Cooler Weather Paddling

Overview

  • Late fall and winter along the Rio Grande features a tremendous variety of wildlife, especially bird life

  • Cool to cold water temperatures are prevalent during these months

  • Wetsuits, intended to be worn as a base layer, are provided for comfort and safety considerations

  • Splash wear, providing a wind and waterproof top layer are also available

  • Neoprene mitts are available to keep the hands warm

  • Protective gear is recommended when combined air and water temps are between 101º & 130º F

  • Protective gear is required when combined air and water temps are below 100º F

  • There is no additional cost for protective gear for Rio Grande Adventures

The climate in central New Mexico means that paddling is a viable option all year long. While our busiest season is certainly the summer months, late fall, winter and early spring will often feature daytime temperatures in the fifties or sixties (occasionally seventies) with calm conditions and plentiful sunshine. The cooler months also offer some of the best wildlife viewing of the year, especially in terms of bird life. The middle Rio Grande in the Albuquerque area is the winter home of a tremendous variety of ducks, geese and other waterfowl, such as grebe. Many of these birds have headed back north by mid-May, and don't reappear until mid-October.

Great Blue Heron

The Rio Grande valley is also a major migration route, and certain times of the year provide opportunities to observe many birds that are otherwise not present. Perhaps the most significant such event is the annual Sandhill Crane migration, when literally tens of thousands of crane pass through on their way to and from their wintering grounds at Bosque del Apache south of Socorro.

Other wildlife are often seen as well. Over the years we've spotted deer, beaver, muskrat and coyote, as well as the crane and numerous varieties of ducks and geese on a single morning. We've also spotted porcupine, and even elk on occasion, and two guests in the fall of 2010 swear they saw a bobcat.

As awesome as cool weather paddling can be, the colder air and water temperatures do mean that it's critical to take additional precautions in order to be properly prepared and comfortable. Water temperatures from November to March can range from 40º - 60º Fahrenheit, which is dangerously cold if there's a mishap and someone finds themselves going for an unintended swim. Hypothermia can set in quickly in cold water and weather, and the general rule is that if the combined air and water temperatures are below 120º (F), it is wise to dress for the possibility of immersion. The other considerations have to do with comfort for paddlers in cooler weather. Kayakers find that the double-bladed paddle involved inevitably leads to some water dripping into the boat (and your lap), and all paddlers can find that the hands can get a little chilly in cooler weather, especially if they get wet.

In order to provide our guests with a comfortable experience during the cooler weather months, we do have a wide assortment of wetsuits. When worn as a base layer, these will provide excellent core protection if there is a capsize. Swimming in cold water will never be much fun, but wearing a wetsuit will eliminate concerns about potential hypothermia in all but very extended immersion situations, which is highly unlikely in a shallow river such as the Rio Grande. Our policy regarding thermal protection for cooler weather paddling is as follows: When the combined air and water temperatures are anticipated to be in the range of 100º Fahrenheit or lower, wetsuits are required for all guests. When the combined air and water temperatures are anticipated to be between approximately 101º and 130º (F), wetsuits are recommended for all guests.

To address the wetter ride typically associated with kayaks, we've also acquired an assortment of splash wear. These waterproof tops and pants are constructed of coated nylon, and the tops feature adjustable neoprene seals at the neck and wrists. Although not intended to provide protection from immersion as a full dry suit would, they will eliminate the possibility of discomfort from paddle drip and occasional splashes, and provide a toasty warm and windproof top layer. We can also provide neoprene mitts to keep your hands warm.

To help determine whether protective gear is currently recommended or required, we've embedded the Alameda Bridge water temperature gauge below (updates hourly):

Current Water Temperatures

USGS Water-data graph for site 08329918

If you do choose to join us for tours during the cooler months, there are other considerations to keep in mind. First, it is very important to dress in synthetic or wool layers, and avoid cotton. Nylon, polyester, polypropylene, Lycra, neoprene or wool will all wick perspiration, dry quickly if they do get wet, and will continue to provide insulation when damp. Wet cotton will be cold and miserable. We also suggest that guests bring along a change of clothes to secure in a dry bag, just in case. It may seem like over-preparing, and the fact is we rarely see capsizes, but with the colder weather and water temperatures present between late fall and early spring, it only makes sense to prepare for the worst and not need it, rather than the alternative.

Finally, although New Mexico requires the use of a life vest at all times while enjoying paddlesports, ignoring this requirement in colder water and weather is extremely dangerous. This excellent video addressing cold water paddling considerations, and especially the importance of wearing a life vest, is well worth the ten minutes of time involved:

We share this not to discourage anyone from experiencing the river in the cooler months, which are among our favorite times to be out there, but simply to get across the considerations involved when dealing with colder water and air temperatures. The fact remains that our guests rarely experience the river from any perspective other than comfortably floating on the surface. If you'd like to experience paddling the Rio in the cooler months, we can accommodate you, and will do everything we can to assure you're both properly prepared and comfortable.