The Wild and Scenic Chama River, popular among river rafters and canoeists, runs through six miles of the Wilderness. Its beauty is so impressive that most people don't bother visiting the relatively unspectacular grassland that dominates the upland portion of the area. Trail access is poor here above the colorful sandstone bluffs and lovely rock formations that rise to high rims on both riverbanks. Water levels reflect releases from the upstream El Vado Lake Dam, but you can usually float the river, with portages, all the way from the Colorado border to the Rio Grande through the rainbow-hued Chama River Canyon. Backpackers can hike along portions of the Chama River, then pitch their tents in a secluded wooded campsite above one of the canyon's high-water beaches. Trout often flourish in the river (so bring your gear), and onshore residents include mule deer, black bears, elk, coyotes, and mountain lions. Varying canyon elevations also provide a wide range of vegetation, from low-lying pinion-juniper woodland to ponderosa pine and fir. Most of the Wilderness lies in Santa Fe National Forest, with a portion in Carson National Forest.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Chama River Canyon Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.