The Canadian River is a very long, major U.S. waterway that flows from its headwaters in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in far southern Colorado border near Raton Pass, down through eastcentral New Mexico, then east across the Texas Panhandle into Oklahoma, where it drains a sizeable portion of that state before reaching its confluence with the Arkansas River just west of Fort Smith, Arkansas. In New Mexico, the river has a navigable flow that is usually limited to years of above normal rainfall in the desert between Raton and Tucumcari. The geology of the Canadian River includes granite cliffs and canyons hear the headwaters and a deep sandstone canyon with historical ancient ruins between the Cornudo Hills to the west and the Kiowa National Grasslands to the east. Golden and bald eagles can be seen soaring high over the river valley, but few signs of civilization will be found along the river and its tributaries.
From Taylor Springs near Springer to Conchas Lake State Park the Canadian River flows about 75 miles through a gorgeous, deep sandstone canyon where there is no access once you start the run. Rapids are rated Class III to IV, and this run is very thrilling for paddlers in canoes and kayaks with strong intermediate or higher level whitewater skills. Because of the remoteness of this trip, and the impossibility of getting outside assistance, it should be considered as a Class III to IV trip with Class V to V+ consequences. There are plenty of places to spend some time exploring on your way downriver, where boaters normally will spend 4-6 days (or more) in close communion with Mother Nature. Take everything you will need, but pack as lightly as possible, because there are no places along this reach to acquire anything, and some of the portages will be tougher in a heavy boat. Paddlers need to be well prepared for a true wilderness adventure before departing Springer for this wonderful trip on the Canadian River.
Colfax, Mora and San Miguel Counties of northern New Mexico. Taos is about 90 miles to the west of the put-in, and Las Vegas is about 110 miles west of the take-out. Tucumcari is about 40 miles southeast of the take-out.
Albuquerque 194 miles; Las Cruces 417 miles; Santa Fe 133 miles; Phoenix 652 miles; Durango 267 miles; Grand Junction 437 miles; Denver 262 miles; Salt Lake City 722 miles; Oklahoma City 565 miles; Dallas 564 miles; Austin 708 miles; San Antonio 719 miles; Houston 894 miles; Little Rock 889 miles; Kansas City 631 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)
Water quality in the Canadian River is generally very good to excellent when it flows. The water will be clean and clear. Flows depend almost exclusively upon above average winter snowpack and seasonal rainfall in the drainage basin above Raton Pass and in Lower Colorado.
The optimum season is unpredictable, but occurs after a heavy winter snowpack and/or spring rainfall. In below average precipitation years the river will not have navigable flows.
The first hazard on this reach of the Canadian River is the distance and general remoteness of the river valley, where getting outside assistance is impossible. There are numerous boulder garden rapids rated Class III to IV with Class V to V+ consequences because of their difficulty coupled with the inability to get outside help in an emergency. There are drops and rapids that paddlers will want or need to portage because of their characteristics that make running them impractical for anybody who wants to be alive at the end of the trip. Always scout any blind drop or rapid, as well as any other through which a clear line is not visible for your boat heading downriver. Paddlers should have at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills and swiftwater rescue training prior to beiginning a run on this reach of the river. Flows can increase suddenly from rainstorms upstream, where they are not seen, or drop equally fast after flows from above cease or slow considerably, leaving paddlers stranded in the canyon. Always camp well above the river to reduce the chances of being caught in rising water overnight. Canoes should be outfitted for heavy whitewater.
Springer bridge off IH 25 at US Highway 56 near Taylor Springs at 0.0 miles; Conchas Lake State Park on the southeast side of the lake at about 75.0 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Canadian River. Shuttle distances are very long, so allow an extra day at either end of the trip for getting set up, then getting back to vehicles left at the put-in. A shuttle bunny would be VERY nice!
There are no campground along this reach of the Canadian River. The closest campgrounds for this run are Sugarite Canyon State Park off SH 72 a few miles east of Raton and Conchas Lake State Park (505-766-2724) more than 75 miles below the Springer put-in. Conchas Lake and the state park offer campsites with and without electricity, a launch ramp (small fee may apply), drinking water, restroons, showers, fishing, a sanitary dump station, day-use picnic area, a marina and fuel. Abundant natural campsites can be found all along the river, but beware of flash flooding and camp well above the river. During periods of navigable flows the river may rise quickly.
There are no liveries or outfitters located anywhere near the Canadian River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles. The round trip distance for setting up shuttles is about 380 miles, so allow one day at each end of your run for shuttles.
Let's start with the negatives - this section of the Canadian River hardly ever has sufficient flow for boating, and shuttle distances are long. The canyon is deep, and access is limited to put-in and take-out locations. Rapids are rated Class III to IV with Class V to V+ consequences. Now the upside is that, when this river flows, it is an E-ticket whitewater joyride of 75 miles through an absolutely gorgeous sandstone canyon, past ancient ruins with eagles soaring high overhead (those may be buzzards waiting for you to make a fatal mistake!) There will be few, if any, other paddlers on the river with you, so those in your group need to be able to rely upon one another for everything necessary to safely navigate the river and arrive at Conchas Lake intact and thrilled for having been here. If this river had a more reliable flow, then it would rate as one of New Mexico's premiere whitewater runs. It is for wilderness trippers who can handle being in a desert canyon for 4 or more days with no outside world contact. Just be sure to check the USGS gauge before going, and discuss your trip with somebody else who has done it, taking into account that what they encountered might not be exactly what awaits you.