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Rio Grande, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

~ 6 miles
Sunshine Valley Trail to Chiflo Trail

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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. A short 6-mile run known locally as "The Razorblades" sits between Sunshine Valley Trail and Chiflo Trail above the Upper Taos Box, and offers a fast and wild Class III to IV+ ride on a gradient of about 47 fpm for inflatable kayaks or expert paddlers in hard kayaks. The run starts and ends with difficult access along steep quarter-mile trails at each end, making it very difficult for larger and heavier boats such as canoes and rafts to access. Typically a pool-and-drop run, this reach becomes one long, continuous rapid whenever flows exceed about 2,000 cfs.

This reach could be combined with the Ute Mountain run above for a trip of about 27-28 miles, but unless you are willing to risk injury climbing steep canyon walls to camp on the rim there are few, if any, places to camp along the river. BLM permits and advance reservations are required - there is a self-permitting station at each access point. Trips below Lee Trail can be taken anytime there is adequate flow. Abundant campground accommodations are available in the areas immediately below Razorblades, though competition for space can be fierce in the heart of the spring paddling season. The scenery is worthy of photography, but you probably won't have much time for that on the river, especially when the flow is high. Road conditions reaching the Sunshine Valley access can be very difficult during the rainy season, so exercise extreme care and all due caution if venturing there during that time.


Taos County, near US Highway 64 and SH 522, in northcentral New Mexico very near the Colorado border. The nearest cities are Las Vegas and Santa Fe, though numerous ski resort towns in the Taos - Red River area are closer.

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 in this section of the Rio Grande is usually very good to excellent. Flow is dependent upon winter snowpack and the amount of water being drained for agricultural irrigation. The Razorblades section is rated Class III to IV+ at flows between about 300-1,500 cfs. The water temperature will be cold, so wear wetsuits or drysuits with a base layer to protect against hypothermia.

Best time to go

The prime season is usually early to mid spring, before the farm planting season, though flows may be adequate later in the year after a heavy winter snowpack.

Permit requirements

All private boaters are required to make reservations through BLM (575-758-8851) for paddle trips on this reach of the Rio Grande. River Office contact is Mark Sundin at 575-751-4720. There is no fee, and registration at self-serve stations at each access make the process fast and easy.

Hazards to navigation

The entire run between Sunshine Valley Trail and Chiflo Trail should be considered as a potentially hazardous area, especially at higher flows, due to the succession of major rapids in the Class III to IV+ category all along this run. Advanced or expert whitewater paddling and swiftwater rescue skills are strongly advised. Difficult access precludes rafting this section and makes canoeing more work getting to and from the river than most paddlers want to do. Hard or inflatable kayaks are best suited for this reach of the Rio Grande.

River Access Points

Sunshine Valley Trail, off Sunshine Valley Road on river left, at 0.0 miles; Lee Trail, on river left, at about 3.0 miles; Chiflo Trail, on river left, at about 6.0 miles. There are no other access points for the Upper Toas Box.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Sheep Crossing Campground on river left off SH 378 about 1 mile above Chiflo Campground; Chiflo Campground on river left off SH 378 west of Cerro; Big Arsenic Springs Campground on river left, adjacent to the Visitor Center off SH 378 at about 4.8 miles below Chiflo Campground; Little arsenic Springs Campground on river left off SH 378 at about 5.5 miles below Chiflo Campground; La Junta campground on river left at the end of SH 378 at about 6.5 miles below Chiflo Campground; Cebolla Mesa Campground, just below the Red River confluence, on river left at about 7.3 miles below Chiflo Campground. There may be other public or private campgrounds located near the Upper Taos Box area. Numerous resorts and motels are available within a short distance.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters located along the Rio Grande in the near vicinity of the Upper Taos Box. However, many commercial outfitters run trips here, and it may be possible to rent boats and gear, or acquire shuttles, from them. Be prepared to set up and run your own shuttles if unable to contract with a commercial outfitter.

Reviewer's Comments

The Razorblades is an excellent warm-up run for the Upper and Lower Taos Box sections below. It features a short 3-6 mile run (depending upon access points) on Class III to IV+ whitewater amid a gorgeous walled canyon and awesome scenery. In normal flow conditions the river is a typical pool-and-drop format that turns to one long, continuous rapid when flows exceed about 2,000 cfs. The very difficult access points relegate this run to inflatable or hard kayaks only, though canoes with flotation could do it if paddlers are willingto struggle up and down the long, steep trails to get in and out of the river. ADVANCED or expert level whitewater paddling and swiftwater rescue skills are strongly advised for runs on this reach. The scenery is very picturesque, but leave your camera in the car, because you will have no time for photography if you are paying attention to the run before you. The number of available campgrounds below this run offer good opportunities for setting up a base camp for paddling several reaches of the Rio Grande above Albuquerque. Since the normally best season is early to mid spring be prepared for cold air and water temperatures. If your skills are not quite up to this run, then consider other reaches with smaller rapids and a gentler gradient.

Technical Data
Class Rating III to IV+
Length 6 miles
Minimum Flow 300 cfs
Optimum Flow 400-1,500 cfs
Maximum Flow 2,500 cfs
First Put-in Sunshine Valley Trail
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Chiflo Trail
Lat. / Long. 36.7411003 / -105.6793976
Gradient 47 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Cerro
Boats Kayaks, Inflatable Kayaks, Canoes w/ flotation
Season Early to mid-spring
Permits YES, but no fee required - see details at left

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 ]] [ Upper Taos Box ] [ La Junta ] [ Lower Taos Box ]
[ Orilla Verde ] [ Racecourse ] [ Bosque ] [ Elephant Butte Res. to Las Cruces ]

Tributary Rivers

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

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