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!
Are reservation required?
Reservations are required for Guided Trips, and self-guided outings should definitely call to confirm availability 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.
What's a better choice - a canoe, kayak or paddleboard?
For novices on our Guided Adventures, we overwhelmingly 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 weather vane 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”!
Paddleboards are surprisingly easy for most reasonably fit people as well. We recommend that beginners start while kneeling to get a little bit of feel for the board before attempting to stand, but most seem to get the hang of it pretty quickly. SUP's do engage the legs, so provide more of a workout, but paddling isn't an overly strenuous activity in any case.
Paddleboards aren't as versatile as canoes and kayaks, so are best for best for day outings, although several manufacturers do produce expedition SUP's which have surprising capacity and can be outfitted for multi-day excursions. We expect that many people captivated by SUP's may transition to solo or tandem canoes eventually; the paddlestrokes involved are virtually identical, and the canoe has advantages that a paddleboard can never match.
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 a far superior watercraft 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.
Fairly easy for beginners
Stability is surprising, and increases dramatically if the paddler kneels or sits
Challenging in windy conditions, especially while standing as the body functions like a sail
Limited capacity for gear, but fun for day trips that require virtually no gear
Quite challenging for beginners to control, especially in current
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've never paddled before. Will I be OK?
We've entertained thousands 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 our Guided Adventures don't offer the comprehensive information you will receive in dedicated instructional course, we do cover fundamental instruction on the basic strokes and 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 degrees 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.
Minimum Recommendations to Participate
Be a competent swimmer, comfortable both underwater and swimming in current.
Have a sufficient fitness level to participate in other low-impact outdoor activities, such as nature walks of similar length on unimproved trails.
I can't swim. Can I come along on one of your guided tours?
Please do not. If you can't swim, or are otherwise afraid of water, paddlesports are not an appropriate activity for you! Canoe, kayak, raft and stand up paddleboard outings on a river involves inherent risk, including the potential for capsizes and immersion in moving water. A non-swimmer choosing to go paddling is akin to someone who's frightened of heights to decide to go skydiving. It's both inappropriate and irresponsible.
Although it is true that everyone is required to wear a life vest at all times, and much of the year the river is quite shallow (see FAQ below), there is always a possibility that a boat will capsize. Anyone can end up taking an unintended swim at anytime, and it's been our experience that non-swimmers are highly likely to panic, which can be dangerous at anytime, and especially so on a river.
If you do decide to join us despite our recommendation against it, it is imperative to share this information so we can be prepared to provide additional help if necessary.
Is there enough water in the Rio Grande?
This is far and away the most common question we heard our first few years, 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 two to five 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. A full discussion of the varying flows, as well as real time flow data can be found at the Current River Conditions page.
It's startling how many long-term Albuquerque residents still 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 two miles 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 on the "Bosque" section, or consider one of the "Coronado" options instead.
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 currently offer tours from Mid-March through mid-November, and rentals throughout the year. While our busiest time is obviously the warmer summer months, paddling in late fall or 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.