Best Kayaking in New Mexico

Whitewater kayaker paddling in a blue kayak in a river, New Mexico.
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Are you ready to embark on an exhilarating kayaking adventure in the Land of Enchantment? New Mexico boasts a wealth of serene waterways and stunning locations that cater to both novice and experienced kayakers. With a diverse range of picturesque landscapes and tranquil settings, the state provides the ideal backdrop for outdoor enthusiasts seeking the best kayaking experiences. Whether you’re looking to paddle through canyons, pine forests, or alongside unique geological formations, New Mexico has it all. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the top destinations, providing you with the key information to plan your perfect kayaking escapade in the heart of the Southwest.



Rio Grande

Kayaking in the Rio Grande is an adventure through the heart of New Mexico’s stunning landscapes. The Rio Grande Gorge offers paddlers the chance to explore deep canyons and witness unique geological formations while enjoying a peaceful environment. Birdwatchers will be thrilled by the rich wildlife along the riverbanks, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts. With multiple accessible entry points, it’s a versatile option for kayakers of all skill levels.

Reasons to Kayak in the Rio Grande:

  • Scenic Canyons: Kayaking through the Rio Grande Gorge provides breathtaking views of deep canyons and unique geological formations.
  • Wildlife Viewing: The area is rich in wildlife, so you might spot eagles, herons, and other birds while paddling.
  • Peaceful Environment: The calm waters of the Rio Grande create a serene and peaceful environment for kayaking.
  • Accessibility: There are various access points along the Rio Grande, making it easy to launch your kayak.
  • Mild Rapids: You can find sections with mild rapids, offering a bit of excitement for kayakers of various skill levels.

Recommended Gear: Spray Skirt, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Elephant Butte Lake State Park

In the southern reaches of the state, Elephant Butte Lake State Park is a kayaker’s paradise. Its warm waters invite year-round paddling, and the surrounding desert scenery provides a picturesque backdrop for your adventures. As a hub for water sports and camping, it’s a versatile destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Picnic areas and opportunities for wildlife watching round out the experience, making it perfect for a day or weekend trip.

Reasons to Kayak in Elephant Butte Lake State Park:

  • Warm Waters: The lake’s water is relatively warm, making it suitable for kayaking, even in cooler seasons.
  • Desert Scenery: Enjoy the unique beauty of the New Mexico desert while paddling on Elephant Butte Lake.
  • Water Sports: This park offers various water activities, including boating, fishing, and camping.
  • Picnic Areas: Take a rest and enjoy a picnic at one of the designated areas around the lake.
  • Wildlife Watching: Keep an eye out for the local wildlife, such as waterfowl and fish that thrive in the lake.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Brantley Lake State Park

Brantley Lake State Park offers kayakers the chance to paddle through crystal-clear waters in a serene setting. The park’s peaceful environment is enhanced by its remote desert surroundings, providing a tranquil escape for outdoor enthusiasts. Birdwatching opportunities are abundant, and camping facilities make it possible to extend your stay and fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the area. For those seeking adventure in New Mexico’s untouched landscapes, Brantley Lake is a hidden gem.

Reasons to Kayak in Brantley Lake State Park:

  • Clear Waters: Brantley Lake’s waters are crystal clear, offering an excellent kayaking experience.
  • Peaceful Setting: The park provides a tranquil and serene environment for kayaking with scenic desert surroundings.
  • Birdwatching: Bird enthusiasts can spot a variety of bird species in the park.
  • Camping Facilities: There are camping facilities for those who want to make it an extended outdoor adventure.
  • Stargazing: The park is known for its dark skies, making it an ideal spot for stargazing after a day of kayaking.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Navajo Lake State Park

Located in the northern part of the state, Navajo Lake State Park combines kayaking with breathtaking views of pine forests. Whether you seek calm waters or a more challenging kayaking experience, this lake has something for every level of paddler. Fishing enthusiasts will also find the park a haven for angling. Camping facilities, along with the chance to spot local wildlife, make it a well-rounded destination for outdoor recreation.

Reasons to Kayak in Navajo Lake:

  • Scenic Pine Forests: Paddle through the picturesque pine forests that surround Navajo Lake.
  • Calm Waters: The lake offers both calm and more challenging waters, suitable for kayakers of different skill levels.
  • Fishing Opportunities: It’s a popular spot for anglers, so you can combine kayaking with fishing.
  • Camping Facilities: The park has campgrounds, so you can turn your kayaking trip into a camping adventure.
  • Wildlife Sightings: Keep an eye out for wildlife like deer, elk, and a variety of waterfowl.

Recommended Gear: Kayak Wheels, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Cochiti Lake

Positioned between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Cochiti Lake offers kayakers a chance to paddle in the shadow of surrounding mountains. The lake’s calm waters make it an ideal place for a relaxing kayak adventure, while easy access points and designated picnic areas provide convenience and opportunities for a leisurely day trip. For those who appreciate angling, the lake also presents fishing opportunities, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to your kayaking experience.

Reasons to Kayak in Cochiti Lake:

  • Mountain Views: Enjoy kayaking with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and the Jemez Mountains in the distance.
  • Calm Waters: The lake’s calm waters make it perfect for a relaxing kayaking experience.
  • Easy Access: Cochiti Lake is conveniently located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
  • Picnic Areas: There are designated areas for picnicking, allowing you to enjoy a meal in a scenic setting.
  • Fishing: Combine your kayaking adventure with some fishing, as the lake is known for various fish species.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Abiquiu Lake

Abiquiu Lake, situated in the northern part of New Mexico, offers kayakers a unique adventure amid dramatic red rock formations. Paddling on its calm waters allows for a tranquil and picturesque experience, while easy launch sites make it accessible to kayakers of all skill levels. With camping facilities available, you can extend your stay and fully immerse yourself in the stunning desert scenery that surrounds the lake. As a bonus, the area also offers hiking opportunities, allowing for a combination of kayaking and exploration on foot.

Reasons to Kayak in Abiquiu Lake:

  • Red Rock Formations: Kayak around the unique red rock formations that make this area famous.
  • Calm Waters: The lake’s calm conditions are ideal for both beginners and experienced kayakers.
  • Easy Launch Sites: Find convenient launch sites for your kayaking excursion.
  • Camping: There are camping facilities, making it possible to extend your stay and enjoy the beauty of the area.
  • Hiking Opportunities: Explore the surrounding landscape on foot with several hiking trails nearby.

Recommended Gear: Sun Hat, Insect Spray, Cup Holder, Water Bottle, Paddle Holder, Water Shoe, Snorkel


Ute Lake State Park

In northeastern New Mexico, Ute Lake State Park invites outdoor enthusiasts to explore its diverse and vibrant natural playground. This hidden gem is known for its sprawling Ute Lake, which shimmers under the sun, creating an idyllic setting for water-based adventures. While kayaking is not an option, the park offers an array of alternative activities, from boating and fishing to hiking and wildlife watching. With its breathtaking landscapes and abundant recreational options, Ute Lake State Park promises an unforgettable escape for those seeking an enriching outdoor experience in the Land of Enchantment.

Reasons to Kayak in Ute Lake State Park:

  • Clear and Calm Waters: Ute Lake boasts crystal-clear waters that are ideal for kayaking, providing a serene and visually appealing experience.
  • Scenic Beauty: The lake is surrounded by stunning New Mexico landscapes, offering paddlers the chance to soak in picturesque views of the desert.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Fishing enthusiasts will find plenty of opportunities to catch various fish species while kayaking, making it a great combination.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Keep an eye out for local wildlife, such as waterfowl and birds, making Santa Rosa Lake a perfect destination for nature lovers.
  • Convenient Amenities: Ute Lake State Park provides ample facilities for picnicking, and camping, ensuring a well-rounded outdoor experience.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Santa Cruz Lake

Amid the captivating landscapes of northern New Mexico, Santa Cruz Lake beckons outdoor enthusiasts to embark on a kayaking adventure in a setting of serene beauty. Situated in close proximity to Santa Fe, this high-altitude lake offers kayakers the perfect blend of calm waters and picturesque mountain vistas. The tranquil ambiance of Santa Cruz Lake sets the stage for an enjoyable paddling experience, whether you’re a novice kayaker or a seasoned water adventurer. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to Santa Cruz Lake, a splendid destination for kayaking and a place to revel in the natural allure of the Land of Enchantment.

Reasons to Kayak in Santa Cruz Lake:

  • Mountain Scenery: Paddle through the pristine waters of Santa Cruz Lake while surrounded by the breathtaking mountain lands.
  • Calm Waters: The lake’s tranquil waters offer kayakers a serene and stress-free kayaking experience.
  • Birdwatching Paradise: Santa Cruz Lake is home to a variety of bird species, making it a great birdwatching lake.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Enjoy some angling during your kayaking adventure.
  • Hiking and Camping: Extend your stay with hiking trails and camping facilities nearby,

Recommended Gear: Extra Water, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Gila River

Kayaking on the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico promises a wild and scenic adventure. Paddlers will be surrounded by lush riparian areas and canyons, making for an immersive natural experience. Beyond kayaking, this region offers opportunities for nature exploration, including hiking and wildlife sightings. The Gila River is a sanctuary for a variety of wildlife, adding to the appeal for outdoor enthusiasts. Camping facilities allow you to extend your visit and fully appreciate the untamed beauty of this remarkable river.

Reasons to Kayak in the Gila River:

  • Wild and Scenic: The Gila River offers a wild and scenic kayaking experience with lush riparian areas and canyons.
  • Nature Exploration: Paddle through natural landscapes and explore the Gila National Forest.
  • Abundant Wildlife: The area is rich in wildlife, providing ample opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Hiking Trails: Combine kayaking with hiking, as there are numerous hiking trails along the Gila River.
  • Camping: Camp along the river for a complete outdoor adventure.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Pecos River

The Pecos River winds through the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, creating a stunning backdrop for kayakers. Its cool and refreshing waters are perfect for a summer paddle, and fishing opportunities abound. The river provides a serene environment for outdoor enthusiasts, with abundant wildlife and numerous camping options. Additionally, there are hiking trails nearby, allowing kayakers to explore the natural beauty of the region on foot. With its breathtaking surroundings and versatile outdoor experiences, the Pecos River is a must-visit destination for kayaking in New Mexico.

Reasons to Kayak in the Pecos River:

  • Sangre de Cristo Beauty: Kayak through the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, surrounded by stunning scenery.
  • Cool Waters: The Pecos River offers cool and refreshing waters, perfect for a summer paddle.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Bring your fishing gear to catch some of the trout that inhabit the river.
  • Wildlife Sightings: Keep an eye out for various wildlife, including birds and aquatic animals.
  • Camping: Many camping opportunities are available along the river, allowing for a multi-day kayaking trip.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


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