Ride the Rapids or Float the River
Visiting in and around the Angel Fire, you have multiple opportunities for rafting in the majestic canyons of Northern New Mexico. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains have multiple tributary rivers coursing down its slopes and into the mighty Rio Grande making for excellent whitewater rafting.
River rafters have multiple opportunities to explore the Upper Rio Grande Gorge. The Wild Rivers Recreation Area, “Wild Rivers” as it’s known by the locals has three different sections for whitewater rafting. All of the three sections require a hike into the canyon and a few even require that you hike out as well. The upper most whitewater run 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.
As the Rio Grande 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 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 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. The Middle Box is characterized by calm waters with some mild class III 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. Full-day river running trips typically begin at the Taos Junction Bridge on NM Hwy. 570 and cover about 12 miles of Class II & III white-water. The upper section through the Orilla Verde Recreation Area 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 2,000′ cliffs.
The next section a river runner encounters is the “Racecourse” section which is punctuated by excellent class III 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 communities, rafters will pass by the community of Embudo as the Rio Embudo joins the Rio Grande is this pastoral section.
Also about two hours west of Angel Fire lies the Rio Chama. Situated slightly to the west of the Rio Grande off US 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. The Canyons of the Rio Chama are filled with spectacular views as this largely mellow river traverses past 1,500′ forested canyon walls that are painted in the red orange and yellow pastels of the desert southwest. A simple rafting day trip can be had in the lower reaches of this canyon. 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.