Chama is a very small village in northern New Mexico, in the Rio Grande National Forest, not too far from the Colorado border. Over the years Chama’s economy has relied on mining and sheep ranching, but more recently, tourism is becoming quite a boon to Chama’s economy. Although you may have just recently heard of Chama, there’s certainly plenty to do while you’re there.
Chama, NM 87520, USA
The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad
Chama’s most famous claim to fame is certainly The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad. At one time part of the San Juan Extension of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, the C and T is now a popular tourist attraction. Operated by the interstate Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad Commission, The C and T has been taking sightseers on a steam powered ride over 10,000 feet in elevation since 1971. The ride takes you near the Cumbres Pass, through Toltec Gorge and Trujillo Meadows and culminates in the even tinier village of Antonito, Colorado.
You may also choose to take the half-way tour, which stops for lunch near the beautiful Toltec Gorge and then returns to Chama. Lunch is included in the price of the ticket.
If you’re visiting Chama on a Saturday in July, August or September, you should not pass up the opportunity for dinner, a train ride and absolutely gorgeous views of the valley and the San Juan Mountains on the Cumbres Sunset Train. Dinner is served at The Cubres Depot.
It is possible to buy same day tickets, but the tickets sell quickly and often sell out, so it's recommended that you make advanced reservations.
While the train ride itself is wonderful, the history of the railroad is very interesting as well. Be sure to tour the railroad yards in both Chama and Antonito if you have the time. Both guided and self-guided tours are available.
Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing
Chama’s elevation is 7800 feet and the nearby Cumbres Pass is over 10,000 feet. The general area is one of the snowiest regions in all of New Mexico. Chama itself averages over eight feet of snow every year, and the Pass gets another fourteen feet (on average) above that. That’s a lot of snow.
There are plenty of places to ski or shoe on all of that snow. The Groomed Trails at Sargent’s Wildlife Area offers just that--groomed trails for cross county skiers of all skill levels. There is also an area of the Rio Grande National Forest, just 12 miles north of Chama, which has been closed to snowmobiles, so it's a safe and quiet place for skiing. Additionally, there are five yurts in the San Juan Mountains nearby. These yurts are maintained by Southwest Nordic Center and Cumbres Nordic Adventures and are great for over-nighting skiers.
The Chama Chile Ski Classic is held every year over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday weekend. It’s the largest Cross-Country event in the state and boasts over 200 skiers per year. Besides the races, The Classic also features a costume contest, live music, a chile contest, tours and clinics.
Hiking, Backpacking, Mountain Biking and Horseback Riding
Many of the same trails that are so popular with skiers in the winter make great hiking, riding and biking trails in the summertime. With high temperatures in the seventies and low eighties, the beautiful Rio Chama Valley offers the perfect weather for getting some outdoor exercise. Chama is surrounded by National Forests and Wilderness areas, so whether you’re a beginner or an extreme athlete there are enough areas to keep you busy for days or weeks.
If horseback riding appeals to you, outfitters are available for guided and unguided tours, right from Chama.
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Hunting and Fishing
There are multiple lodges, outfitters and hunting guides available in and around Chama to assist you in your elk, mule deer or turkey hunts. Elk and deer hunts are held in the Fall, turkey hunts in the Spring. Most lodges provide the entire experience, from the hunt to the lodging and meals.
If fishing is more your speed, there is plenty of water as well. The Rio Chama is a major tributary of the Rio Grande River, and there are 15 lakes within 25 miles of Chama. Depending on where you fish you may catch Rainbow, Brown, Brook or Lake Trout, Salmon, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Catfish, Perch and/or Bluegills.
Boating, Water-Skiing, Rafting, Kayaking, and Canoeing
Whether you’d prefer to charter a boat at Heron Lake, take a leisurely canoe ride around Trujillo Reservoir or to take on the Class II and III rapids on Rio Chama, there is a body of water for you near Chama. Again, local outfitters can provide any equipment you may need and many tours are available.
From bird watching to train-spotting, you’re going to want to have a camera. The beautiful area around Chama and the San Juan National Forest was home to and provided inspiration for none other than Georgia O’Keefe. The wildlife is plentiful—from hummingbirds to elk to bobcats to foxes.
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With fewer than 2000 full time residents, Chama, New Mexico may just be the smallest town that you could never be bored in. If any of the above sounds like a fun vacation for you and your family, be sure to add Chama to your vacation bucket list.