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Pecos River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Pecos to US Highway 84
~ 44 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 travelled 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.

From Pecos to US Highway 84 near Tecolotito the river flows about 44 miles through several small Spanish villages in deep-walled sandstone canyons of spectacular grandeur and color. This section has numerous rapids in the Class II to III range that make runs interesting, but not particularly difficult at normal flows, and which are well-suited for paddlers in canoes, kayaks, and rafts. The upper reaches of the Pecos River bear the "Wild and Scenic River" designation, and is a protected waterway that will remain very natural and beautiful, especially if boaters help preserve the pristine nature of this stream.


San Miguel and Guadalupe Counties of Northcentral New Mexico between Albuquerque and Tucumcari (west and east, respectively) and south of Las Vegas, at the top of the New Mexico tablelands. This run ends at the beginning of the desert reaches of the river.

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

Pecos River water quality is usually excellent as it flows from snowmelt in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the north. Flows are normally boatable for a few short weeks in late-spring, though the river may provide rides after significant local rainfall in the drainage basin above Santa Fe.

Best time to go

Generally, the month of May is optimum, with the possibility of adequate flows in April and/or June depending upon local precipitation conditions.

Hazards to navigation

Rapids on this section of the Pecos River are rated Class II to III, and should not pose significant hazards for competent boaters. However, at high flows some of the boulder garden rapids can create holes and pourovers that spell disaster for careless or inexperienced canoeists and kayakers. Rafts should have no serious problems if there is adequate water to prevent having to carry the boat downriver. The remoteness of this reach is definitely to be considered as a potential hazard. Access is very limited and getting outside help is next to impossible, if possible at all. Canoeists and kayakers should have at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills to safely navigate this reach at stages above about 3 feet (about 2.6 feet is the suggested minimum.)

River Access Points

Campgrounds and accommodations

Villanueva State Park, at about 25.0 miles, offers campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers, a launch ramp (small fee may apply), day use area with picnic tables, fishing and a sanitary dump station. There are no other campgrounds along this reach of the Pecos River. Below this reach Santa Rosa Lake State Park (505-766-2724), located 3 miles north of Santa Rosa (121 Miles east of Albuquerque off U.S. 66 / I 40), offers campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, restrooms, showers, a launch ramp (small fee may apply), day use area with picnic tables, fishing and a sanitary dump station. Natural cxampsites can be found along the river, but many may be on private property, especially below Terrero, so be sure to obtain permission before camping there.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

Reviewer's Comments

Technical Data
Class Rating II to III
Length 44 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in SH 63 bridge near Pecos
Lat. / Long. 35.5754013 / -105.668602
Last Take-out US Highway 84 bridge at Tecolotito
Lat. / Long. 35.2374001 / -105.1593018
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Pecos
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks
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 ] [ Cowles to Pecos ] [ 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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Last updated December 10, 2014

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