Whitewater Rafting in Taos
River enthusiasts visiting or living in and around the Town of Taos New Mexico have multiple opportunities for rafting in Taos and the majestic canyons of Northern New Mexico. Taos is situated at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with multiple tributary rivers coursing down its slopes and into the mighty Rio Grande making for excellent whitewater rafting in Taos most of the year. One of the most popular sections Taos rafting lies just north of the Town of Taos in the Village of Arroyo Hondo.
Traveling further north of Taos river rafters have multiple opportunities to explore the Upper Rio Grande Gorge. The village of Questa is about 30 miles up the road and just beyond that is the access road to the Wild Rivers Recreation Area managed by the Taos Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management. “Wild Rivers” as it’s known by the locals has 3 different sections for whitewater rafting in Taos. All of the 3 sections require a hike into the canyon and a few even require that you hike out as well. The upper most whitewater run for Taos rafting in Wild Rivers is called the Razorblades. This 8 mile section is the most remote of the Wild Rivers area and offers some very fun and challenging Class IV+ whitewater.
The Blades is a series of pool drop rapids that at lower water levels is easily run by experienced whitewater rafters and kayakers by scouting from the water and shore. At higher levels the rapids become one continuous rapid that is punctuated by big drops and fast twists and turn of the river that is hard to scout and river runners must be on their toes to navigate. As the river continues its course down canyon it enters the Upper Taos Box Section of the gorge, this hair rising Class V section of river has some of the most difficult whitewater for Taos rafting in the State of New Mexico. Specific flows are needed to safely travel this section of river and flows too low are impassable for rafting and flows to high are a whitewater maelstrom for all takers. Typically run by kayakers a few adventurous rafters take on these incredible rapids occasionally with expedition style attempts at safe passage.
The rapids in the Upper Box are long and continuous with steep drops, large hydraulics and powerful waves not to mention the abundant large rocks and very dangerous sieves that form between the boulders. The Upper Box abruptly ends at the confluence of the Red River with the Rio Grande and then begins the Middle Box or “La Junta” Section. Taos rafting in the Middle Box is characterized by calm waters with some mild class 3 rapids and beautiful canyon views. Excellent fishing potential abounds in these reaches and it sees a modest amount of travel so solitude in this corridor of the wild and scenic Rio Grande is more the norm than crowds.
The Lower Gorge is just a few miles south of Taos near the Village of Pilar, New Mexico; this area of the river also offers multiple adventures for whitewater rafting in Taos. Full day river running trips typically begin at the Taos Junction Bridge on NM hwy 570 and cover about 12 miles of Class 2 & 3 white-water. The upper section through the Orilla Verde Recreation Area managed by the Taos Bureau of Land Management Field Office is a spectacular float section that has a few mild class II rapids located in its reaches. This section of river has excellent geology viewing as the river traverses onto the Rio Grande rift in Northern New Mexico rafters will float past towering basalt walls and then as the river traverses to the west the rift valley opens up and the Ortega Quartzite is exposed in some 2000′ cliffs.
The next section a river runner encounters is the “Racecourse” section which is punctuated by excellent class 3 whitewater rapids; this 6 mile section has 5 major rapids and many more splashy fun little drops. This section of river is typically run as a ½ day trip and it takes around 3 hours to raft or kayak through the rapids. After the “Racecourse” the river enters the El Bosque section which is a nice float through some of New Mexico’s earliest inhabited corridors of the river. From early puebloan Indian settlements to some of the first European colonist (Spanish) farms and agriculture community’s rafters will pass by the community of Embudo as the Rio Embudo joins the Rio Grande is this pastoral section.
Also about an hour west of Taos lies the Rio Chama, situated slightly to the west of the Rio Grande off Hwy 84 near the scenic Village of Abiquiu the “Chama” lies in the heart of Georgia O’Keeffe country. The Chama is the third largest tributary of the Rio Grande and is about 120 miles long from its source in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to the confluence or “La Junta” with the Rio Grande near Espanola, New Mexico. Many travelers from the Taos area may drive over on Hwy 64 west out of Town, after crossing the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and traveling through Tres Piedras the hwy climbs over the Brazos Cliffs and descends into the Village of Tierra Amarilla and the Town of Chama. The Canyons of the Rio Chama are filled with spectacular views as this largely mellow river traverses past 1500′ forested canyon walls that are painted in the red orange and yellow pastels of the desert southwest. A simple Taos rafting day trip can be had in the lower reaches of this canyon accessed by Santa Fe National Forest road 151 off hwy 84. This beautiful 9 mile section has expansive views and some great splashy class II rapids that are suitable for participants of all ages and abilities. For rafters looking to spend some more time exploring this stunning wilderness canyon another access point up near the Village of Tierra Amarilla provides river runners with the option of traversing 30 miles of remote wilderness canyon with excellent opportunities for hiking, fishing and camping.