No worries! If you're thinking of doing the Chama wilderness section you have to have a permit, but you can run the lower 8 miles (incidentally where the biggest white water is) without a permit. The put-in is Chavez Canyon and the take-out is called Big Eddy; you can get to this section by taking the road to Christ of the Desert Monastery. You'll see Big Eddy on your left and not far from the monastery is the turn-off for Chavez Canyon on the left. I don't recall if it's very well marked as "Chavez Canyon". A decent dirt road runs along but just off of the river on this section and I drove along it in a two-wheel drive van though not in any sort of muddy or rainy conditions (when I ran this section I don't remember seeing much in the way of vehicles at all from on the water). The canyon is gorgeous, a real privilege to float. My friend and I caught it in early fall as the cotton wood leaves were golden. The canyon is very colorful with orange, brown, yellow, and reddish strata in the canyon walls, with green forests on the top disappearing behind the rim to some place. Definitely recommend it as far a scenery goes. It's not a huge whitewater run, class 3- but it goes fast. My friend and I ran it at about 500 cfs and with a late start at 11 a.m. in late September we still got two 8 mile runs in, me R1'ing a small raft and my friend on his SUP.
The wilderness section requires a permit but you can (if you're lucky) sometimes get one that's abandoned from the BLM Taos Field Office (575-758-8851, Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River
). It's about a 32 mile run from El Vado to Big Eddy. There's a shuttle service you can hire for $85 that will move your car from El Vado to Big Eddy (it's actually cheaper shuttle-wise to take-out at Big Eddy than take-out at Chavez Canyon); the shuttle service's phone is
You REALLY have to watch the flow with the Chama. During the permit period, i.e. late spring and summer, typically the Chama is comfortably runnable Friday - Sunday but the dam upstream will drop the flow (sometimes quite a lot) on week days. Like sub 300 cfs if I'm not mistaken. Weekends you usually can count on the flow to be just fine in the spring and summer, but week days can be very dicey. Last year was a good water year and at the end of the summer (from mid August) there were good flows week days and weekends too for a stretch (see flow info here
for June through September 2015). From what I'm hearing the snow packs in New Mexico and Colorado are above the norm (please let me know if this isn't true!) so hopefully it'll be another great water year!
I ran into a river guide who said she had floated rivers through out the western U.S. and she said the wilderness section of the Chama was her favorite.