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Rio Brazos, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

FR 93 to SH 95
~ 23.5 miles


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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

The Rio Brazos forms high in Rio Arriba County just south of the Colorado border in the San Juan Mountains of Carson National Forest, then flows about 40 miles south and west to its confluence with the Rio Chama along US Highway 64/84 between the Towns of Brazos and Ensenada. Access at the put-in is VERY difficult, and may include a long pedestrian shuttle. Much of the land around the top access is privately owned and protected from "lowlifes" who paddle rivers. Hairboat runs are usually limited to a 14.5 mile reach starting about 25 miles above the confluence with the Rio Chama, but a great Class I to III run of 9 miles can be found from Corkins Lodge down to SH 95. A dirt road off FR 93 northwest of Tres Piedras, along the Continental Divide, will get you to a series of National Forest Service gates, any or all of which may be locked, requiring access by foot.

The upper reach of this seldom-navigable stream is in a very remote area where canyon walls rise more than 1,800 feet above the riverbed. The river plunges over 1,600 feet in just 14.5 miles on an average gradient of about 110 fpm, but that is deceiving because the gradient changes over a dozen times, starting at 40 fpm, then going to 160, 120, 280, 120, 140, 200, 260, 200, 240, 120, 80 and finally about 60 fpm near the take-out. Sections of this run are on Class IV whitewater, but most of it rates a solid Class V with some mandatory portages to avoid serious injury or death in a place where getting emergency assistance can be very difficult and time-consuming. This is a boulder garden run characterized by one 30-foot waterfall, numerous boulder sieves and frequent dead-fallen trees in the river that MUST be avoided. The scenery is awesome in this majestic canyon, but take a camera only if it is very durable and waterproof (or cheap!)

Below Corkins Lodge the river is still narrow, often too low to paddle, and not quite as hairy, but it still offers a remote, seldom-paddled whitewater experience with easier access and a little less danger. However, boaters still need to have at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills and be paddling short canoes or kayaks for this creek run. Runs end at SH 95, where the Rio Brazos flows into the Rio Chama.


Uppermost Rio Arriba County near the Rio Chama. The river starts immediately below the Colorado border in Carson National Park and winds about 40 miles to the Rio Chama near the Towns of Brazos and Ensenada. US Highway 64 will get you near the put-in for this 14.5 mile run, and US Highway 64/84 runs through the Town of Brazos, New Mexico near the confluence.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 110 miles; Albuquerque 171 miles; Phoenix 629 miles; Durango 155 miles; Denver 285 miles; Salt Lake City 610 miles; El Paso 437 miles; Dallas 839 miles; Austin 874 miles; San Antonio 900 miles; Houston 1,060 miles; Oklahoma City 713 miles; Little Rock 1,052 miles; Kansas City 948 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 crystal clear, clean and very cold, but limited to a very short season in April and May, if it flows at a navigable level at all. Adequate flows depend upon snowmelt in the San Juan Mountains. The river is rated Class V+ with mandatory portages at flows of 150 - 300 cfs.

Best time to go

Assuming adequate water is available, the normal season is in April and May. Be sure to check the flow along SH 512 near Corkins Lodge before making a jaunt up to the put-in.

Hazards to navigation

The entire run is a series of major hazards that must be taken with great care and trepidation. The upper reach of this run is for expert whitewater kayakers ONLY, and it helps to have a death wish. Below Corkins Lodge, the river is suitable for canoeists and kayakers with at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills paddling short boats. There are no access points between the put-in and the Corkins Lodge take-out, so once a trip on the upper reach starts you are committed to finishing it. Several rapids and drops require portages and some, if run, will land on huge boulders and/or dead-fall. Do not run this river unless you are absolutely confident of the skills of yourself and everybody else in your group. Below Corkins, the river is still dangerous and technical, though not quite as difficult as the upper reach.

River Access Points

Rio Nutrias Valley access off FR 93 from US Highway 84 northwest of Tres Piedras, along the Continental Divide at 0.0 miles; SH 512 access adjacent to Corkins Lodge about 5 miles east of the Town of Brazos at 14.5 miles (mile marker 7 on SH 512 from Brazos); SH 95 at Rio Chama confluence at about 23.5 miles. There are no other access points on this section of the Rio Brazos.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds along this section of the Rio Brazos. The nearest available campsites are above and below El Vado Lake just below the confluence with the Rio Chama.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or outfitters located anywhere near the Rio Brazos. Plan to setup and run your own shuttles.

Reviewer's Comments

The upper reach of the Rio Brazos is beyond the skill level of this paddler, and will never be a run I make because of its technical difficulty and the desire to live another day and paddle another river. However, for hairboater kayakers this run is awesome when the river flows. Paddling through the 1,800 foot deep canyon gives you perspective as to how truly insignificant mankind is in the overall scheme of things. From Corkins Lodge to the Rio Chama confluence the Brio Brazos offers a slightly less "thrilling" ride of about 9 miles on Class I to III water. The area is pristine forests and canyons with water that is ALMOST drinkable right from the river, but purify it first because it does catch run-off from where many animals relieve themselves. Be prepared for the long and arduous shuttle runs that will be necessary to enjoy this wonderland river in far northcentral New Mexico.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to III (below Corkins Lodge)
III to V w/ mandatory portages (above Corkins Lodge)
Length 23.5 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 150-300 cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Rio Nutrias Valley access off FR 93
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out SH 95 at Rio Chama
Lat. / Long. 36.7379112 / -106.5768433
Elevation 9,740-7,600 feet msl
Gradient 40-280 fpm (13 changes)
USGS Gauge Web:
Canoes, Kayaks below Corkins
Season April (?) through May (?)
Permits No

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