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Animas River, New Mexico
Report by Marc W. McCord

Cedar Hill to Farmington
~ 25 Miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Forming in the San Juan Mountains of San Juan County, Colorado, the Animas River is a free-flowing, cold-water stream running north to south through Durango and down into San Juan County, New Mexico at Farmington. The river's Spanish name means "River of Lost Souls", and one could truly lose his soul paddling here.

The Animas is a perpetual flow stream that can be paddled in canoes, kayaks and rafts (depending upon water levels) almost anytime weather permits. From Cedar Hill just south of the Colorado border to Farmington City Park the river runs about 25 miles on Class I to II water, ending at its confluence with the San Juan River at the park. Several excellent access points along the way allow trips of various lengths. This reach of the river flows by Aztec Ruins National Monument, home of the largest reconstructed Great Kiva. Between Aztec and Farmington are about 15 miles of gorgeous sandstone cliffs and farmlands. Runs can begin above Durango and continue all the way to the San Juan confluence, or segments of the Animas can be combined with runs on the San Juan all the way to Lake Powell in Utah. The Animas River is just one more reason to visit northwestern New Mexico for great paddle trips when other rivers in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have stopped flowing. Considering its excellent proximity to so many great waterways, it is a wonder paddlers have not conspired to move here, take over Farmington and convert it to a paddler's resort.

The Animas River is also an angler's paradise where fly fishing is very popular. The river is replete with rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook trout measuring 12" to 22", but brownies up to 36" have been caught here. Other species include mottled sculpin, speckled dace, bluehead sucker, flannelmouth sucker, roundtail chub, pike minnow, razorback sucker, whitehead sucker and fathead minnow. Winter and spring bring large insect populations of midges and beatis that are food for the fish. Summer and fall months produce populations of caddis, PMDs, tricos and hoppers. Be sure to have a New Mexico fishing license and trout stamp (if fishing for trout.)


San Juan County in far northwestern New Mexico near the Four Corners area of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, flowing between the Colorado border and its confluence with the San Juan River at Farmington City Park.

Distance from major cities

Santa Fe 204 miles; Albuquerque 186 miles; Las Cruces 412 miles; Durango 25 miles; Grand Junction 195 miles; Denver 364 miles; Phoenix 644 miles; Oklahoma City 728 miles; Dallas 854 miles; Austin 891 miles; San Antonio 916 miles; Houston 1,039 miles; Little Rock 1,067 miles; Kansas City 963 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is usually excellent, flowing clean, clear and cold from north of Durango, Colorado to the San Juan River in Farmington. The Animas river has a near perpetual flow that allows paddle trips almost anytime of the year, and is adequate for trips in canoes, kayaks and rafts.

Best time to go

The Animas River is a perpetual stream that can usually be paddled anytime, weather permitting. Winters will be cold and summers will be hot, so paddlers should prepare accordingly. Weather changes can occur almost without warning, so be prepared for cold, hot, wet and dry conditions when paddling the Animas River anytime of the year. The river is suitable for canoes and kayaks in lower water, but rafts can navigate the river at higher flows.

Hazards to navigation

Other than a few diversion dams, most of which can be run in high water, the Animas River in New Mexico is virtually free of hazards to navigation, and can be paddled by almost any able-bodied person in canoes, kayaks and rafts.

River Access Points

US Highway 550 bridge in Cedar Hill at 0.0 miles; Riverside Park in Aztec at about 9.0 miles; Hartman Park in Aztec at about 11.0 miles; US Highway 64 in Farmington at about 24.0 miles; Farmington City Park at about 25.0 miles. Other access points may be available between Cedar Hill and Farmington, as well as numerous access points above Cedar Hill in Colorado.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Navajo Lake State Park has three campgrounds in the very near vicinity to the start of this reach at the dam. San Juan River Campground is immediately adjacent to the river just below the dam. Sims Mesa is just south of the river and the dam off SH 539. Pine Campground is on the north side of the lake above the dam. All three state park sites offer campsites with and without electricity, drinking water, showers, restrooms, a sanitary dump station, day use area with picnic tables, a launch ramp (small fee may apply) and fishing. Motels are available in numerous towns along the river (see access points for general locations.) Abundant natural campsites can be found all along the river, and paddlers should exercise all due caution to protect the natural environment - leave no trace, other than footprints, of your having been there. If you pack it in, then pack it out, and maybe pick up something left by some careless person who does not respect the beauty of this great river.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are many commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for the Animas River.

Reviewer's comments

The Animas River, like the San Juan River, is a gentle stream that is well-suited for almost anybody who can stay in a boat and remain upright in the water, as well as some kayakers who prefer to spend part of their time staring at the river bottom (Eskimo rollers.) This gorgeous Class I to II river supports trips in canoes, kayaks and rafts year-round, so it is convenient anytime you need an excellent place to paddle. It is a popular run that attracts many paddlers from the four states attached at the Four Corners area, and many others from much further away. Along this reach you will see ancient ruins at the Aztec Ruins National Monument, beautiful sandstone cliffs and pretty water that looks inviting, but that is very cold most of the time. Paddlers will appreciate the easy access, convenience of restaurants and stores to get food and supplies, motel accommodations for those not wanting to tent camp, gasoline for vehicles, and just about anything else you might need for a day or a week on the river. Best of all, you can also enjoy the runs on the San Juan River while in the Farmington Area. A number of great Colorado paddling destinations are about 1-2 hours away around Durango, Colorado, where you can find the Piedra, Dolores and San Miguel Rivers plus many hairboat steep creek runs for those needing an adrenaline rush. Who could ask for more?

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 25 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in Cedar Hill
Lat. / Long. 36.9333 / -107.8937988
Last Take-out Farmington City Park
Lat. / Long. 36.7128983 / -108.2208023
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Cedar Hill
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Year-round, weather permitting
Permits No

Animas River map in New Mexico

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

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

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the San Juan River and its tributaries where you want to paddle.
[ San Juan River Homepage ] [ San Juan River (Navajo Dam to Four Corners) ]

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