How Long Is the Rio Chama From Start to End?

Rio Chama River during fall
© SethJacobImages/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Published: January 4, 2024

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A tributary of the mighty Rio Grande, the Rio Chama is around 120 miles long. It winds through the American Southwest and the states of Colorado and New Mexico. The Rio Chama is between 3 and 6 feet deep in most places, although flooding can swell the river up to 11 feet deep at certain locations.

It begins in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Rio Chama is a State Scenic and Pastoral River. Some parts of the river are also designated as a Wild and Scenic River by federal authorities, offering it further protection as a wildlife habitat and natural area.

The Rio Chama ends near Espanola, New Mexico. Here, it joins the Rio Grande. This lengthy river travels over 1,880 miles through the United States and Mexico. It is also known as the Rio Bravo in Mexico. Eventually, it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Can You Fish on the Rio Chama?

Fishing - Holding a Brown Trout

Brown trout fishing is particularly good on the Rio Chama.

©iStock.com/MarceloDufflocqw

The Rio Chama is a fantastic place for fishing. Brown trout and rainbow trout are particularly plentiful. Other species include Rio Grande chub and carp. Many of the fish that are present in the Rio Grande also call this smaller tributary river home. You cannot use a motorized boat on the river, however. So be sure to pack a fishing kayak or plan on shore fishing or wading for the best experience. If you are in a boat, you will need to wear a life jacket at all times.

Things to Do Near the Rio Chama

Tiger muskie

You can use a non-motorized boat, such as a kayak or canoe, to spend time on the picturesque Rio Chama.

©iStock.com/FedBul

This waterway is very popular for floating due to its picturesque scenery. You can float on some sections of the river without a permit. Travel downstream from the Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, New Mexico to enjoy beautiful views in a permit-free area. Also known as the Lower Canyon, this fee-free area is a great place to take in the beauty of the river. Private float groups are limited to 16. You won’t need to make advanced reservations, get a permit, or pay any fees as long as you stick to the lower canyon.

For those wanting to float through the Upper Canyon, you’ll need a permit during peak season (mid-April through mid-September). Because it is so popular, everyone who applies for a permit before February is put into a lottery. Permits are provided based on those selected in the lottery.

If you plan to float overnight, however, you will need a permit in all sections of the river. Commercial float guides also need a special use permit.

Animals that Live Near the Rio Chama

Great blue heron at Elm Park in Worcester, Massachusetts

Great blue herons are easy to recognize thanks to their distinct silhouette and blue feathers.

©quiggyt4/Shutterstock.com

Some of the most interesting species near the Rio Chama soar in the skies above the river. Even in a state with rich bird-watching, the Rio Chama is a great place for birding. Merganser ducks, Canadian geese, and great blue herons are some of the top birds to watch for in the area. There are also plenty of birds of prey, including golden hawks and bald eagles. Smaller swallows are also at home in this area, particularly on the cliffs alongside the river.


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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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