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Pecos River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Cowles to Pecos
~ 20 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Pecos River forms near Santa Fe in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Santa Fe National Forest, then flows southeast to Fort Sumner, where it turns south and flows through Carlsbad into Texas to its confluence with the Rio Grande at International Amistad Reservoir between Langtry and Comstock. Of all New Mexico rivers, it is second only to the Rio Grande in distance traveled through the state, and provides a significant water source for most of eastcentral and southeastern New Mexico. At least 7 state parks are located along its banks between the headwaters and Carlsbad, near the Texas border.

Between the small Village of Cowles to the slightly larger Town of Pecos the river runs about 20 miles with a steep gradient, fast-moving water and occasional diversion dams, some or all of which must be portaged depending upon flow conditions. Boulder garden rapids are rated Class II to IV, though they may merit Class IV to V consideration due to the remoteness of the area and difficulty in getting outside assistance in the event of an emergency. Riverbanks are lined with beautiful conifer trees in the Santa Fe National Forest of Santa Fe and San Miguel Counties, where this reach is situated. Springtime runoff from snowmelt and rainfall in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are the primary sources for its flow. The water is very clear and cold as it flows through mountain canyons to the desert tablelands below. Fishing on this reach of the river is excellent. Paddlers can boat this reach of the Pecos River in canoes with floatation, kayaks and rafts. The Pecos River bears many characteristics similar to those found on southern Colorado streams, and is a wonderful contrast to most New Mexico rivers. Several years ago the U.S. Congress designated the upper part of the Pecos River as a "Wild and Scenic River", which protects it from development, environmental damage and other man-made destruction. Hopefully, paddlers will do their part to help maintain the natural beauty of this gorgeous river.


Santa Fe and San Miguel Counties of northcentral New Mexico, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Santa Fe National Forest. Santa Fe, the state capitol, is only about a half hour's drive to the northwest, and Albuquerque is less than 90 minutes to the southwest.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 25 miles; Albuquerque 82 miles; Phoenix 540 miles; Durango 294 miles; Denver 520 miles; Salt Lake City 686 miles; El Paso 348 miles; Dallas 750 miles; Austin 785 miles; San Antonio 812 miles; Houston 971 miles; Oklahoma City 624 miles; Little Rock 963 miles; Kansas City 859 miles (All distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is usually excellent, flowing clean, clear and cold from snowmelt in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Flow is usually adequate for canoeing, kayaking and rafting from late spring through early summer.

Best time to go

The optimum season for paddling the Pecos River is May, though it may have navigable flows in late March to early April, lasting until mid- to late-June, depending upon winter snowpack and spring rainfall within the drainage basin on the eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Hazards to navigation

Between Cowles and Pecos the river flows as a Class II to IV whitewater stream through mountain canyons and forested banks. Boulder garden rapids are sometimes clogged with dead-fall and can present significant hazards to navigation, especially since several drops are blind. Scouting is always preferable. Diversion dams along the river pose substantial hazards for boaters and equipment, especially at higher flows. Some, or all, dams may have to be portaged depending upon flow conditions. The area offers few accesses for receiving outside assistance, and so the river rates Class IV to V on the consequences chart if a problem arises. The mountain canyons produce occasional rock slides, ledges, boulder sieves, holes, waves and strainers that can cause injury or death for careless boaters. Paddlers should have strong intermediate or higher level whitewater skills to run this reach of the Pecos River.

River Access Points

Campgrounds and accommodations

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Reviewer's comments

Technical Data
Class Rating II to IV
Length 20 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Cowles
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Pecos
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Pecos
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks, Rafts
Season April through June
Permits No

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

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

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

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

[ Pecos River Homepage ] [ Pecos to Tecolotito ] [ Tecolotito to Santa Rosa Lake SP ] [ Santa Rosa Lake SP to Sumner Lake SP ]
[ Sumner Lake SP to Bottonless Lakes SP ] [ Bottomless Lakes SP to Brantley Dam SP ] [ Brantley Dam SP to Living Desert SP ]
[ Gallinas River ]

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