We've fielded lots of questions since we embarked on this journey, and it does seem that we hear many of the same queries from a wide range of people. So we've decide to put together a compilation of what we hear most often.
As always, if there's something you're wondering about that isn't addressed below, feel free to call or email us anytime!
Is there enough water in the Rio Grande?
This is far and away the most common question we hear, especially from the locals, along with variations on the theme, such as, “It's a really short season, isn't it?” (implying that the few shorts weeks of high water in the spring are the only times one can navigate the Rio Grande in a canoe or kayak).
The answer, obviously, is “of course”! We float the river all year 'round, and have witnessed both historical high and low flows since starting operations in early 2010. While it is true that the middle Rio Grande is quite shallow, averaging between one and three feet in depth for most of the year, our canoes and kayaks only displace 3 or 4 inches of water. At extremely low flow levels, you might find that your paddle touches the riverbed on occasion in some areas, but you'll float along just fine. At extremely high flows, you might be dealing with as much as an additional 5 – 6 feet of water, which can create a whole different set of issues.
It's been quite startling to discover how many long-term Albuquerque residents assume that the river isn't navigable by paddle craft, which probably arises from the views of the river while driving over the bridges in the Albuquerque area. From that perspective at low water levels, multiple sandbars and mudflats are prominent and it's easy to understand the common assumptions. The opposite perspective however, the view from the river looking up at the bridges, reveals that there is plenty of water to float shallow-draft boats that displace as little as canoes and kayaks.
That said, we do find that the Rio is more challenging in the southern sections at extremely low flow levels, which has to do with the character of the river itself. In the northern reaches, from Algodones to most of the way though the Corrales Bosque Preserve, the river is confined to a narrower and deeper channel, and identifying the occasional sandbars and shallow sections is pretty straightforward. Once within a mile or two north of the Alameda bridge, and continuing through the Rio Grande Valley State Park reach in Albuquerque proper, the river begins to widen and braid into multiple channels, and identifying the deep water channel becomes much more challenging. Paddlers with prior experience on shallow water rivers shouldn't have too much trouble in these sections, but we would suggest that at times of lower flows, the less experienced take advantage of our knowledge of the Rio and consider joining one of our guided tours first.
We do constantly monitor flow levels and adjust our tour offerings accordingly to provide the most enjoyable experience for our guests. On our guided tours, you're accompanied by an experienced guide who has extensive knowledge of the river, and if you're choosing a self-guided tour, we'll share a great deal of information on current flow conditions and the different challenges that are involved at varying flows before you head out.
In any case, don't let yourself be discouraged by local “experts” who've never spent a single moment of their lives actually floating on the Rio Grande. The river is navigable all year long, and may be the finest Class I river experience in the continental US that's so accessible to a major city.
How long is your season?
We're now offering tours and rentals throughout the year. While our busiest time is obviously the warmer summer months, paddling from late fall to early spring offers a unique perspective of the wildlife present along the middle Rio Grande. Please see the “Cooler Weather Paddling” page for special considerations involved in floating safely and comfortably during this time of the year.
Are reservation required?
Reservations are strongly recommended, and you definitely should call before driving to our shop. We do have tours scheduled regularly, and are often in and out of our facility throughout the day as we're running to and from the river. Please check our calendar page for our current schedule, and please call if there doesn't appear to be an appropriate tour or time on the days that you're considering. We'll always try and accommodate you whenever possible.
I've never canoed or kayaked before. Will I be OK?
We've entertained hundreds of beginners, from kids to octogenarians, encompassing people of all shapes and sizes, with widely varying fitness levels, and we've found that with very few exceptions, nearly everyone does just fine. Although we don't provide the comprehensive information you would receive in formal paddling instruction, our guided tours do involve fundamental instruction on developing good paddling technique as well as basic information on the way moving water behaves. We also spend time discussing common hazards often encountered on rivers. Furthermore, our guides are right there on the water with you to lend assistance if needed.
The middle Rio Grande is a very beginner-friendly river, languid and meandering, featuring primarily slow current and minimal hazards. There are three small “rapids” (it's really stretching the use of the term) along the way, which are really nothing more than short elevation drops with small standing waves and easily avoided obstructions.
We do find that most guests experience varying levels of apprehension at the beginning, but the vast majority get up to speed inside of ten or fifteen minutes. All-in-all, we're comfortable in suggesting that our guided tours represent a great introduction to paddling, making the serenity and scenery offered by the middle Rio Grande accessible to a remarkably wide range of people.
What's a better choice - a canoe or a kayak?
With beginners, we generally recommend that they start with a kayak. The ubiquitous images of X-gamer-types careening over waterfalls notwithstanding, kayaking is much easier for beginners to get the hang of than canoes. Our recreational kayaks are extremely stable designs, highly resistant to capsize, and the double bladed paddle makes learning to adequately control the boat significantly easier. We find that most novice paddlers are comfortable with basic handling in less than fifteen minutes. Kayaks also have an advantage over canoes in breezy or windy conditions, as the lower profile has less of a tendency to weathervane in the wind. It's also true that in a tandem canoe, two paddlers must learn to work together, which doesn't always go so well - some in the paddlesports industry have given canoes the moniker “divorce boats”!
On the other hand, it remains our conviction that for those who want to do more with paddlesports than occasional day trips and will invest the time necessary to learn to properly control the craft, the canoe is the better choice for most applications. To begin with, canoes have tremendous carrying capacity, which not only means that you can bring a spouse, friend, your kids or a pet along easily, but also opens up the possibility of multi-day excursions without involving minimalist packing expertise and being relegated to a diet of dehydrated foods. The open design of a canoe makes accessing gear easy, whether that's fishing tackle, photography equipment or a cooler for beverages or food. Canoes also offer multiple seating positions – sitting, kneeling, or even standing. This doesn't matter that much on a two or three hour day trip, but for extended tripping, being able to change positions occasionally is a big plus, both for stretching the legs as well as improving the view of the water ahead. Finally, with a single bladed paddle and proper paddling technique, canoeists have few issues with water dripping into the boat or on to their lap, which is essentially inevitable with a double-bladed kayak paddle. This can be alleviated with a spray skirt, but many people don't care for the claustrophobic, enclosed feeling of a skirted kayak.
So, to sum up a long answer to a short question, here's a brief summary of the positives of each craft:
- Much easier to learn to control. Best for beginners to start with.
- The lower, fixed seating position increases the feeling of stability in the water.
- Lower profile at the waterline means kayaks are less affected by breezy or windy conditions.
- Great choice for short day trips that don't require carrying much gear.
- A greater carrying capacity coupled with the open hull design makes bringing along and accessing gear significantly easier, and expands the possibilities for extended paddling explorations.
- Tandem canoes can be paddled solo or tandem, or with passengers.
- The higher profile and seating position improves the view of the water ahead.
- Multiple seating positions dramatically increases comfort on long days on the water.
- Although canoeing requires significantly more time to master, with proper paddling technique canoes provide a much drier ride, effectively extending the paddling season without requiring an investment in expensive, specialized clothing and other gear.
- Canoes are much easier for one person to carry, making loading, unloading and portaging easier.
I can't swim. Can I come along on one of your guided tours?
While we have had some non-swimmers join us, we honestly don't recommend it. It's been our observation that people who are frightened in and around water - which naturally encompasses the majority of those who cannot swim - just can't relax enough to enjoy the experience.
Although it is true that everyone is required to wear a life vest at all times, and that much of the year the river is quite shallow (see FAQ #1 above), there is always a possibility that a boat will capsize. Anyone can end up taking an unintended swim at anytime, and the non-swimmer needs to honestly assess how they would react to the circumstances they would find themselves in if this were to occur. Panic can be dangerous at anytime, especially so on a river.
So, while we don't have a prohibition against non-swimmers, we do suggest that anyone uncomfortable around water give careful thought to whether paddling is an appropriate activity for you. If you do decide to join us, please share this information so we can be prepared to provide additional help if necessary.