Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River

The Rio Chama, a Rio Grande tributary, is an officially designated Wild and Scenic River that runs through the Chama River Canyon Wilderness and the Rio Chama Wilderness Study Area. Total length of the river is around 130 miles.

General Info

The Rio Chama starts in the San Juan Mountains, just over the New Mexico border in Colorado. Two forks of the river join north of Chama.

What makes the Rio Chama such a beautiful river to explore is that it wind throught Chama Canyon. The canyon's wall rise to 1,500 feet above the Rio Chama in some area. Chama Canyon contains numerous geological oddites, including steep sloped walls made of ledges, ridges, and pinnacles. The canyon's walls also have multi-colored sandstone and unusual shale outcroppings.

Rio Chama also runs through Chama Valley. Here, you see a variety of dense tree stands, including douglar fir, ponderosa pine, juniper, and gambel oak. Wildlife you might spot include cougars, mule deer, black bears, coyotes, and many other species.

What to Expect

The Rio Chama is a great place to enjoy fishing (especially fly fishing), as well as boating and floating.

The Rio Chama is a great place for fly fishing, especially for trout. Expect to find rainbow trout, cutthroats, and wild brown trout. Just north of Chama, along New Mexico State Road 17, fly fishing for trout is exceptional. Note that some of the area just south of Chama is private property, so keep that in mind when fishing.

The Rio Chama offers a number of opportunities of floating and whitewater boating. Private boaters can float in some areas without a permit. (Commercial outfitters must have a BLM permit.)

When boating or floating You'll have the opportunity to explore a number of side canyons and trails along the way. You can expect to enjoy fantastic views of colorful cliffs and badlands. As for wildlife, you have the possibility of seeing raptors, golden eagles, bald eagles, blue heron, and Canadian geese.

River Flow Info

River flow in the Rio Chama can vary considerably due to rainfall, irrigation use, and overall water availability of the season. Typically, there tends to be excellent flow during what is referred to as "Early Season" (mid-April until mid-July).

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.

Minimum flow requirements for canoes, kayaks, as small rafts is 300 cfs. For rafts over 12 feet, minimum flow is 500 cfs. 

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The views of OKeeffe territory are spectacular. The river I understand is temperamental so check the weather and the dam For release of water. We had a super family float. The rapids were enough for some thrills. The water is milk chocolate and the shore fine chocolate. Careful - some list shoes in the soft shore
Love Chama River Valley. Debkress, Trip Advisor
Looking for an adventure ? Paddle the Chama River. We rented kayaks from REI in ABQ. not the recommended boat for the inexperienced paddlers, inflatable rafts are the craft of choice. Water runs from quiescent to borderline class III depending on CFS being released from up river. Look for long runs of class II w/ large boulders mid-river. Proper paddling gear required. Riverside camping is allowed along the entire length with Nat'l Park campgrounds below the put in by the Monastery. From that access to to the "Big Eddy" take out is about a 4 hr. paddle. It is an oasis in the high desert canyons with breath taking views all along the way. Highly recommended for adventure seekers. Free and no permit required below the monastery and is only floatable during late spring and early summer during releases from upper reservoir.
Memorial Day Paddle. Kadasha, Trip Advisor