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Rio Grande, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Percha Dam State Park to Las Cruces
~ 55 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Rio Grande, or Rio Bravo del Norte, as it is known in Mexico, flows 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. However, paddling in New Mexico is generally limited to the Taos Box area near Taos, though it is possible to paddle several other sections of the river, as well.

Below Elephant Butte Reservoir and Truth or Consequences in Sierra County are two dams on the Rio Grande at Caballo Reservoir and Percha Lake that must be portaged. To avoid the hassle runs down to Las Cruces in Dona Ana County start from Percha Dam State Park and continue about 55 miles through desert terrain and flatwater amid a slow current. The river winds alongside IH 25, which is never far away, but distant enough not to be a constant reminder of civilization. This is the last of the New Mexico desert runs. Leasburg Dam State Park is located about 30 miles below Percha Dam State Park, where this run starts. This section is not a popular paddling destination because of its length, nondescript topography, hot summer temperatures and slow-moving flatwater, as well as a general lack of good access between the put-in and take-out.

The Caballo Mountains line the east bank behind which is the White Sands Missle Range. The elevation drop is less than 500 feet over 55 miles at about 9 fpm with no hazards other than the heat and distance. Of course, rattlesnakes and copperheads are known to live in this region, so if you encounter one of them it could be a hazard, but they will seldom be seen. A few small towns are located along the river, and the Fort Selden State Monument is near Radium Springs just above Las Cruces. IH 25, starting in Las Cruces, meets IH 10, running between far west Texas and southern California, in Las Cruces. Other than Caballo Lake, Percha Dam and Leasburg State Parks there are no other public campgrounds to be found along this reach of the Rio Grande. Be prepared for a long paddle in desert conditions.


Sierra and Dona Ana Counties of southcentral New Mexico, very near the borders of Texas and Mexico. Albuquerque is about 3.5 to 4 hours north and El Paso is about 45 minutes to the south.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 276 miles; Albuquerque 215 miles; Phoenix 450 miles; Durango 427 miles; Denver 652 miles; Salt Lake City 819 miles; El Paso 98 miles; Dallas 715 miles; Austin 681 miles; San Antonio 662 miles; Houston 840 miles; Oklahoma City 770 miles; Little Rock 1,096 miles; Kansas City 992 Miles. (All distances are approximate, and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality in this reach of the Rio Grande is generally good to very good, flowing clean and clear from Elephant Butte Reservoir, but not drinkable without purification. Flows will usually be low and slow from spring through early summer unless additional water is being released from the lake.

Best time to go

The best time to run this section of the Rio Grande is from late March through June, though it can flow into July if water is being released from Elephant Butte Reservoir. Due to agricultural irrigation and municipal water supply drawdowns, this reach of the Rio Grande seldom has a navigable flow except after significant local rainfall. Studies and evaluations of this reach for recreational purposes are being undertaken, so recreational opportunities may increase at some future date.

Hazards to navigation

Other than desert temperatures, the long distance between access points and the possibility of snakes there are no serious hazards along this section of the Rio Grande. Take along plenty of drinking water.

River Access Points

Percha Dam State Park access at 0.0 miles; Leasburg Dam State Park at about 30.0 miles; US Highway 180 in Las Cruces at about 55.0 miles. There are no other convenient access points along this section of the river.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Campgrounds along the river are located at Percha Dam and Leasburg Dam State Parks, where campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, showers, restrooms, a sanitary dump station, day use area with picnic tables, a launch ramp (small fee may apply) and fishing are available. Camping is also available at Caballo Lake State park, just above Percha Dam State Park, offering campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, showers, restrooms, a sanitary dump station, day use area with picnic tables, a launch ramp (small fee may apply) and fishing. Numerous natural campsites can be found along the river.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters operating along this section of the Rio Grande. Plan to setup and run your own shuttles if choosing to paddle this section of the river.

Reviewer's Comments

This will never be a major paddling destination because of the desert conditions, long distance and poor public access. However, it is a great paddle trip for those able to withstand summer desert temperatures, a scoarching sun and long distances between access points. THis reach seldom has navigable flows due to drawdowns for agricultural irrigation and municipal water needs. The desert topography is occasionally offset by small towns, but nearby roadways will generally not be seen. There will not likely be other paddlers on the river with you. This section of the Rio Grande is the last practical river trip within the State of New Mexico, and takes you very near the border with Mexico, as well as El Paso, Texas. Take plenty of drinking water, a hat and sunglasses. This is a great place to wear cotton clothing on the river!

Technical Data
Class Rating I
Length 55 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Percha Dam State Park
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out US Highway 180 in Las Cruces
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: below Elephant Butte Reservoir
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season March through June dam releases
Permits No

BLM Taos FIeld Office

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 Rio Grande and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Rio Grande

[ Rio Grande Homepage ] [ Ute Mountain Run ] [ Razorblades ] [ Upper Taos Box ] [ La Junta ]
[ Lower Taos Box ] [ Orilla Verde Recreation Area ] [ Racecourse ] [ Bosque ]

Tributary Rivers

[ Red River ] [ Rio Brazos ] [ Upper Rio Chama ] [ Chama Canyon ] [ Rio Embudo ] [ Rio Pueblo ]

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Last updated December 26, 2014

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