RIO CHAMA WILD AND SCENIC RIVER
The Rio Chama, a major tributary of the Rio Grande, flows through the Chama River Canyon Wilderness - a multi-colored sandstone canyon whose walls rise to 1,500 feet above the river as you travel downstream. The BLM manages a 22 mile stretch of the Rio Chama – from El Vado Ranch to the Chavez Canyon access. The 9 miles between Chavez Canyon boat launch and Big Eddy access is managed by the Santa Fe National Forest Coyote Ranger District.
Boating, camping, fishing, hiking/backpacking, wildlife viewing:
- Fishing is especially good on the upper 1 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).
- Rio Chama Lottery Application for a Weekend Launch
Because of the high demand for trips in late spring and summer, the BLM uses a Recreation.gov lottery system to reserve weekend launch dates from April 15 through September 15. All launches on the 22 mile wilderness segment of the Rio Chama between these dates must have an advance permit. Lottery entries are due on Recreation.gov before January 31.
The Rio Chama launch calendar is split into two ‘seasons’: Early Season and Release Season. Early Season is from April 15 to July 15 and Release Season from July 16 to September 15. Individuals may apply for each of these seasons. Although the lottery only awards Friday launches, lottery winners may launch on either Friday or Saturday.
BLM staff at El Vado will check permits and required equipment– as outlined on Recreation.gov.
- Weekday (Sunday-Thursday) and unclaimed weekend launches will become available for reservation on Recreation.gov starting April 1.
- No advance reservation or fees are required for private day trips launching from Chavez Canyon, just below the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.
- For questions, call Barry Weinstock at 505-484-8673 or BLM Taos Field Office at 575-758-8851.
- El Vado, aka Cooper’s Ranch requires a per person fee the launch site – currently $5.00 – cash preferred. 575-588-7354
- Off Season Boating
No advance reservation is required for a launch after September 15 and before April 15 – you simply show up at the launch site, fill out a self permit envelope, pay the fees, and go. Please self-register at the put-in. Please note that winter minimum flows can be around 50 cfs, which is not a boatable flow. All regulations that apply to limited permit seasons still apply during the off season. Please see the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River Brochure for more information and regulations.
- River Flow Information
Flows are highly variable, based on water availability, irrigation demand, and rainfall. Please watch for flow information on the USGS website.
- Although there is no certainty, Early Season flows tend to reflect runoff, and Release Season flows tend to reflect scheduled release for delivery to downstream users. There tends to be a better chance to have weekday water during the Early Season. Weekday releases in both seasons are more variable / less reliable than weekend. The recommended minimum flow requirements for kayaks, canoes, and rafts less than 12' is 300 cfs. For rafts over 12' in length the recommended minimum flow is 500 cfs.
- USGS Water: https://waterdata.usgs.gov/nm/nwis/uv/?site_no=08285500&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060
Restrooms and drinking water are located at El Vado Ranch. There are no facilities on the river itself. Solid human waste must be carried out in a washable re-usable container, or – for very small groups – an approved bag system. River toilets that meet requirements are available at river equipment outlets. ECO Safe, River Bank Toilet, Coleman, Jon-ny Partner, Cleanwaste's GO Anywhere Toilet Kit or Restop 2 are some examples. Liquid (kitchen) waste should be strained into the river.
- Location & Access
El Vado Ranch is reached via NM 112 from US 84 near Tierra Amarilla. Chavez Canyon and Big Eddy access points are reached on Forest Road 151- just north of Ghost Ranch - on US 84. Forest Road 151 is a dirt road and not easily accessible when wet.
- Shuttle Service
Up the Creek Shuttle (Prices below are provided as a guide and may not be actual. Please contact business to determine actual prices)
- $100 from El Vado Ranch to Big Eddy
- $150 from El Vado Ranch to Chavez Canyon
You may set up your shuttle at Cooper’s El Vado Ranch office during open hours or call 505-490-2052 or 575-756-8131.
- Leaving No Trace on the Rio Chama
- Plan Ahead and Prepare/Camp and Travel on Durable Surfaces
- Choose an established site that will not be damaged by your stay
- Restrict activities to areas where vegetation is compacted or absent
- Keep pollutants out of water
- Stay on existing trails, or choose the most durable surfaces available: Rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow
- Pact it In, Pack it Out/Leave What You Find
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 on the lower section 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. For a list of permitted river outfitters, call 575-758-8851. You may also take your own (or rented) boat down these rivers. Please review BLM's recommended river safety tips.