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Rio Pueblo, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Dirt Road off SH 570 to Taos Junction Bridge
~ 3.5 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. The river enters northcentral New Mexico in a remote, mountainous area between US Highway 285 to the west and SH 522 to the east. It flows about 450 miles to the Chihuahuan desert of southcentral New Mexico where it forms the national border between Texas and Mexico. Along the way it flows through the Rio Grande Gorge National Recreation Area and the Towns or Cities of Taos, Espanola, Albuquerque, Socorro, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces. Joining the Rio Grande along the way are the Rio Pueblo, Rio Brazos, Rio Chama and Rio Embudo, all located in northcentral New Mexico, and all offering excellent whitewater runs when they flow.

The Rio Pueblo is a creek boater's dream (nightmare?) that challenges the very best expert hairboat kayakers, and NOBODY else should even think about running this one! The river begins as a creek high in the Taos Plateau, becoming a whitewater river in the area between Taos and Taos Pueblo, then flows into the Rio Grande at the bottom of the Lower Taos Box. The river is short, and the run is even shorter thanks to a 1992 rockslide that permanently blocked access higher up off SH 570. Now, finding the put-in is nearly as difficult as the run, though a lot safer.

This 3.5 mile run is about 4+ hours of death-defying boating where the river plunges from a starting elevation of 6,570 feet msl, dropping some 600 feet at an average gradient of about 171 fpm. However, the gradient changes radically along the way, starting at 85 fpm, then incremently dropping to 110, 175 and finally 270 fpm near the end. Rio Pueblo is rated from Class V to VI, depending upon flow, but it is a tough ride at ANY water level. This is one mean hairboat, steep creek run that will either kill you, or make you stronger, both as a paddler and as a human being!


Taos County in far northcentral New Mexico, just a few miles south of the Colorado border. The run starts between Taos and the Rio Grande, where it terminates at Taos Junction Bridge at the bottom of the Lower Taos Box.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 70 miles; Albuquerque 130 miles; Phoenix 586 miles; Durango 282 miles; Denver 773 miles; Salt Lake City 679 miles; El Paso 266 miles; Dallas 773 miles; Austin 808 miles; San Antonio 819 miles; Houston 994 miles; Oklahoma City 609 miles; Little Rock 950 miles; Kansas City 790 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. Flows are rated Class V to VI- at 200-800 cfs, Class V+ to VI at 800-1,400 cfs, and a solid Class VI when flows exceed 1,400 cfs. Navigable flows usually occur in late spring through early summer, but may be extended by summer rainfall in the Taos - Red River area.

Best time to go

The prime season for Rio Pueblo is usually April through early June, depending upon winter snowpack and summer rainfall, which can extend the season into late June or early July. High clearance vehicles are required to get to the put-in, and after rains 4-wheel drive vehicles are necessary to avoid getting stuck.

Hazards to navigation

The entire run should be considered a major hazard to life and safety, though a short run of about 2 miles with Class III to IV drops preceeds the hair. The final 1.5 miles is where the danger really begins. Just after the canyon turns sharply to the left the gradient escalates to 110 fpm through Benny's Boulders (Class V), where a mandatory scout on river right is required. At about 2.4 miles the canyon narrows and the river drops to 175 fpm through Dave's Drop (Class V to V+) at a left-side slot. After a successful run this far, a river left scout from the pool below the drop is mandatory before continuing. If there are any questions about continuing, then paddlers should climb about 100 feet to the road on river left and hike out of the canyon. This is no place for arrogance or stubborn bravery! Just before the big drop is located a fairly safe-looking rapid that is deceptively dangerous at low water, when it will be a killer. A portage around this drop is mandatory at low flow levels! The final mile of this run is continuous Class V+ to VI drops on a 270 fpm gradient starting with Bust the Move Rapid and ending with Confluence Rapid where Rio Pueblo meets the Rio Grande. Timmy's Temptation (Class VI) and Bert's Shoulder (Class V+) are located where the river flows away from the road, and both are very dangerous drops. Huge boulders, some with sharp, angular cuts, form sieves that draw boats to certain peril. If you are not a steep creek hairboater, then find another place to paddle.

River Access Points

Put in off Hiking Trail, off dirt road from SH 570, at 0.0 miles; Take out at the Taos Junction Bridge across the Rio Grande at about 3.5 miles. NOTE: the shuttles for this run are LONG! A 1992 rockslide has permanently closed SH 570 between the Rio Grande and the put-in. Access the put in by driving to Taos from Raton on US Highway 64. At Taos, turn left onto SH 570, then drive about 2.9 miles to a right side dirt road (unmarked). Turn right at the first fork, then left at the second fork. When the road ends at a "T" take the left turn, then park about 300 yards down the road on the right side, where a small opening in the canyon wall leads down a foot trail to the put-in. After the run, turn right (north) on SH 567 and go to US Highway 64, where you will turn right (east) for the journey back to Raton, then follow the path above to the put-in where you vehicles are parked.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There is a primitive campground very near where you park your cars at the put-in. Three campgrounds are available along the Rio Grande between Taos Junction Bridge and the Town of Pilar. There may be other campsites available in the general area.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or outfitters operating on or near the Rio Pueblo. Plan on setting up and running your own shuttles using high clearance vehicles (4-wheel drive vehicles are necessary after rains.)

Reviewer's Comments

I have to admit that this run is not for me - not in this lifetime, although it would be an excellent place for a boater to commit suicide without making it look like that is what happened. Rio Pueblo is for hairboaters who are expert kayakers on steep creeks and extreme whitewater rivers. The gorgeous area is great for viewing if you just want to take a look at this run, and it begs to be photographed, but forget about taking a camera with you down the river unless it is durable and waterproof. This Class V to VI run is one of the best in New Mexico when it flows, but it is dangerous at ANY level, and perhaps more so when flows are low. Leave this one to those who have already killed off too many brain cells.

Technical Data
Class Rating V to VI
Length 3.5 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow 200-1,400cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in off dirt road from SH 570
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Taos Junction Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Elevation 6,570-6,070 feet msl
Gradient 85-270 fpm (3 changes)
USGS Gauge Web: Penasco
Season During peak snowmelt
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 ] [ Elephant Butte Res. to Las Cruces ]

Tributary Rivers

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

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