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Rio Grande, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Orilla Verde
~ 6 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 Orilla Verde Recreation Area between Taos Junction Bridge and Orilla Verde Campground offers about 6 miles of moderate Class II whitewater on a gentle 8 fpm gradient. Most adjacent land is BLM-controlled, but the area around the hamlet of Pilar is privately owned and is designated as a "quiet zone", where voices should be kept to a conversational level and stopping is not permitted other than in emergency situations. This area is popular with fishermen, and it is recommended that paddlers use the opposite side of the river from where anglers are plying their sport. At least four public camping areas are located on river left along this reach of the Rio Grande, and mooring of boats is permitted in these areas. Some campsites are sheltered, while others are open. As a courtesy to others please refrain from walking through occupied campsites. There are no fees for river access, but reservations through the BLM (505-751-4731) are required and self-permitting stations can be found at all access points.

There is ample parking at each end, but be sure to use ONLY designated spaces. Daily use fees apply to all private vehicles, though a season pass can be purchased for $15. Daily fees and season passes can be paid at the self-permitting stations, or can be paid at the Rio Grande Gorge Visitor Center. The tamer waters in this section make it popular with less experienced paddlers, so expect larger crowds on weekends and around Mother's Day especially. The Orilla Verde reach is quite scenic, so pack your camera. Beware the bridges across the river when flows exceed about 4,000 cfs - they become dangerous hazards to navigation.


Almost due west of Rancho de Taos between the Interesection of SH 567 and SH 570 down to the hamlet of Pilar at tghe intersection of SH 570 and SH 68. The Town of Taos is just a few miles to the northeast of Taos Junction Bridge.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 61 miles; Albuquerque 0 miles; Phoenix 458 miles; Durango 212 miles; Denver 437 miles; Salt Lake City 604 miles; El Paso 266 miles; Dallas 668 miles; Austin 703 miles; San Antonio 730 miles; Houston 853 miles; Oklahoma City 542 miles; Little Rock 81 miles; Kansas City 777 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 generally very good to excellent, flowing clear, clean and cold from snowmelt in the upper elevations above this reach. Best conditions for paddling occur at flows in excess of about 600 cfs.

Best time to go

The Orilla Verde reach is generally most favorable in late spring through early summer depending upon the amount of winter snowpack in the mountains to the north. The season may span a period of April through June in average snowpack years.

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 through a Ranger or at self-serve stations at each access make the process fast and easy.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant rapids on this reach of the Rio Grande. The primary hazards are cold water temperatures, possibly coupled with cool to cold air temperatures, and the potentially dangerous low-water bridges across the river when flows exceed about 4,000 cfs. Paddlers should be attired for cold water and cold weather paddling to avoid hypothermia. Knowing the locations of low-water bridges and avoiding them in high flow conditions will prevent disasters leading to serious injury, death and/or damge to or lost boats and gear.

River Access Points

Taos Junction Bridge on river left at 0.0 miles; Cable Site (kayaks only) on river left at about miles; Lone Juniper Site on river left at about miles; Arroyo Hondo Campground on river left at about miles; Orilla Verde Campground on river left at about 6.0 miles. SH 570 closely parallels the river all along this reach and access points are within a short distance of the highway. There is no portage allowed at Pilar Bridge, which is impassable when flows exceed about 4,000 cfs.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Campsites are available at the access points listed above, as well as on other reaches of the river above and below the Orilla Verde Recreation Area. There are no fees for campsite use except in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area ($7.00 per night), but they are available on a first-come basis, so please respect the privacy of those who arrive ahead of your party and avoid walking through their campsites.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no known liveries or outfitters located along or near this section of the Rio Grande. Boaters should plan to setup and run their own shuttles. Easy access and close proximity make the shuttle run fast and effortless. Be sure to park ONLY in designated parking areas.

Reviewer's Comments

The Orilla Verde Recreation Area is a well-developed public access area with great campsites, easy river access, plenty of natural scenery and a great ride on moderate Class II whitewater. Located very near the Town of Taos, this New Mexico run is very popular, especially on weekends, during the late spring and early summer months. It is snowmelt dependent, so its normally short season of April through June may be cut shorter by light winter snowpack or extended slightly by above noral snowfall in the mountains to the north. Paddlers, campers and other recreation enthusiasts should take care to avoid the "quiet zone" designation around the small hamlet of Pilar. This is a popular area for fishing, and boaters are encouraged to paddle on the opposite side of the river from where anglers are located. Bring your camera and take lots of great memories home with you. Bring a wetsuit or drysuit and base layer to prevent hypothermia in the very cold waters of the Rio Grande.

Technical Data
Class Rating II
Length 6 miles
Minimum Flow 600 cfs
Optimum Flow 800-2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 5,000 cfs
First Put-in Taos Junction Bridge
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out Orilla Verde Campground
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient 8 fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Taos Junction Bridge
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season year-round, weather permitting
Permits Yes (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

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