Paddling (by kayak) the New Mexico Rio Grande from RRMQ+MC2 White Rock, New Mexico to Willow Creek Trailhead @ Albuquerque

Hi all,

Looking for local advice on running the Rio Grande from up north by Sante Fe to Albuquerque. I plan to do this via shorter day touring kayak instead of a canoe, raft or white water boat. And it will be a solo trip. I’ve mapped a put in at the end of Rt. 77 @ Caja del Rio Canyon and a take out at Willow Springs Trailhead area. There are a number of places that require portaging (e.g., Cochiti Lake / dam) which is fine. My biggest question concerns whether this section of the river is runnable in a 12-14’ day touring kayak or is the white water / rapids so severe. Clearly one large factor is the water flow. Tentatively I plan to run it around September time frame when it may be less hot and spring runoff has subsided. The route is about 50 miles and I plan about 5-6 day trip. Does anyone have any hands on knowledge of this section of the Rio Grande ?

Thanks in advance,

Pete Farley

Use caution. Find a good guide book. There are lots of Class III rapids and some Class IVs as I recall. The river winds through some narrow canyons which means you can’t line boats, and portages are very difficult. I would strongly suggest you reconsider your idea of using a touring kayak for those runs. Going solo just makes it more dangerous. You would be much better off in a raft and in a group.

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Hi ppine,

Thank you for your insight and suggestions. I will definitely take those to heart in reassessing my trip. Have you paddled these sections before ?

AW rates the upper section ( Otowi Bridge to Cochiti Reservoir) as Class III. AW has no information below the Reservoir.

Hi Rival51, thank you for that resource. Have not seen that one before as I mostly do ocean / sea kayaking and or larger rivers like the Hudson River.

Many thanks

So my paddling has been upstream of where you are putting in. Some things to consider, i purposefully avoided rio grande this past spring, april and may, it spiked way up due to high snowpack, folks typically shoot for may, in the summer when it gets low the water quality suffers, algae slime from agricultural runoff coats the riverbed, think about taking all your drinking and cooking water, indian res land around espanola wont tolerate camping, as mentioned in aw dont leave a car, espanola is sketchy, lots of drugs and petty crime, according to my brother who lives in the area, sorry to paint a bleak picture because i think the scenery would be good, a more popular trip is on the chama but need a permit for the section immediately below el vado lake, ive done the section below that using blm access, has good scenery, class 2, and no permit required, one section of the rio grande requires permit and i believe it might be where you are looking to paddle, check out southwest paddler website, also local paddling groups on facebook for better info, dont let me discourage you, just make sure you do your homework, some things to consider to have a successful trip

I have never paddled the Rio Grande R because the canoeable sections are short and hard to access. I have worked around the River in Colorado. I always wanted to float it, but in a raft.

There is a nice stretch above Pilar called the State Park run (or Orilla Verde), but above and below that is the Taos Box and the Race Course. Both of these are Class III and up. As TDaniel said above, the Chama is your best bet although you need about 500cfs minimum on the stretch for a decent ride. Last I heard the spillway on ElVado dam was clogged up and they were having low flows even during the permit season. I would watch the gauge if you are planning a trip. Also remember you are at around 6,000 ft up by ElVado Ranch, so it gets cold up there in the spring and fall at night (winter goes without saying). I had a couple of nights in September a while back in the 20’s. Bring the right gear for the weather.

Yes. Avoid Taos Box and the Racecourse.

I did the orilla verde stretch and did 3 or 4 laps on the racecourse section. Enjoyed both a year and half ago. The stretch i’m itching to do is more seasonal, on the chama above the lakes. I scouted it but was a bit too low when I visited.

Back to the OP I will probably do the overnight stretch on the rio grande that the OP asked about but my brother was unable to secure a permit (lottery) for an overnight trip this past spring or summer. Also high snow pack this last year had me looking elswhere. He will probably try again to get a permit since he lives in Espanola so maybe in the future I’ll get there.

The taos upper and lower box was low when i boated the racecourse. Maybe in my 20s or 30s i would have tried it. At low flow it sounds more difficult and that scared me off a bit. Outfitters werent running it at those lower flows but they were running the racecourse and I used them as a probe to choose my own lines, a legit strategy on new to me runs.