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Red River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Red River Fish Hatchery to Dunn Bridge
~ 12 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The New Mexico Red River is a very short and beautiful stream forming in the Carson National Forest of Taos County and flowing west by southwest to its confluence with the Rio Grande near the Town of Questa and the Red River Ski Area of far northcentral New Mexico. The Colorado border is just a few miles north, and Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico at 13,161 feet msl, is just to the south of the headwaters. The riverbanks are lined with huge, old-growth Douglas fir and Spruce trees, some of which occasionally join large boulders in the riverbed to create hazards and strainers in the Class IV to IV+ range. Log jams can raise the difficulty of the rapids to Class V status, especially at higher flows. Runs can be made by canoes with flotation or kayaks paddled by those with advanced or higher level whitewater skills, but rafts are not well-suited to this river.

The very short season, usually in May, limits opportunities for doing this run. Only the upper 3.5 miles are actually on the Red River, with the lower 8.5 miles being on the Rio Grande down to the Dunn Bridge take-out below the Lower Taos Box. This lower section is flatwater, but it is a small price to pay for paddling a gorgeous river. Bring your camera to preserve memories of this excellent whitewater stream.


The Red River Ski Area of northern Taos County in far northcentral New Mexico. The Colorado border is only about 20 miles to the north. Carson National Forest is at the headwaters.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 75 miles; Albuquerque 136 miles; Phoenix 594 miles; Durango 287 miles; Denver 461 miles; Salt Lake City 740 miles; El Paso 402 miles; Dallas 804 miles; Austin 839 miles; San Antonio 866 miles; Houston 989 miles; Oklahoma City 614 miles; Little Rock 954 miles; Kansas City 875 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 is excellent, flowing clean, clear and very cold, but the river may occasionally be partially clogged with downed trees. The water is not drinkable without purification. Flows are usually limited to May, and are dependent upon snowpack in the mountains draining into the river.

Best time to go

About the ONLY season on the Red River is the month of May. Be sure to check the USGS gauge number 08265000 for current flow information before going.

Hazards to navigation

The only real hazards on the Red River are downed trees that catch in the boulders forming the rapids. These can raise the difficulty to Class V, especially at high flows. The rapids are normally Class IV+ when flows exceed 250 cfs, and generally pose no significant problems for competent boaters with at least advanced level whitewater experience and skills.

River Access Points

Red River Fish Hatchery off SH 522 north of Arroyo Hondo on river left at 0.0 miles; Dunn Bridge on the Rio Grande below the Lower Taos Box at about 12.0 miles. There are no other access points for this section of the Red River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds along this section of the Red River. However, there are six or more excellent campgrounds along SH 378 north of the confluence with the Rio Grande, and Cebolla Mesa Campground, off SH 522, just below the confluence (Cebolla Mesa is not accessible from the river.) Numerous other campgrounds are available north and south of the Red River area.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters operating on or near the Red River. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles.

Reviewer's Comments

The Red River offers a short run of Class IV+ whitewater that is well-suited to canoes with flotation and kayaks paddled by those with advanced or expert level whitewater skills. The short 3.5 miles of whitewater is followed up by about 8.5 miles of flatwater on the Rio Grande down to Dunn Bridge below the Lower Taos Box. Scenery around the Red River is absolutely awesome, so bring your camera to save some memories. This very seasonal stream is an excellent paddle destination for those with the skills to safely run it, and can be combined with runs on other nearby rivers, some of which are suited only for expert whitewater kayakers. You can also enjoy the hospitality of the nearby Red River Ski Area and the quaint little New Mexico towns in the general vicinity.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV+
Length 12 miles
Min. Stage 2.6 feet on USGS 08265000
Opt. Stage 3.0-3.4 feet
Max. Stage
First Put-in Red River Fish Hatchery
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Juhn Dunn Bridge
Lat. / Long. 36.5348015 / -105.7085037
Elevation 7,080-6,600 feet msl
Gradient 12-160 fpm (4 changes)
USGS Gauge Web: Questa
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks
Season May
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

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

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© September 23, 2002. All rights reserved.
Last updated August 27, 2014

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