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Canadian River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Raton to Springer (Taylor Springs)
~ 50 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Canadian River is a very long, major U.S. waterway that flows from its headwaters in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in far southern Colorado border near Raton Pass, down through eastcentral New Mexico, then east across the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, where it drains a sizeable portion of that state before reaching its confluence with the Arkansas River just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas. In New Mexico, the river has a navigable flow that is usually limited to years of above normal rainfall in the desert between Raton and Tucumcari. The geology of the Canadian River includes granite cliffs and canyons hear the headwaters and a deep sandstone canyon with historical ancient ruins between the Cornudo Hills to the west and the Kiowa National Grasslands to the east. Golden and bald eagles can be seen soaring high over the river valley, but few signs of civilization will be found along the river and its tributaries.

The Upper Canadian River, flowing 50 miles between Raton and Taylor Springs near Springer, offers boaters gentle Class I to II water that almost anybody can enjoy whenever the river flows. The trip is long, but abundant natural campsites are available so that runs can be broken down into short reaches on 2 or more consecutive days, allowing time off the river to explore the canyons and natural surroundings of this high desert section. Fences may cross teh river, so take care to avoid them - portages will probably be required.


Eastern Colfax County, between Raton and Springer. The Colorado border is about 5 miles north of Raton, along IH 25. US Highway 64 runs between Raton and Santa Fe, about 168 miles to the southwest.

Distance from major cities

Albuquerque 229 miles; Las Cruces 394 miles; Santa Fe 168 miles; Phoenix 687 miles; Durango 324 miles; Grand Junction 494 miles; Denver 220 miles; Salt Lake City 779 miles; Oklahoma City 549 miles; Dallas 582 miles; Austin 748 miles; San Antonio 759 miles; Houston 934 miles; Little Rock 905 miles; Kansas City 647 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality in the Upper Canadian River is generally very good to excellent when it flows. The water will be clean and clear. Flows depend almost exclusively upon above average winter snowpack and seasonal rainfall in the drainage basin above Raton Pass and in Lower Colorado. Typically, a heavy local rainfall is required to raise the river to navigable levels.

Best time to go

The optimum season is unpredictable, but occurs after a heavy winter snowpack and/or spring rainfall. In below average precipitation years the river will not have navigable flows.

Hazards to navigation

There are no serious hazards to navigation on this primarily flatwater reach of the Canadian River. There are numerous Class I to II boulder garden rapids that require minimal skills to safely negotiate, but which will pose no problems for most competent boaters. Fences across the river and debris jams will probably necessitate portages to avoid them.

River Access Points

Put in at Raton off SH 72 and IH 25 at 0.0 miles; Maxwell Bridge on County Road A7 off IH 25 at about miles; Take out at the US Highway 56 bridge just east of Springer (Taylor Springs) at about 50.0 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Canadian River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campground along this reach of the Canadian River. The closest campgrounds for this run are Sugarite Canyon State Park off SH 72 a few miles east of Raton and Conchas Lake State Park (505-766-2724) more than 75 miles below the Springer put-in. Conchas Lake and the state park offer campsites with and without electricity, a launch ramp (small fee may apply), drinking water, restroons, showers, fishing, a sanitary dump station, day-use picnic area, a marina and fuel. Abundant natural campsites can be found all along the river, but beware of flash flooding and camp well above the river. During periods of navigable flows the river may rise quickly. Also, beware of starting campfires along the river. Firewood is scarce, but flammable brush is abundant in a very dry area that is prone to wildfires. Liquid or gas fuel stoves are recommended for cooking.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or outfitters located anywhere near the Canadian River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles. The round trip distance for setting up shuttles is about 45 miles, so allow about 2 hours at each end of your run for shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

From Raton to Taylor Springs near Springer is an easy, Class I to II run of about 50 miles on primarily flatwater that is boatable in canoes, kayaks and rafts by almost anybody. The caveat is that you need to catch the river in a navigable flow, and that is an elusive condition for the Canadian River. The high desert of New Mexico gets very little rainfall, so the main source of flow is snowmelt from the mountains of lower Colorado and northern New Mexico. When the river flows paddlers can enjoy a multi-day run through sandstone canyons and desert topography that is interesting and scenic. There are no services of any kind along the river, so paddlers must be self-reliant. Shuttle distances are moderately short, requiring about 2 hours for the round trip. About half way through the run you will pass through the Maxwell National Wildlife Reserve, where numerous species of animals and birds can often be seen. The run ends just east of the Philmont National Boy Scout Ranch and Cimarron Canyon State Park, at the beginning of the next reach of 75 miles from Springer to Conchas Lake. Bring plenty of food, drinking water, sunscreen, extra paddles and lifejackets and your camera.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 50 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Raton
Last Take-out Springer
Elevation msl
Gradient 7 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: 07211500 (Taylor Springs)
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Unpredictable
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Adobe Whitewater Club of New Mexico - For the Love of Rivers

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Canadian River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Canadian River Homepage ] [ Springer to Conchas Reservoir ] [ Cimarron River ]
[ Conchas River ] [ Mora River ] [ Ute River ] [ Vermejo River ]

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