Programs & Services

Heron Lake State Park Boating

Heron Lake State Park – (Click Here for Park Page)

Description: Wonderful lake with 6,000-acre normal surface acres . The lake has approximately 35 miles of shoreline. Maximum depth at the dam is 215 feet when full and 142 feet at minimum storage level (7,186 feet elevation). Lake is restricted to sailing and no-wake speed operation of motorboats.

Heron Lake State Park is a scenic lake area that is ideal for kayaking, sailing and windsurfing, as well as fishing for record-size trout.

The park offers two major events each summer: the annual Osprey Fest scheduled in July with live raptors, a wine and cheese reception and opportunities to view several osprey nesting sites; and the Paddle Power Festival in August, a gathering of kayak and canoe enthusiasts.

Directions: About 6 miles northwest of Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

Approximately 3.5 hours from Albuquerque and 165 miles. From Albuquerque take I-25 North to Exit 282 (St. Francis Drive south) at Santa Fe. Merge onto US-285 N/ US -84 N via Exit 282. and continue thru Santa Fe and north to Espanola for 28 miles. In Espanola turn left onto US-285 N/ US -84 N. Continue to follow US-84 N for about 66 miles into and just past Tierra Amarilla and NM 112 turnoff.

Two miles past NM 112 will be a left turn onto NM 95. , take SR 95 6mi to the Heron Lake Visitor Center on your right side of the road..

Hobie Sailing Directions
From Espanola Take Hwy 84 n. 70 mi., tack left Hwy 95, 10.9 mi., tack right at La Laja, look for beach cats along water’s edge.

GPS Coordinates for Park Office:
Water Sports and Special Events:

Sailing (mast tip up facility on site), paddlesports, windsurfing, boating (No Wake Motorboating Only), fishing, and swimming.

  • Paddlecraft
    Paddlers will generally find the developed sites with no electricity but with showers closeby suitable for starting to discover this lake. Island View/ Right Fork Campsites can be close to the water and a shelter cove and close to showers at Island View.

    Willow Creek Day Trip – Paddlecraft will find good, generally sheltered lake kayak/canoe exploration above the Narrows up the lake arm going up Willow Creek (a nice two and a half to three hour round trip). Put in at the Willow Creek Launch ramp. Paddle to to the north and east of the sailing marina (wave to the sailors!) and watch for the entry to this arm just northeast of the arm heading to the main body of the lake. Latitude = 36.7053, Longitude = -106.6575 Lat = 36 degrees, 42.3 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 39.5 minutes West You will go up a narrows of the Willow arm before coming up into the wide bay. Heading along either shore you will find eventually the slough of the Willow Creek which can be paddled up to where the creek actually enters the lake.

    West Side Primitive Camp – A paddle trip to hone overnight camping skills can be done along the west side of the lake. Launching can be done from the La Laja Ramp and crossing over to the West Side Primitive Camping areas. Latitude = 36.6884, Longitude = -106.7188 Lat = 36 degrees, 41.3 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 43.1 minutes West Overnight Primitive camping fees will apply.

    East/West Lake Exploratory Camp – The more skilled and ambitious can hone compass/GPS navigation and open water skills over two days starting by leaving from the Willow Creek Launch Ramp or Marina early and make the first leg a 4-5 mile journey beginning by going through the Narrows and move the first day along the north shore from Point 1 …..Latitude = 36.6955, Longitude = -106.6856 Lat = 36 degrees, 41.7 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 41.1 minutes West to Point 2 …..Latitude = 36.6948, Longitude = -106.7069 Lat = 36 degrees, 41.7 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 42.4 minutes West and then to the West side and finding the campsite for the night….. Latitude = 36.6875, Longitude = -106.7201 Lat = 36 degrees, 41.2 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 43.2 minutes West. On the second day you are returning doing about 6-7 miles via the South side visiting first La Laja Ramp to see the fishermen launch or the Hobie Fleet 48 getting ready….. Latitude = 36.6750, Longitude = -106.7149 Lat = 36 degrees, 40.5 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 42.9 minutes West then to the main Heron Lake dam …… Latitude = 36.6665, Longitude = -106.7045 Lat = 36 degrees, 40.0 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 42.3 minutes West (careful in crossing the road and you will find a restroom and a viewpoint down the face of the dam to the Rio Chama.) From there you will be paddling northeasterly and seeing the campers along the south shore all the way back to the Narrows or plan to cut it short at Island View Campground or Brushy Point Campground Latitude = 36.6845, Longitude = -106.6817 Lat. = 36 degrees, 41.1 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 40.9 minutes West. Don’t forget to check the 48 hour NOAA detailed weather to time the wind, take a lake map, and file a float plan!

    El Vado/Rio Chama Day Trip – Another paddling day can be spent exploring some of the Rio Chama Canyon. The North Ramp Access point for this scenic paddle is just about 7 miles west of Heron Lake Visitor Center on the way to the Stone House Lodge/Restaurant on NM 95. The turn will be on the south (left) side of the road down the valley once you pass the far west side of Heron Lake (Don’t take the first north (right) side road which leads to the West side of Heron lake primitive camping sites.) Latitude = 36.6570, Longitude = -106.7440 Lat. = 36 degrees, 39.4 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 44.6 minutes West This trip is accessible most years with the water backed up the Rio Chama Canyon from where it enters El Vado Lake. Latitude = 36.6488, Longitude = -106.7405 Lat = 36 degrees, 38.9 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 44.4 minutes West Overnight primitive camping can be done in the Canyon at a small number of sites further up the canyon or explore El Vado Lake proper. Overnight Primitive camping fees apply.

  • Sailing

    Popular sailing summer “port” with a developed sailboat marina by the mouth of Willow Creek. The road to the marina is accessed before you first get to the Heron Lake Visitor Center. Latitude = 36.7025, Longitude = -106.6481 Lat. = 36 degrees, 42.1 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 38.9 minutes West Sailing races held on many weekends and training.

    Hobie Cat Flotilla 48 Races held here due to great PM winds most days during the summer. Hobie Cat New Mexico flotilla usually offers free introductory rides on Hobie Cats for those interested in the sport. they can usually be found just outside the La Laja ramp area. Latitude = 36.6718, Longitude = -106.7152 Lat. = 36 degrees, 40.3 minutes North Long = 106 degrees, 42.9 minutes West

  • Chama River Running

    Heron lake provides a takeout point alternative to ending at El Vado Lake for the La Puente Rio Chama Run (Los Ojos to El Vado Lake Run).

    The normal 15 miles takes boaters through a deep wooded canyon with numerous rapids. If the start is at the NM 95 bridge there will be fences and a diversion to handle according to accounts. Off NM 112 between Los Ojos and Tierra Amarilla is a dirt road heading north that provides a low water crossing of the Rio Chama and is an alternative put in. Into the canyon there is the first rapid on a tight turn being a large boulder dividing the river called Lunch Rock and then below it the most challenging known as Big Mama Chama, a Class III strewn with boulders. There is another Class II just above Heron Dam. It is then 4 miles of Class I all the way to El Vado with then the the long lake push to the takeout.

    The alternative takeout at about 10 miles for paddle craft contains a hike out with your craft that includes a stairway on a hiking trail part of the Dominguez-Escalante Trail aka Old Spanish Trail (which connects El Vado to Heron Lake State Park) from the Rio Chama Suspension Foot Bridge. (Check with the park for access, parking and trail conditions. Most of the time the takeout is before the bridge. The park day use fee must be paid.)

    Subjective ratings:

    Low level 400 cfs Class II/III.

    High level 3,000 cfs Class III.

    Flood Levels at 4,000 cfs Class IV.

  • Excellent Boating: 7,191 feet in elevation down to 7,172.0 feet in elevation (424,755 acre-feet down to 322,985 acre-feet storage) 6,148 surface acres down to 5,207 surface acres
  • Good Boating: 7,172.0 feet in elevation down to 7,145 feet in elevation (322,985 acre-feet down to 97,700 acre-feet storage) 5,207 surface acres down to 3,943 surface acres

  • Fair Boating: 7,145 feet in elevation down to 7,100 feet in elevation (97,700 acre-feet down to 72,045 acre-feet storage) 3,943 surface acres down to 1,737 surface acres

  • Sailing: Fair conditions down to 7,109 feet in elevation (87,601 acre-feet in storage) 2,159 surface acres

  • Ramp and lake conditions
Ramps: 2 Formal, 2 Informal
  • Willow Creek. Willow Creek ramp is the only one available for launching in extreme low water (poor boating) conditions. Concrete ramp faces north. With a build-up of snow and ice, it becomes inaccessible. It has two turnarounds, one low and one high. Angle parking for staging at top.

Top Elevation: 7,186.1. Ft.

Bottom Elevation 7,117 Ft.

At Elevation level 7,126 Ft. ramp becomes unusable due to accumulated silt.

  • La Laja. La Laja ramp is available after lake level at 63.97 feet below maximum capacity. It is a concrete ramp with a midway turnaround. There is angle parking for vehicles with trailers at the top.

Top Elevation: 7,186.1 Ft.

Bottom Elevation 7,122 Ft.

  • Island View: Gravel ramp at Island View Unusable at low water
  • Ridge Rock: Check with park. Dirt Ramp access
Docks: 4
  • One (1) 8’ x 40’ Meeco Courtesy Dock with composite decking located at the La Laja Boat Ramp.
  • One (1) 8’ x 40’ Meeco Courtesy Dock with wood decking located at Ridge Rock Recreation Area.
  • One (1) 8’ x 40’ Meeco Courtesy Dock with wood decking located at Willow Creek.
  • One (1) 8’ x 40’ Meeco Courtesy Dock with composite decking also located at Willow Creek
  • New Mexico Sailing Club (private with public dock, slip and buoy rentals and sailing lessons)

The Heron Lake marina is open from early May through mid-October, depending upon lake conditions.

Slip rentals are $10 per night. Slips are 25′ and 28′ long.
Slip rentals for the entire 2007 season are $485.16 including

NM gross receipts tax and membership; seasonal renters also share in dock master duty.

Mooring buoys generally are available with lake levels of 7,160′ or higher.

Slips at the Heron Lake marina do not have running water or electricity.

Campsites with full facilities are available nearby within or near the state park. The marina has a pavilion with gas grills and picnic tables.

“A” dock at the NMSC marina was replaced. 

Walk in access to the marina is available from an access road east of the Willow Creek Campground entrance road off SR 95. Another longer way is from a hiking trail called East Meadow Trail leaving from the visitor center that also intersects the access road to the marina where turning left on the road will take one to the marina.  

Launching to boat access the NMSC marina is made only from the Willow Creek Launch Ramp. The voyage from the ramp to the marina is only a short 150 yards. There is no formal trail between the Willow Creek Launch Ramp and the NMSC marina.

NMSC Club mailing address:
New Mexico Sailing Club, PO Box 1795, Bernalillo, NM 87004

New Mexico Sailing Club officers and board of directors for 2006

Commodore, Pat Byrnes, 1829 Illinois St. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87110-6901 or HC 75 Box 1006, Rutheron, NM 87551-9700,
505-265-6741 (Albuquerque home), 505-284-9393 (office),
575-588-0088 (Heron Lake/weekend/summer),

Vice Commodore, Richard Koch, Los Alamos, 505-662-6066 (690-8462 cell),

Secretary, Eddie Dry, Albuquerque, 505-792-2532,                                      

Treasurer, Roger Vinyard, Rio Rancho, 505-891-2217,                        

Past Commodore, Lisa Carlson, 505-438-4692, Santa Fe,

        Sailing Instruction: Bruce Bowen,

        ASA Affilliate Certified Instructor (505-690-6738)           ASA Basic Keelboat Sailing Course

Off-site Boat Rentals:

Yes, available in the area for Kayaks, small fishing boats and for larger pontoon boats.

Wind Warning Lights:

At the island in the middle of the lake, west and east ends of the lake

Prevailing Wind:

 Strong afternoon winds are likely.  Watch for storms out of the northwest.

Fish Species:

Coldwater fishery.  Rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, carp, and kokanee salmon. Optimum fishing levels around 7,170′   Ice fishing depending on conditions. Check with the Park.

NM Game and Fish during the closed kokanee fishing season use electro-fishing boats to collect spawning kokanee and temporarily store them in holding pens until eggs and milt can be collected. Afterwards, the kokanee are released back into the lakes.

The eggs and milt are mixed, water added to activate the milt and the fertilized eggs are hauled off to incubators at the hatcheries. Although eggs are sometimes available from out-of-state sources, it’s cheaper, more reliable and more efficient for the department to collect eggs when the kokanee spawn. Last season, the department collected 3.25 million eggs and planted 2.5 million kokanee fry in state waters.

Fishing Guides:

Available in the area.


Restricted and governed under the Small Game and Waterfowl Proclamation of the Game and Fish Department. Check the Proclamation annually for any changes. Check with the park manager for restricted areas.

Typically seasonally open for waterfowl, Virginia rail, common snipe and sora.

Special Boating Restrictions:

No wake speeds only. Strictly enforced. No white water off the bow or sides of the vessel. Speed is limited only to just making way (moving forward at slowest speed possible).

New Mexico State Parks Regulation 16.2 Heron Lake: Motorized boating activity is limited to no-wake operation only.

Boating issues at specific elevations of concern:

7,157 ft.       Buoys in NW and at east end going aground. Shoal arising between WC Ramp & Marina. 

7,156 ft.       Long shallow area in NW between Buoys 9 & 11. Rocks off point of spillway peninsula. 

7,149 ft.       West peninsula of Laguna Vista completely exposed. Shallow area between shore & #21.                          La Laja Ramp closed to all traffic

7,143 ft.       Approx. 3,500 surface acres remaining.  NW shallow areas exposed.  Hazards appear SE. 

7,137 ft.      Shallow areas appear all along SW shoreline New shoals arise between #21 & Big Island.  

7,136 ft.      Hazard buoys along W shore replaced with channel markers.  Large shallows NE off LV 

 7,135 ft.       No new hazards or shallow areas.  Seasonal replacement of far NW buoys with ice spars. 

Servicing Boats:

Some service is available at Heron RV and Marine located just east of the park open 8 am to 4:30 p.m. M-Th, and 7 am to 4:30 p.m. F,Sat, Sun.  588-0325.

Recreation Areas Managed By:

New Mexico State Parks

Heron Lake installed 10 new campsite shelters at various campsites within Heron Lake’s Willow Creek, Blanco, Ponderosa, Ridge Rock and La Laja campgrounds.

 “We picked campsites that don’t have a lot of shade,” said Park Manager Anthony Marquez. “It can get pretty hot during the summer months, so the shelters will offer relief from the sun and should really improve these sites for the public.”

Land Information:

Operator of the lake is the US Bureau of Reclamation as part of the Upper Colorado San Juan Chama Project. Some areas around the lake are on private property and not available for primitive camping. Please check on these areas with a park ranger.


(575) 588-7470

Go Back to Boating Waters

Example Float Plan

General Information

Departure date and time ________________________________________________________
Return date and time  __________________________________________________________
Location where trip originated  ___________________________________________________
Intended route ________________________________________________________________
Location of parked vehicle _______________________________________________________
Vehicle description (make)(model)(color) ___________________________________________

Emergency Numbers

My Cell Phone Number ____________________________ Phone with me: Yes_____ No _____
Emergency Contact (name) ______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________
Local State Park/ Game and Fish Phone Number _______________________________________________

Local Sheriff, Police Phone Number:


Paddling Group Information                          Number of people on this trip ____________

NAME: ________________________________ Age _______
Kayak Color _________________ PFD Color  ___________________________
Emergency Contact Name _______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________


NAME: ________________________________ Age _______
Kayak Color  _______________    PFD Color __________________________
Emergency Contact Name _______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________


NAME: _________________________________ Age _______
Kayak Color  _________________  PFD Color _________________________
Emergency Contact Name _______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________


NAME: ________________________________  Age _______
Kayak Color  ___________________PFD Color _________________________
Emergency Contact Name _______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________


NAME: ____________________________Age _______
Kayak Color  _______________________ PFD Color _____________________
Emergency Contact Name _______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________


NAME: ____________________________ Age _______
Kayak Color  _______________________PFD Color _____________________
Emergency Contact Name _______________________________________________________
Emergency Contact Phone Number ________________________________________________