During rafting seasons with lower water flows, river outfitters tend to get a lot of questions about boating on low water. Many folks are under the assumption that rafting isn’t as fun when the water drops, or even possible at all! We’re here to tell you that not only is it possible to raft the Rio Grande during its minimal water levels, it’s a blast!
-The water is so much warmer when it’s lower and moving slower. Higher cf/s (cubic feet per second) means that the water has only recently melted off the mountains, where it started as snow! Much of the water in the Rio Grande at lower levels comes from tributaries, monsoon run-off, and underground springs due to the geothermal activity in the Taos Plateau. There’s many fantastic swimming spots throughout the Orilla Verde and Racecourse sections of the Lower Rio Grande Gorge, and our guides know them all!
-The rocks in the river are more exposed in lower water, showing off the beautiful erosion and “fluting” caused by the hundreds, thousands, or millions of years of moving water that the basalt, schist and quartzite have been subjected to in the Rio Grande. Volcanic basalt turns black and smooth to the touch after years of exposure and submersion, being slowly filed away into delicate ripples and shapes. The softer, silvery schist is worn down by the current, causing the garnets and staurolite formations contained within it to surface. Quartzite is a metamorphic rock with beautiful pink or reddish colors, caused by iron oxide trapped inside when it was forming millions of years ago. It’s a wonderful opportunity to check out some of the river’s astounding geology, right from the raft!
-The rapids on the Racecourse don’t change classification due to lower water levels! They hold a solid class II/III all the way down to minimum-level flows. The minimum age for this section of river at low and moderate water levels is 5 years old, so it’s a very family-friendly trip that still provides tons of fun for whitewater seekers. The navigation of the rapids becomes more technical, providing a fun and engaging paddle experience for guests.
–Inflatable kayaks are a blast! At lower water, they are the perfect vessel for whitewater enthusiasts and novices alike. Also referred to as “duckies” or “IKs,” they are a great way to get up close and personal with the river. Our experienced guides give the best tips, tricks, and pointers on-river, and educate our guests about river-reading skills throughout their trip. Inflatable kayaks are available to both single and tandem riders, and guests can request IKs for half-day, full-day, and even multi-day river excursions.
Surfing on the river is a great way to get a second look at a rapid, and get some extra splashes in! Whether in a raft or inflatable kayak, it’s a lot of fun to turn around and head back into the rapid or feature and play a bit in the waves. Surfing is an excellent way to add to a special memory to an already unforgettable river experience!