Northern New Mexico is a hotspot for many different outdoor activities; from hiking to skiing, to rock climbing, there is plenty of excitement to be found just about everywhere around Santa Fe. As many lovers of the outdoors might know, some ski slopes are better than others, and some trails end at a better view than other trails, and just like trails, hills, and climbing spots, not all rapids in the river are created equal. It’s important for anyone to know the correct spot for the right river adventure. Whether you are a seasoned thrill-seeker looking for big splashes and intense currents, or a weekend family looking for a relaxing yet energetic float, the area has tons of Santa Fe white water rafting locations for every type of experience.
The Rio Chama
Location: Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico
The Rio Chama is a major tributary of the Rio Grande that starts in Colorado and flows through the Chama Canyon Wilderness. While it is much less popular than other spots on the Rio Grande, the Chama still offers its own unique beauty in the canyons that surround it. The river’s secluded nature offers an excellent opportunity for multiple-day Rio Chama rafting trips that provide one with a nice relaxing float with intermittent but exciting class II rapids, paired with overnight stays in the New Mexico wilderness.
The Taos Box
Location: Taos, New Mexico
The Rio Grande in New Mexico was one of the first eight rivers to be designated a national wild and scenic river by congress in 1968, and it remains just as wild and senic today. The Rio Grande features many excellent river rafting opportunities, among them one of the most intense and technical rapids sections in the Santa Fe area: The Taos Box. This isolated section of river only 8 minutes west of Taos, offers powerful class IV and V rapids that are surrounded by eight hundred plus feet of steep canyon walls. This makes it one of the most difficult commercially available whitewater rafting in New Mexico. With rapid names such as ‘Fishhook’, ‘Dead Car’, and ‘Rock Garden’ providing some of the largest elevation change on the river, the Taos Box will leave any thrill-seeker with a rush of excitement.
Location: Carson, New Mexico
The Orilla Verde Section of the Rio Grande river is another great spot for family recreation in Santa Fe. Located fifty minutes north of Santa Fe, the Orilla Verde recreation area offers an easily accessible put-in for a relaxing float down the Rio Grande Gorge. Calm and relaxing, the Orilla Verde features canyon walls and intense greenery, all surrounding calm flatwaters until the very end, where it surprises visitors with short but exciting class II rapids. The Orilla Verde section makes an excellent choice for large groups and families alike to lay back, relax, and enjoy the scenery northern New Mexico has to offer all in one day.
Location: Pilar, New Mexico
Far and away the best spot near Santa Fe to river raft is called the Racecourse. Starting just downstream of the village of Pilar, the racecourse is a medium difficulty section featuring numerous Class II and III rapids that are ideal for both experienced rafters, families, and beginners alike. While water flow can vary on the racecourse, as in all other sections of the Rio Grande, it does not affect the exhilarating experience that this section provides visitors. The racecourse also offers those on the river with a wide variety of geological formations from hardened and exposed lava flows to the towering embudo cliffs, as well as an equally diverse selection of wildlife like bighorn sheep, herons, and the occasional river otter.