New Mexico is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. The state is bordered by Arizona on the west, Colorado on the north, Oklahoma on the east, Texas on the southeast, and Mexico on the south. The landscape of New Mexico includes deserts, mountains, and valleys.

The official tourism website for New Mexico describes the state as “a land of enchantment,” and it’s easy to see why. With its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and diverse array of things to see and do, New Mexico is a truly unique destination.

Some of the most popular tourist attractions in New Mexico include the Petroglyph National Monument, the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, and the White Sands National Monument. Other popular destinations include the cities of Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos.

There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in New Mexico, such as hiking, camping, fishing, and bird watching. The state is also home to a number of ski resorts, making it a great destination for winter sports enthusiasts. And, of course, the state’s got kayaking!

Easy Kayaking Spots in New Mexico

New Mexico is filled with many paddle trails perfect for those just starting. Below are a few lakes we recommend and the ever-popular Rio Chama. First-timers won’t have to worry about rushing rivers or choppy waters in the list below.

Heron Lake

Heron Lake is the perfect spot for those wanting to spend the weekend camping and paddling. The lake’s waters are calm except for some parts that are exposed to winds. Check with the local rangers about the weather conditions. While paddling near the shoreline keep an eye out for bears, elk, and the occasional mountain lion.

Where to launch

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

Elephant Butte Lake State Park is a beautiful lake with 200 miles of shoreline with many sandy beaches. While the lake is great for beginners, those with some experience, looking for a challenge can tackle the 40-mile length.

Where to launch:

Lower Rio Chama

The Lower Rio Chama is a great spot for beginners given its gentle flow. As a tributary of Rio Grande, you won’t have to go far for some whitewater rapids. The Rio Chama provides a great picnic area and has a number of activities such as exploring Native American petroglyphs, wildlife on the river, and incredible birding.

Where to launch:

Cochiti Lake 

Cochiti Lake is a great place for beginners given its no-wake status. You won’t have to worry about boats zooming past as you learn how to work a kayak. Don’t forget the binoculars as wildlife fills the area. Access will be at the Cochiti or Tetilla Peak Recreation areas. 

Where to launch:

Difficult and Technical Kayaking in New Mexico

There are plenty of world-class rapids in New Mexico, especially along the Rio Grande River and its tributaries. The top spots are Taos Box, Rio Chama, and Pecos River. Whitewater rapids range from class II to V rapids be sure to check water conditions before heading in. 

Upper Pecos River 

The Upper Pecos River is a difficult kayaking trail that offers Class III and IV rapids. This challenging route starts near Cordova and winds its way through the Rocky Mountains before emptying into the Pecos River Valley. 

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Rio Grande

The Whitewater of the Rio Grande is another difficult kayaking trail in New Mexico. This route starts near Taos and includes approximately 12 miles of Class III and IV rapids. Beyond the river trails, you can discover other sections including the Leasburg Dam State Park and Percha Dam State Park both perfect for birding.

Where to launch:

Box Canyon, Rio Chama

The Box Canyon section of the Rio Chama is a difficult kayaking trail that includes four miles of challenging rapids. This route is located near Abiquiu and provides stunning views of the canyon walls as you paddle through them.

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Jemez River 

The Jemez River is a difficult kayaking trail that offers Class III and IV rapids. This route starts near Cuba and winds its way through the Jemez Mountains before emptying into the Rio Grande.

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National / State Park Kayaking Spots in New Mexico

New Mexico is home to many interesting national and state parks and while many folks think of the state as a dry arid setting there are tons of waterways that carved up canyons. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument gives insight into the habitat of communities that lived in the area long ago. Bandelier National Monument hosts both the Frijoles Creek and the Rio Grande. For lakes, you have Navajo Lake State Park and Fenton Lake State Park.  

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument gives paddlers the chance to explore a series of caves that were once inhabited by the Mogollon people. The area is perfect for those looking for a challenge, as it requires permits and advance planning.

Where to launch:

Bandelier National Monument 

Bandelier National Monument contains two of the most popular kayaking destinations in New Mexico- the Frijoles Creek and the Rio Grande. The Frijoles Creek is a fast-moving stream that flows through a canyon, while the Rio Grande offers calm waters perfect for exploring the area’s cliffs and caves.

Where to launch:

Navajo Lake State Park 

The serene Navajo Lake is located in Rio Arriba County and is great for a leisurely paddle. The lake has Class II waters but is still an easy kayak even for those with little experience. If you’re fishing be sure to get a fishing license. 

Where to launch:

Fenton Lake State Park

Fenton Lake State Park is home to a beautiful lake surrounded by pine trees. The calms water is popular for rainbow trout fishing. Paddlers will appreciate the mesmerizing Jemez Mountains in the background.

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Recommended Kayaking Tours in New Mexico

Most folks looking at going for a paddle will likely go to Rio Grande. For a 5-mile white water rafting tour check out the Rio Grande Racecourse. This tour is perfect for families and those wanting to get a taste of class III rapids. Alternatively, the Half-Day Float from Taos is even more gentle with class II rapids that take you through canyons, rock cliffs, and the high desert scenery of the Orilla Verde National Recreation Area. 

Need to Know for New Mexico

New Mexico is a beautiful state with a rich history and culture. There are many tourist attractions in New Mexico, including ancient ruins, stunning landscapes, and world-famous museums. There are also plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in New Mexico, including hiking, biking, and kayaking. The weather is usually mild year-round, making it a great destination for a vacation any time of year. If you’re looking for a new adventure, consider exploring New Mexico. You won’t be disappointed!

When to Visit New Mexico

As a first-time visitor, the best time to visit New Mexico is in the spring when the weather is perfect for kayaking. The cool temperatures make it ideal to get out on the water and explore all that the state has to offer. If you’re wanting to experience the food scene, New Mexico has some of the best Mexican food in the country. Be sure to try the green chili chicken enchiladas. The Santa Fe Food and Wine Festival is in July. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is in October. Check out for a calendar of events. 

Weather in New Mexico

If you’re new to kayaking, or just new to New Mexico, there are a few things you should know before hitting the water. First, be aware of the climate and weather conditions in different seasons. The average temperature in New Mexico ranges from 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. However, conditions can vary widely depending on where you are in the state and what time of year it is. It’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast before heading out on your kayaking adventure.

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