout
The view downstream of Big Eddy on the Rio Chama
Looking downstream from Big Eddy
Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River
Photos of the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River courtesy of TheArmchairExplorer, CCA-by-SA 4.0 License
Map courtesy of National Geographic Topo!