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Conchas River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Headwaters to Conchas Lake State Park
~ 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 Conchas River forms east of Las Vegas in San Miguel County, then flows east by southeast to Conchas Lake and its confluence with the Canadian River a few miles northwest of Tucumcari. From its headwaters to Conchas Lake State Park on the east side of the lake the river flows about 50 miles as a gentle, Class I to II flatwater stream with occasional small rapids. This high desert waterway cuts through sandstone geological formations near the Gallinas River tributary of the Pecos River. When it flows boaters can enjoy the river in canoes, kayaks and rafts. An unpaved road between Santa Rosa Lake State Park on the Pecos River and SH 104 at Trujillo allows access from both the north and south sides about 18 miles below the headwaters. SH 104 crosses the river at about 34 miles below the headwaters. The two roads allow paddlers to choose between trips of 32 miles from the unpaved road to the state park, 16 miles from the unpaved road to the SH 104 crossing or 16 miles between SH 104 and the state park. The headwaters are inaccessible by public roads. This is a leisurely run that almost any able-bodied paddler can enjoy whenever the river offers a navigable flow.


Central San Miguel County in northeastern New Mexico, near the Pecos River and the Rio Grande. Las Vegas is about 25 miles east of the headwaters (as the crow flies), and Tucumcari is about 31 miles southeast of Conchas Dam by SH 104.

Distance from major cities

Albuquerque 170 miles; Las Cruces 263 miles; Santa Fe 126 miles; Phoenix 628 miles; Durango 343 miles; Grand Junction 513 miles; Denver 409 miles; Salt Lake City 798 miles; Oklahoma City 450 miles; Dallas 594 miles; Austin 649 miles; San Antonio 660 miles; Houston 835 miles; Little Rock 784 miles; Kansas City 687 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 Conchas River is generally good to very good when it flows. The water will be clean and clear. Flows depend almost exclusively upon above average seasonal rainfall in the drainage basin of the high desert surrounding the river.

Best time to go

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

Hazards to navigation

The Conchas River has no serious hazards to navigation. This is a Class I to II flatwater stream that is boatable by almost any paddler in good physical condition who is capable of keeping his or her boat aligned with the hole to the top.

River Access Points

Unpaved road between Santa Rosa Lake State Park and SH 104 at Trujillo at 0.0 miles; SH 104 crossing west of Conchas Lake at about 16.0 miles; Conchas Lake State Park on the southeast side of the lake at about 32.0 miles. There are no other access points for the Conchas River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campground along this reach of the Canadian River. The closest campground is Conchas Lake State Park (505-766-2724) across the lake at the takeout, offering 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.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or outfitters located anywhere near the Conchas River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles. The round trip distance for setting up shuttles is about 77 miles for the unpaved road access, or about 58 miles for the SH 104 access. Allow about 3.5 hours roundtrip time for the unpaved road access shuttle, and about 2.5 hours roundtrip time for the SH 104 access shuttle at the beginning and end of your run.

Reviewer's comments

Conchas River runs are mild rides on a slow-moving current with no significant hazards to avoid. This is basically a flatwater trip with occasional small rapids that should pose no problems for most boaters, but the river is usually shallow and slow, so even if you do capsize STAND UP! The hardest part of the trip may be the short distance across Conchas Lake to the state park, if that is where you are taking out. The desert offers a stark contrast to other Canadian River and tributaries runs that start in higher elevations where forested cliffs and larger rapids are found. This small river only flows about 50 miles, but the first 18 or so miles are inaccessible, with the remaining 32 miles being almost evenly divided so that paddlers can choose between either of 2 16-miles trips or one 32 mile run across the lake from the unpaved road access. The river is beautiful in a desert sort of way. These runs are great for inexperienced or lazy paddlers who just want to spend a few hour paddling or floating along a lazy river.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 32 miles (accessible)
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Unpaved road between Santa Rosa Lake State Park and Trujillo
Last Take-out Conchas Lake State Park
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web:
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Unpredictable
Permits No
October 31, 2009

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 ] [ Raton to Springer ] [ Springer to Conchas Lake ]
[ Cimarron River ] [ Mora River ] [ Ute River ] [ Vermejo River ]

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