RÍO MULATOS-AROS: Wild Sonoran Canyons

232 km (144 miles), class III-IV, 11 days (9 paddling)

Aug5 Aug19 (2018) rendezvous in Douglas . RESERVE

Join an expedition down one of the finest long-distance wilderness rivers in Mexico just south of the Arizona border. The quality is comparable to a Salt or Salmon River trip with beautiful canyon, interesting side hikes, and fun rapids. Everyone is welcome: kayakers, rafters, and raft passengers. Rapids are primarily class II-III and suitable for intermediate kayakers, though there are several IVs on the Mulatos.

slideshow: MULATOS-AROS1
slideshow: MULATOS-AROS2
slideshow: MULATOS-AROS3
slideshow: 2011 trip [2011 report]
FILM: 14 min video [2010 trip]


The Río Mulatos-Aros trip is perhaps the best long-distance raft support wilderness river expedition in Mexico. Only one village is passed the entire trip. The water is clean, reliable, and big (avg. 8000 cfs on the Aros). There are fun class III and IV rapids almost every day and interesting side canyons/hikes, including to narrows and warm clear swimming holes. The wilderness is phenomenal. This is the northernmost area of jaguars in the world. Overall, this trip is on par with the most sought-after multi-day expedition trips in the Western US. See for yourself - check out the slideshows above. Watch a short FILM. Read an ARTICLE.

We expect to have several large rafts to support the group. We welcome anyone wanting to join: kayakers, rafters, and raft passengers. Space is limited for raft passengers/paddlers. The pace will generally be relaxed, possibly with a layover day (if water levels are high enough for us to move quickly). Come join the fifth descent of Río Mulatos-Aros, support the nonprofit organization SierraRios, meet some new people, and see what paddling in the Sierra Madre Occidental is all about!

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TENTATIVE ITINERARY (for Aug7 launch but similar for other launches):
Aug7 (Sun): participants arrive Phoenix/Tucson/Douglas; drive to Douglas and stay night in hotel (~$45)
Aug8 (Mon
): DAY 1: cross border; get tourist visas; 5 hr drive to Sahuaripa; stay Hotel Casa Grande (~$20)
Aug9 (Tue): DAY 2: geology talk at gold mine; rig at put-in; launch; class II-III; 0-5 km
Aug10 (Wed): DAY 3: paddle into Barranca Mulatos (Amargosa); camp in gorge; class IV; ~20 km
Aug11 (Thu): DAY 4: finish rapids of Barranca Mulatos (Saucito, Unscathed, Dos Mas); class IV; ~20 km
Aug12 (Fri): DAY 5: pass confluence with Aros; camp upstream of Nátora; class II; ~30 km
Aug13 (Sat): DAY 6: stop at Nátora; arrive Arroyo El Aliso; class II-III; ~30 km
Aug14 (Sun): DAY 7: Lone Palm Gorge; Arroyo Santa Rosa; Cañon Los Arrieros; class II-III; ~30 km
Aug15 (Mon): DAY 8: Arroyo Santa Rosa; Cañon Los Arrieros; class II-III; ~30 km
Aug16 (Tue): DAY 9: Paso Nácori gauging station; Cañon La Bocana (Morita, Cajones); class III(IV); ~30 km
Aug17 (Wed): DAY 10: pass Bavispe; class II; possibly arrive to take-out; ~30 km
Aug18 (Thu): DAY 11: easy going to take-out; de-rig; drive back to Douglas; hotel (~$45); ~15 km;
Aug19 (Fri): DAY 12: flights back from Tucson/Phoenix

DAY 0: Usually a 12-passenger van will be heading from California to our first rendezvous points in Phoenix/Tucson. We can pick up guests at one of the airports or enroute (a small fee applies). We will drive the van to the border city of Douglas where we’ll spend the night in a Motel6.

DAY 1: Border crossing: Early this morning, we’ll cross the border, get our tourist visas and vehicle registrations, do last minute shopping, and proceed to Sahuaripa (5 hr), where we’ll meet our shuttle drivers, eat at a restaurant, and stay in Hotel Casa Grande that evening.

DAY 2: Launch: Gear may be transferred to a heavy duty truck for the ride to the put-in. We will leave early, stop to visit geologists at Minas de Oro Nacional, and make it to the El VIctor put-in by afternoon where we will rig the rafts and paddlethe first few kilometers downstream to our first camp.

DAYS 3-5: MULATOS: We’ll make our way into Barranca Mulatos, paddling through the first class IV on the trip (Amargosa) and doing some hiking before finding a suitable camp. On the following day, we will paddle through the rest of Barranca Mulatos and tackle the most challenging rapids on the journey: Saucito, Unscathed, and Dos Mas. After emerging from the Barranca, we will scoot along quickly toward the confluence with the Aros on Day5 camping a bit downstream.

DAYS 6-10: AROS On DAYS 6-7, we will paddle down the main Aros, passing the village of Nátora possibly for a resupply, stop to soak in the warm clear pools of Arroyo El Aliso, hike up Arroyo Santa Rosa to the a narrows, and enjoy the fun Santa Rosa and Roca Roja rapids in Cañon Los Arrieros. If water levels allow us to progress quickly, we may have a layover on DAY 7 or 8, giving us time for an extended hike up an arroyo to check out another wild area of Sonora. On DAY 8, we will paddle into Cañon La Bocana and face the toughest rapid on the Aros: Morita (class III-IV). The following day (DAY 9), we will make our way down the easier lower river past the confluence with Río Bavispe, and quickly make progress down Río Yaqui. If water levels are high and progress is quick, we may be at the take-out on DAY10. Otherwise, the default is to plan to be there on DAY 11.

DAY 11: Return: On this day we will finish the trip, derig, and drive back to Douglas where we usually stay in the hotel there.

DAY 12: Flights home: Flights out of Tucson or Phoenix should be planned for this day.

SierraRios has all topo maps of the entire river marked with rapids and potential beach camps. If you would like access to these, you can sign up as a member of SierraRios specifying you're interested in the Mulatos-Aros and the Mexican Whitewater: Norte maps/book/video, and you'll receive immediate access to the maps (and book/DVD). If you have the password, click here for access: MAPS. [also note links at top left column of this page and at TOPO MAPS on the main www.SierraRios.org homepage.

SAN DIEGO: We may be driving a van or truck from San Diego to Phoenix/Tucson just before the trip, so it is possible for you to catch a ride to Douglas in it. A small fee will be charged if you would like a ride in the van ($50 per passenger each way; $25 for your boat) from California; less from points closer to Douglas).

TUCSON/PHOENIX: You can consider flying into Phoenix (PHX) or Tucson (TUS) airports (coordinate with others if so). The van will be able to pick everyone up as it passes these cities enroute to Douglas. Although we will give everyone a ride from Tucson to the put-in, you may have to pay for your ride back to Tucson/Phoenix from Douglas (~$35) after the trip. If you can help the trip out with your own vehicle and we have a need for it, your contribution toward the trip will be adjusted appropriately.

DOUGLAS: If you drive to Douglas and want us to pick you up, you may consider leaving your vehicle in a parking lot (you are responsible for any fees). In the past, it has been possible to leave a vehicle at the Motel 6 for the 10 days we are away in Mexico (due to our stay there initially) and possibly one night afterward. Other options may be available.

SAHUARIPA: It is possible for us to meet you in Sahuaripa, which is very close to the take-out. If so, you may get a small discount off the price of the trip ($50).

FLYING TO PHOENIX/TUCSON: If you are planning to fly to Tucson, remember that bringing your own boats and gear on a plane can sometimes be frustrating. Southwest Airlines is one of the most accommodating airlines that has always accepted whitewater kayaks in the past. They do charge an oversize fee ($75 each way; <11 ft and <50 lbs). Alaska and US Air take kayaks ($75 extra each way), but United and Delta do not. Inflatable kayaks are much easier to fly with, but still may incur an extra baggage fee. If it all sounds too daunting to you, consider using one of our kayaks.

RETURN: We will be driving the back to Douglas where we can drop folks off at their vehicles or at a shuttle stop. The price of the trip only includes transportation from Douglas to the river and back to Douglas. There are regular shuttles from Douglas to Tucson and Phoenix that depart several times per day (~$35/person). If the van or other vehicles are passing that way, you may be able to get a ride with one of us. We plan to return the van to California after this trip.

This trip is being run to increase appreciation of the river and foment opposition to the planned dams.
We welcome everyone: raft passengers, raft paddlers, raft rowers, kayakers, IKers, and guides. No prior rafting experience is required to join a trip. We offer professional level service similar to established outfitters in the Grand Canyon (USA). The general costs of this and other trips is listed at: COSTS

Special discounts are sometimes offered to folks on our email list, so you are encouraged to sign up (Email List info).

If interested in joining a trip, start a discussion by sending a note stating how you found out about the trip and a little background info about you and your paddling experience, what dates might work for you, and what sections of the expedition you are most interested in joining. Once you get the go-ahead, you will need to provide a deposit to reserve your place on the trip. The balance must be received prior to trip commencement. See PAYMENTS for payment options.

A minimum of 8 guests will assure a general SierraRios trip occurs, while our maximal limit is 16 guests on any trip. We may allow trips with fewer folks depending on circumstances. If interested in doing a trip on a date not listed, send a message about optimal scheduling for you, as well as a little info about you. We may list the launch date, and if enough folks sign up by the 3-month cut-off, we'll organize it.

We reserve the right to cancel the trip 2+ months in advance. This generally will occur only if there are not enough folks signed up (<12). If we cancel the trip, all deposits and payments will be refunded. 

If you must cancel, you'll get your money back if you find someone to take your place on the trip. If you don't find someone, we may allow much of the payment to be applied to a future trip (at our discretion). The amount depends on the circumstances surrounding the cancellation.

(1) Rocky Contos (San Diego, CA) the trip leader, has explored nearly every river in Mexico including ~200 first descents covering ~8,000 km of river and ~55,000 m of drop, solo kayaked the first descent of Río Mulatos in 2002, led two raft descents of the river in 2010 (2010slides1; slides2, slides3) and 2011 (slides2011), wrote the guidebook to the Sierra Madre Occidental, and is preparing guidebooks to the rest of the country. He is fluent in Spanish and has paddled over 150 multi-day journeys on rivers, with dozens in the range of 5-22 days. Several articles have featured Rocky (American Whitewater; Kayak Session; Canoe & Kayak). While attaining his Ph.D. in neuroscience (see CV), Rocky worked as a kayak instructor and guide for UCSD's Outback adventures from 1993-1996 and gained valuable trip planning skills for large groups. Although primarily a kayaker, Rocky started rafting in the mid-1990s in order to introduce more people to the wonders of river travel. Since then and throughout his years as a postdoctoral research associate, he has organized numerous large group raft and kayak expeditions, including five through Grand Canyon (18-22 days), three on the Salmon River (4-10 days each), two on the Usumacinta, and dozens to destinations such as the Salt, Kern, Rogue, Deschutes, John Day, Thompson, Similkameen, and Baja California (2-6 days each). Rocky first paddled Río Mulatos-Aros in 2002 on a solo kayak journey. He returned in 2010 for a raft descent with his wife (Barbara Conboy), Lacey Anderson and Neil Nikirk, and in 2011 with another large group of adventurers, and is eager to introduce this gem of wilderness river to more paddlers. Rocky founded SierraRios with the goal of conserving the rivers of Mexico, and hopes that increased awareness and enjoyment of the resource will lead to protection. He is organizing all aspects of the trip, including logistics and meals. He likely will be rowing a large cataraft or self-bailer raft with gear and passengers, but may safety kayak if a competent rower is availlable.

(2) Boris Trgovcich (Placerville, CA) was a raft guide for many years in Northern California running his own company. He is now retired and continues to love exploring rivers and helping others down them. He joined the 2011 and 2014 Mulatos-Aros trips and led the 2015 trip. Boris has also run most other rivers that SierraRios offers, including the Marañon, Usumacinta, and Lacanjá.

(3) German Arroyo (DF, Mexico) may also guide or help guide the trip. German lives in Mexico City, has been a raft guide for many years, rafted the Mulatos-Aros in 2011 and 2015, and has guided many SierraRios Usumacinta trips.

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The violence in Mexico surrounding the drug was has been in the news a lot in the past three years. The violence is confined to drug traffickers (narcos) and those associated with them, including law enforcement. In addition, the river we will be journeying down did not have any marijuana cultivation visible near it, and we are likely to encounter few residents. Locals from Sahuaripa will accompany us to the put-in and from the take-out, facilitating positive interactions. We may even have one such person in guide training on the raft. As such, we are not likely to be harassed or molested in any way related to the drug war. For further discussion of the drug war and safety concerns, click here.

Independent of the drug war, there has always been potential danger for assault in Mexico by armed bandits (bandidos). This is not different now as it was 5 years ago or 10 years ago or 20 years ago. Such risk is common in any third world country where citizens are very poor. In the event of assault, we will do all we can to protect our clients and ourselves, but may have to sacrifice our possessions. Since we can never guarantee against such assault, you must agree not to hold us liable for consequent personal injury/damage/loss you sustain on this outing.

The other aspect of safety is prevention of accidents. It is of utmost importance that you take all precautions necessary to avert injury, sickness, and complications while on the trip. As guides, we are there to help get you safely to the river, down it, and back out, but cannot guarantee against accidents. You must accept the responsibility for what happens on the river if you are in control of your craft. If you are concerned about the whitewater or other aspects, it is your responsibility to make appropriate decisions whether to run the rapid or not and to stay close to someone who can watch and oversee you (if you desire that level of protection). If an accident occurs, we will do all in our power to help you, see that proper care is rendered, or evacuate you if need be. Rocky was trained as a Wilderness First Responder and can administer appropriate emergency medical care if needed. We will have two basic first aid kits available. We will also carry a satellite phone for emergencies and changes of plan.

Most days we will launch around 10 am, stop for lunch around noon, and be at camp around 4-5 pm. There may be an interesting hike we'll allow time for in the morning, lunch, or after landing. At this time of year (Aug-Sep), days are still fairly long, with sunrise-sunset from 6 am-7 pm. We'll usually be making around 30-40 km/day when on the water. After landing, we'll set up camp and get dinner started. If it happens to be cool, we may collect firewood for a campfire. Most activity will concentrate around the eating area and campfire. You will be free to relax, wander, or socialize. After eating, those in charge of the dishes will clean them all. Each evening during dinner or afterward we will have a group meeting to discuss the day's events, what is coming up the following day, and any other issues that should be addressed (such as who will be in what boat, etc.). In the morning, you must have your tent and camp area packed up and ready to go before we start loading the rafts. Some mornings will have potential hikes. We hope to have one layover day where we remain in the same camp for two nights. That day you can just hang out and lounge if you like, enjoy the water, or go on an exploratory hike. SierraRios trips practice leave-no-trace as much as possible. No ashes or trash are left at any camps.


We have timed this trip to coincide with highest probability of good river flows. In August, flows average 60 cms (2000 cfs) on the Mulatos and 230 cms (8000 cfs) on the Aros [see historical hydrographs]. It is very likely (~80% chance) that we will have 20-180 cms (700-5000 cfs) on the Mulatos and 100-400 cms (3500-14000 cfs) on the Aros, but there are slim chances it will be higher (10%) or lower (10%). Water levels can fluctuate rapidly due to spotty intense thunderstoms that are characteristic of the monsoon season in the region. It is important that rafts be tied up well so they don’t drift away in a rising tide on the river. Equally important, the camp must be set at a high enough location so it will not be flooded. We may encounter rapidly rising river that reaches camp (usually in the evening). If this happens and you are the first to notice, please wake the guides first, and we will assess the situation. It may be necessary to move camp higher.

Drought possibility: In 2011 we did a trip below the lowest 1% of recorded flows during that month [6 cms(200 cfs) on Mulatos; and several days of 20 cms (700 cfs) on the Aros], and still were able to make it through with 6 rafts, though it did take 2-3 extra days on the Mulatos. If flows are unusually low when we are in Sahuaripa (i.e., below the 10th percentile or <60 cms on the Aros; about 1 in 10 chance), we will begin our trip at Nátora on the Aros instead of El Victor on the Mulatos. In this event, we will likely only spend 7 days on the water - you will be refunded about $100 for the shorter trip length. This is a risk you must be willing to accept when you sign up. Water levels can now be monitored over the past 7 days online at the Paso Nácori gauging station of the Aros, and you can also see a CNA daily report of river and reservoir levels in the region. In addition, you can also see other gauges in the region.

WEATHER: The climate averages for July and August on the trip are similar to those for Sahuaripa (below). The average high/low is about 98oF / 72oF in the summer. Expect thunderstorms about 1/3 of the days, usually in short downpours.

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Avg
AvgHigh(F) 74 79 84 92 99 107 100 98 98 92 82 75 89
AvgLow(F) 38 40 47 50 57 69 73 72 68 57 44 37 55
AvgRainDays 4 3 2 1 1 3 14 12 6 3 2 4
AvgPrecip(in) 1.5 1.0 0.5 0.2 0.3 1.2 5.8 5.7 2.8 1.2 0.8 1.4
AvgFlow(cfs) 2300 1700 1200 600 400 700 6000 8500 5000 2000 1200 1800


13' SierraRios self-bailer raft (with frame)
16' SierraRios self-bailer raft (with frame)
16' SierraRios cataraft (with frame)

kayaks: (most of these are big comfy new boats):
Wavesport Diesel 80
Dagger Nomad 8.1
Dagger Mamba 8.1
Wavesport Extreme

NRS Bandit II (inflatable kayak)
Neptune IK (great for 1-person or 2-people)


"Thanks for making these trips/expeditions happen!  I am your number one fan in México.  What a difference between this and the lazy days of the Usu!!!!  Though I have only done the upper Grand Canyon (Lee's Ferry to Phantom Ranch) I'd say that the rapids in the Mulatos were significantly scarier (shitting-my-pants-factor was HIGH) than anything I went through on the Colorado.  The trip definitely reminded me of the Salt because of the variations in canyon and landscape qualities, but the wilderness factor is way higher in the Mulatos-Aros-Yaqui. I want to go back!!!!! "
Citlali Cortés Montaño, PhD ecologist; working in the nonprofit sector in Mexico; [2015 Mulatos-Aros trip]

" First off, let me say this: the Mulatos-Aros was spectacular, and this is based on me having canoed and traveled the wilderness on seven continents, to many, many different areas. So for comparison’s sake, I would definitely rate the M/A journey as “World Class” on many levels. A must-do for anyone who wants to experience one of the finest all-around river journeys in the world, especially one, as you state, that is so close to the U.S. 
There is the cultural element, always a big bonus in my opinion. The small towns we passed through going and coming, were a delight. Especially Nátora on the river. We spent an hour or more there and it was fun and interesting, even if no one understood a word of my Spanish! ... 
There is the wilderness. Almost non-stop from put-in to take-out. I can easily see how jaguars, mountain lions, etc. could roam free here. We saw about 6 or 7 whitetail deer right along the river, so I’m sure there is ample prey for the big cats.
Along with the wilderness, there is almost non-stop beautiful and varied landscapes. No lack of spectacular mountainous and canyon scenery here.
There were excellent campsites. No problem accommodating a large group like ours. 
And there was excitement. At the water levels we experienced, it was, indeed, a challenging run for us mere mortals, Boris and German included... [in Amargosa] our paddleraft on the Mulatos flipped, sending all five of us in the drink. [In another rapid] our paddleraft high-sided ...
As Boris might have told you, Fran and paddled our SOAR tandem every day except the second and third days, when we were faced with the majority of the most daunting rapids of the trip. To this end, we were very glad to have the paddleraft …. and German as our paddleraft capitán. German is a jewel of a guy and a guide, a great addition to our team.
And speaking of great guides, our chief, Jefe Boris, was an excellent, extremely capable leader, and an eminently personable one (especially when we all made it safely through the canyon’s multiple Class IVs). In my humble opinion, you couldn’t have chosen a better man to lead us down this challenging river system. You are very fortunate to have him available to jump in when you can’t be there. 
And not to be forgotten is Gabe [from the area but who lives in S.California]. Fran and I drove from and to Douglas with Gabe, so we possibly got to know him better than the other clients. He is a rock, a great guy, and a fount of knowledge of Sonora. As such, he was indispensable in many ways to the success of our journey. He also proved himself a very capable oarsman, rowing that big, gear-laden cat of his through some treacherous rapids. 
So, with Boris, German, and Gabe adding their talents and hard work, we had a great leadership team. I am certain everyone on the trip would wholeheartedly agree.

Larry Rice, author of Canoe Country Reflections & hundreds of outdoor articles; [2015 Mulatos-Aros trip]

We had a beautiful trip, thank you so much for pioneering rafting in the region and organizing these trips.  It was one of our favorite river trips we have been on, so special to raft through Northern Mexico!
The logistics were great, we got in and out of Mexico without any problems.  The roads were fine (likely thanks to the mine) and we did not have any trouble pulling our trailer.  
Big positives:
-The food was delicious, Boris made some very memorable dinners on the trip.
-German did a great job keeping his paddlers safe
-We really appreciated having Josh on the trip, he talked through the rapids with our boys and helped them along, he is also a good guy and a lot of fun 
-It added a lot to the trip to have Citlali and Gabe on the trip, I really enjoyed hearing about their families from the region, etc.  Citlali and Gabe both were a great help getting through the border

-[Rapids:] it was pretty intense water.
-Again, can't say enough about the logistics, everything went very smoothly

Molly Ferrer, rafter from Denver area did trip with husband and two sons, [2015 Mulatos-Aros trip]

"THE TRIP KICKED MAJOR ASS! mike" [2011 Mulatos-Aros trip]
ike Doktor (Portland, OR), former raft guide for Ken Warren Expeditions