The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo del Norte, as it is known in Mexico, flows about 1,960 miles from its headwaters near Alamosa, Colorado, through New Mexico and down the Texas-Mexico border through Big Bend to Brownsville and the Gulf of Mexico. It is the fifth longest river in the US, and drains a significant portion of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Altogether, its 335,000 square miles of drainage basin account for about 11 percent of all continental US area. However, paddling in Colorado is generally limited to the Upper Rio Grande above the Town of South Fork, though it is possible to paddle several other sections of the river, as well.
The reach between Alamosa and SH 142 just north of the New Mexico state line may well be the least paddled reach of the entire Rio Grande. It is literally in the middle of nowhere and many miles removed from any major metropolitan area. It flows through open, undeveloped farmland along the Alamosa-Costilla County Line and then down along the Conejos-Costilla County Line, where crossing roads are few and far between. Its flow is frequently diverted for agricultural and livestock activities starting far above Alamosa and continuing through this reach. But, with 5 potential access points located along the 33.3 miles of this reach there are opportunities for day trips or overnight trips for those seeking a remote, desolate paddling experience. A wetlands area is located near the small town of La Sauces, which has no direct access to the river, in the lower third of this reach. This area will be cold with snow in winter and warm to hot in summer, especially along a river that is basically devoid of trees. The river banks are mostly grassy-covered sand, especially through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge extending from above Alamosa to the Conejos River in Conejos County. The shallow gradient of about 2.3 feet per mile gives the river a very gentle current, so don't expect much help from the river. The run ends at SH 142 along the Conejos - Costilla County Line.
Alamosa, Costilla and Conejos Counties in southern Colorado passing through the Alamosa National Wildlife Reserve. The Alamosa, Trinchera and Conejos Rivers flow into the Rio Grande along this reach in far southcentral Colorado near the New Mexico state line.
Durango 150 miles; Denver 234 miles; Grand Junction 248 miles; Albuquerque 200 miles; Phoenix 663 miles; Salt Lake City 530 miles; El Paso 465 miles; Dallas 708 miles; Austin 849 miles; San Antonio 929 miles; Houston 945 miles; Oklahoma City 605 miles; Little Rock 941 miles; Kansas City 750 miles. (All distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
This reach of the river is typically a low volume stream with very good to good water quality owing to its remoteness and lack of man-made pollutants, though it will become murky after heavy rainfall.
Flow in this section of the Rio Grande is dependent upon dam releases above South Fork and from rain runoff and snowmelt in the drainage basin, most of which takes place over the winter and early spring months. Best flows are usually in April through June, depending upo winter snowpack and how much spring rains fall around Alamosa.
There are no real threats to paddlers on this reach of the Rio Grande, though there are a couple of diversion dames to be negotiated at aboput 0.4 and 1.7 miles below the US Highway 160 put-in in Alamosa. The river has a very shallow gradient of about 2.3 feet per mile and a gentle current that may seem imperceptible under normal flow conditions.
US Highway 160 Bridge (N 37° 28' 10.58" / W 105° 51' 41.18") in Alamosa on river right at 0.0 miles; Road S 13.7 (N 37° 22' 20.72" / W 105° 46' 17.63") on either side (this MAY be private property) at about 13.7 miles; Road S 116 (N 37° 21' 23.35" / W 105° 45' 37.63") on river left at about 15.7 miles; Road Z (N 37° 18' 23.88" / W 105° 44' 18.47") on river left at about 21.0 miles; SH 142 (N 37° 10' 50.42" / W 105° 43' 46.48") on river left at about 33.3 miles. There are no other access points along this reach of the Rio Grande.
There are no campgrounds along this reach of the Rio Grande. The upper half of this run flows through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and there are ample natural campsites to be found along the river, though be sure to avoid trespassing on private property. There are also conventional accommodations to be found in Alamosa at the top of this reach.
There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along the Rio Grande in Colorado. Be prepared to set up and run your own shuttles.
If you want a remote run of a few miles where you will see nothing in particular, then this is the place for you. The run begins in Alamosa and flows through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge along the Alamosa-Costilla County Line ending at SH 142 along the Conejos-Costilla County Line. In the lower third of this run is a wetlands area on river right (west side) adjacent to the river where you may see birds and other wildlife.