Heron Lake State Park
This picturesque lake offers quiet recreation amongst the pines of Northern New Mexico. Fish, hike, sail, or canoe on Heron Lake. Choose from hundreds of excellent campsites along the lakeshore.
Our family loves water adventures. The vision of visiting a lake may bring to mind a wooded tree lined shoreline. That’s not exactly the case here. Despite low water levels, the picturesque lake is a mountain lake that is serene and relaxing.
Heron Lake is a “no wake lake” which means that there are no big motored boats out on the water. Instead, you will see sailboats and kayaks dotting the landscape and fishing boats bobbing.
There is a popular day use area that has a boat dock and landing to easily drop the kayak into the water. We like to bring our kayak and set up a shade umbrella and chairs at this main parking area/boat landing right after crossing Heron Dam. There are lots of places to set up for the day to swim and play in the water. Also at this landing it is common to see people cliff jumping into the water when the water levels are high enough. We cannot stress enough how important it is to check water levels and fully make sure there aren't any dangerous rocks waiting under the water's surface before ever attempting this. There are many fun lower jumping off points the kids can enjoy when the levels are high. Also, water shoes are recommended in the cliff jumping area as this is a popular fishing spot and there can be hooks in the ground.
A favorite excursion with the kayak is to take it to the small island in the middle of the lake. There is a small hill to climb and the view is pretty. The only other thing on the island is a weather antenna that will blink when warning of high winds.
There are lots of pullouts along the lake to explore that are less populated and overnight camping spots are abundant. The shoreline can be muddy in spots and kids will squeal with delights as they romp in the mud and play in the water. Bring plenty of towels and lots of drinking water. There is a dock that you can sit on to wash the mud off of your feet if you need here, as well.
There are some nice hiking trails in the area (see Rio Chama Trail below). If you are going to be spending a long time at the lakeshore, we also always have some sort of shade with us. The summer sun can be brutal and people can dehydrate quickly. Either a shade structure or umbrellas are highly recommended here. In the summer, afternoon monsoon thunderstorms are common. You usually see them rolling in from the Brazos Cliffs. There tends to be a lot of wind at the shoreline when the storms come, so be aware and be ready to pack up quickly when needed. Remember that divine sun structure? We have seen them catch air and our umbrellas have been flipped inside out right as a storm has rolled in! After a day of fun in the sun at Heron Lake, your family will be happy, relaxed, and pooped! There are some restaurant, motel, and camping options available in nearby Chama. Please see our Chama Sidetrack for more information.
Rio Chama Trail
We have walked most of the Rio Chama Trail that connects Heron Lake with El Vado Lake. The trail is 5 miles along the Rio Chama. You descend stairs near Heron Dam and cross the river on a footbridge. This is a popular fishing spot. I would suggest parking a second car at El Vado if you are going to do the entire 5 mile trail with kids and you only want to walk one way. There is little shade so it may be best enjoyed during the early mornings in summer, and spring or fall seasons. Bring plenty of water.
Northwest of Albuquerque near Chama, NM