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Cimarron River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Eagle Nest Dam to Springer
~ 50 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

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.

Flowing southeast from Eagle Nest Lake to Springer in Colfax County is the 50 mile long Cimarron River, a major tributary of the Canadian River in New Mexico. The upper 25 miles of this beautiful river is a great Class III to IV whitewater run on a swift current flowing down out of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains through Cimarron Canyon State Park with its towering granite cliffs, awesome trees of the Carson National Forest and clean, cold water. The river begins just east of Wheeler Peak, the highest elevation in the state at 13,161 feet msl. Its headwaters are sandwiched between the Red River and Angel Fire Ski Areas. About midway through the upper half of this river is located the Philmont National Boy Scout Ranch. Below the Town of Cimarron the river is much more gentle, and sometimes retains adequate flow for easy boating all the way to its confluence with the Canadian River at Springer. The lower half of the river flows through rolling hills cattle country in northcentral New Mexico. Less experience paddlers can put in at Cimarron and paddle the Class I to II lower 25 miles, while whitewater boaters can run from Eagle Nest Dam to Cimarron, or on down the full 50 miles to Springer.


Central to southeastern Colfax County in the Carson National Forest of northern New Mexico. Taos is about 32 miles to the west of the put-in, and Las Vegas is about 103 miles southeast of the put-in and about 77 miles southwest of the take-out.

Distance from major cities

Albuquerque 158 miles; Las Cruces 380 miles; Santa Fe 97 miles; Phoenix 616 miles; Durango 255 miles; Grand Junction 425 miles; Denver 276 miles; Salt Lake City 710 miles; Oklahoma City 610 miles; Dallas 610 miles; Austin 753 miles; San Antonio 764 miles; Houston 939 miles; Little Rock 934 miles; Kansas City 676 miles (all distances are approximate, depending upon starting point, destination point at the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality in the Cimarron 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 of the Carson National Forest and the surrounding Taos area.

Best time to go

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.

Hazards to navigation

The Upper Cimarron River, above the Town of Cimarron, is a steep, narrow, tree-lined stream with Class III to IV boulder garden rapids, rock outcroppings, ledges and shelves and occasional dead-fall strainers, all of which must be carefully negotiated to avoid problems with possible injury and/or lost boats. Scout all blind drops and rapids, then portage when runs are not reasonably practical. The Upper Cimarron River is best suited for canoeists and kayakers having at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills (advanced level or higher would be better), swiftwater rescue and First Aid training, and some experience in steep creek conditions. Below Cimarron, the river has no significant hazards to navigation, and can be boated by almost anybody who is competent in the type craft they are paddling.

River Access Points

Below Eagle Nest Dam off US Highway 64 northeast of Taos and Arroyo Seco at 0.0 miles; Town of Cimarron, off SH 422 and US Highway 64 at about 25.0 miles; SH 21 bridge just east of IH 25 and Springer at about 46.0 miles; US Highway 56 at the Canadian River near Springer at about 50.0 miles. There are no other public access points for the Cimarron River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

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.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no liveries or outfitters located anywhere near the Cimarron River. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles. The round trip distance for setting up shuttles is about miles, so allow at each end of your run for shuttles.

Reviewer's comments

The Cimarron River starts out for the first 25 miles screaming like a banshee, then ends up purring like a kitten for the last half of its run to the Canadian River confluence at Springer. The upper half is a great Class III to IV whitewater rollercoaster ride through forested granite cliffs, while the lower half is a modest Class I to II ride on basically flatwater with minor rapids flowing through rolling hills and the northwestern New Mexico cattle country. Paddlers can choose which section best fits their capabilities and desires, and experienced boaters have the option of running the entire 50 miles from Eagle Nest Dam to the Canadian River confluence. Easy access at both ends and in the middle makes this an excellent river to paddle. The surrounding area is very scenic, so bring your camera to preserve some memories of the fun you had here. Like other rivers of this area, its season is fickle, so be sure to check the USGS gauge before making a long distance trip to paddle the Cimarron, the Canadian or any of the other trubutaries to the Canadian River in northern New Mexico.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to IV
Length 50 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Eagle Nest Dam
Last Take-out Canadian River at Springer
Elevation msl
Gradient max.
USGS Gauge Web: 07206000 (Eagle Nest Dam)
Boats Canoes w/ flotation, Kayaks
Season Unpredictable
Permits No

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Adobe Whitewater Club of New Mexico - For the Love of Rivers

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Canadian River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

[ Canadian River Homepage ] [ Raton to Springer ] [ Springer to Conchas Lake ]
[ Conchas River ] [ Mora River ] [ Ute River ] [ Vermejo River ]

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