The BLM offers various boating opportunities.

River Recreation / Whitewater

BLM provides seasonal whitewater boating opportunities on the Rio Chama and the world-class Rio Grande in northern New Mexico, and on the Gila River Lower Box Canyon in southern New Mexico. These whitewater rivers attract a high number of both private and commercial rafters and boaters from all over the country. For extensive information concerning the Rio Chama and the Rio Grande and their whitewater boating opportunities, please visit the Taos Field Office recreation website. For information concerning the Gila River, contact the BLM Las Cruces District Office.

Listed below are definitions of the different river and rapid scales and some safety tips for New Mexico boaters. Because of New Mexico’s rapidly changing weather conditions and propensity for flash flooding, river classifications can change rapidly. Be prepared for these events, check weather forecasts, and don’t overextend your skill levels or equipment capabilities.

River Classifications
 International Scale of River Difficulty


EASY - Waves small; passages clear; no serious   obstacles.


MEDIUM - Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear of obstructions. Most open canoeists  should never tackle anything tougher than Class II.


DIFFICULT - Rapids are longer and rougher than Class II. Waves numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuver; scouting usually needed. Requires good operator and boating equipment.


VERY DIFFICULT - Rapids are generally longer,   steeper and more heavily obstructed than Class III rapids. Waves powerful, irregular; dangerous rock; boiling eddies; passages difficult to scout; scouting mandatory first time; powerful and precise maneuvering required. Demands expert boatman and excellent boat and outfit.


EXTREMELY DIFFICULT - Exceedingly difficult,  long and violent rapids, following each other almost  without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed;  big drops; violent current; very steep gradient; close  study essential, but often difficult. Requires best man, boat, and outfit suited to the situation. All possible precautions must be taken.

CLASS VI     or U

 UNRUNNABLE!!!  Do not attempt to boat this class of white water.


New Mexico River Safety Tips
  • Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return, and where to call if you don't. Cell phones often don’t work in the deep river canyons of New Mexico.
  • Be sure your whitewater skills and experience are equal to the river and the changing river conditions. Never boat alone.
  • Wear a Coast Guard-approved type III-V, properly-adjusted, lifejacket at all times when you are in or near the river.
  • Know your limits of swimmers, and their rescue and self rescue abilities on whitewater rivers. Know when and how to swim for an eddy. Carry rescue equipment and throw bags and extra safety lines.
  • Reduce injuries by wearing protective footwear and proper clothing designed for river running.
  • Helmets are recommended for kayakers and canoeists at all times. Rafters should wear helmets in Class IV and above water.
  • Be prepared for extremes in weather, especially cold. Know about the dangers of hypothermia and how to deal with it. When air and water temperature add up to 120 degrees or less, hyperthermia is a high risk. Wear a wet suit and booties in spring to early summer and always in Class V water. Know early signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration in hot weather. Remember certain medications can  complicate these types of environmental injuries. New Mexico is notorious for rapidly changing weather conditions, be prepared for these changes; don’t be caught off guard.
  • Know how to recognize and react to river hazards such as holes, wrap rocks, undercut boulders and walls, rock sieves, and horizon lines across the river.
  • Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. Learn or review medical aid responsibilities and CPR.
  • Avoid rattlesnakes, poisonous insects and cactus, and other famous New Mexico plants that can cause puncture wounds. These include cat claw, yuccas, and lechuguilla. Know how to deal with emergencies.
  • Never run a rapid unless you can see a clear path through it. Watch out for new snags after winter and spring floods. Allow the craft ahead of you to pass through the rapid before you enter it. This will avoid disaster if the leading boat blocks the channel.
  • When in doubt, stop and scout. If you are still in doubt, portage.
  • Remote rivers through isolated areas should be approached with caution, since aid is difficult or impossible to obtain in case of an accident.
Required River Recreation Items
  • A first aid kit adequate to handle common river injuries.
  • An approved US Coast Guard life preserver, Types I, III or V, which must be worn by every person in the party while on the river.
  • For non self bailing rafts, appropriate buckets must be on board each craft.
  • A length of rope at least equal to the length of the boat.
  • A throw line at least 50' in length must be on board each primary boat.
  • Patching and repair equipment, including an air pump.
  • Fire pan required for all fires; you must carry out all ashes and coals.
  • Strainer for dishwater; residue must be carried out.
  • Solid human waste must be carried out in a washable re-usable container, no plastic bags allowed. River toilets that meet requirements are available at river equipment outlets. ECO Safe, River Bank Toilet or Jon-ny Partner brands may be purchased at: or Liquid waste should go into the river.
  • If you bring your dog(s), they must be leashed and under your control at all times, to avoid harassment of wildlife or other recreationists. Dog feces must also be carried out.
Leave No Trace on the River
  • Plan Ahead and Prepare.
  • Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces.
  • Choose an established, legal site that will not be damaged by your stay.
  • Restrict activities to areas where vegetation is compacted or absent.
  • Keep pollutants out of water sources.
  • Stay on existing trails, or choose the most durable surfaces available: rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Good campsites are found, not made altering a site should not be necessary.
  • Pack it In, Pack it Out.
  • Leave What You Find.
  • Minimize Use and Impact of Fires.
  • Use only firepans if you must have a fire; lightweight stoves are a much less impacting way to cook in the backcountry.
  • Collect only dead and down wood for your fire, or bring a supply from home.
  • Remove all ashes and coals from the firepan and pack them out.
  • For more information visit the Leave No Trace! website.
Motorized Boating 

The only motor boating opportunities on public lands in New Mexico are located on the 121-surface-acre Santa Cruz Lake. The lake is located 30 miles north of Santa Fe in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and provides recreational opportunities for anglers, picnickers, campers, and boat lovers alike. For more information concerning the Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area please click here.

All boaters must comply with State of New Mexico and BLM regulations for boating safety, equipment, and registration. A U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal floating device (PFD) must be provided for each person in the boat. All children 12 years old and younger must wear the PFD at all times while on the lake.

Other Boating

Some BLM Field Offices also manage small recreation areas where limited non-motorized boating can take place. Please visit these sites for additional information.

BLM New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Areas

Photo of Kayaker

Kayaking Canoeing Rafting Boat Launch

Carlsbad Field Office
 Pecos River Corridor Recreation Area

Las Cruces District Office
 Gila Lower Box Canyon

Taos Field Office

 Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River

Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River


Wild Rivers Recreation Area

 Orilla Verde Recreation Area
 Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area