Life unfolds at a slower tempo in this enchanting mountain town perched in New Mexico’s southern Rockies. 


The mountain town of Chama, located on the New Mexico–Colorado border, overflows with old-fashioned friendliness. That could be because at 7,860 feet, Chama is surrounded by towering peaks, flowing rivers, and other outdoor splendors that naturally heighten everyone’s mood.

Chama Outdoors

“You can’t leave home without seeing someone,” says Karlee Phippen, who owns the Log River Ranch and Chama Trails Inn with her husband, Austin, and two children. Folks stop for conversation on the Western-style downtown streets, whether they’re longtime friends or first-time visitors seeking a recommendation for the best hiking trail, favorite fishing spot, or popular place to eat. “A grocery trip should take five minutes,” she says. “But it’s always at least 30.”


This former railroad boomtown has a way of enchanting residents and visitors, many of whom return year after year. Born in Albuquerque, Phippen spent time during her childhood visiting the Chama log home her grandfather built in the 1980s. Her family vacationed there, and the Phippens were married on the property in 2017, inspiring them to turn it into a wedding venue. The couple now has two young children and are thrilled to be living in Chama.


“Some of my favorite childhood memories in Chama were spending lots of time in the mountains,” Phippen says. “We were so close to so many trails, and a 15-minute drive to a bunch of other trails. Today with my family, we go up into the mountains as often as we can. In the summer, we go hiking, biking, and we drive our Jeep through the mountains.”


Living so close to nature means sharing the land with wildlife. “We have a ton of elk, a bunch of deer and I recently saw a bobcat on our property,” says Phippen, who worked in events at both a ranch and ski resort in Colorado before starting Log River Ranch. “We also have wild turkey, foxes, and coyotes.”


From late May to mid-October, visitors and locals enjoy one of Chama’s most popular attractions, a seasonal ride on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad. Pulled by historic narrow-gauge steam engines, the railroad runs between Chama and Antonito, Colorado, passing through the 10,015-foot Cumbres Pass and providing unparalleled views of the rolling meadows, aspen groves, vast mountain views, and abundant wildlife.

Chama Fishing

From the Río Chama, which flows from its sparkling headwaters in the San Juan Mountains to its confluence with the Río Grande, to the Conejos and Brazos rivers, these waters are for anglers. “Chama is still sort of an undiscovered gem for fly-fishing,” says Kelley Ruppert, founder of MAYFLY Fly Fishing Co., who leads guided trips with her son Noah. “You don’t run into a lot of anglers. You can still find wild fish, and you can get completely lost and escape for a day.”


Ruppert was one of those first-time visitors to Chama who never left. She and her husband were living in Kansas City with their 1-year-old, at the time, and came to visit her father-in-law, who had recently bought a ranch in nearby Tierra Amarilla. “We completely fell in love,” she says, “and felt like this was very aligned with who we were and how we wanted to live.” They both liked to hike and be on the river, so they bought a canoe and then a few horses. “I went from horse training into fly-fishing,” she says. “It’s a lot less wear on your body.”


The 20,209-acre Edward Sargent Wildlife Area features high aspen meadows, alder-lined streams, and grassy meadows perfect for a day of fishing, hiking, or horseback riding. Retail and culinary adventures can be found in Chama’s unique downtown shops and welcoming restaurants. “I love Railyard Rebel, a boutique and gift shop,” Phippen says. “The women’s clothes are very stylish.” She also enjoys Cruces de mi Corazon for its jewelry selection. Ruppert recommends visiting Off the Rails, an eclectic women’s clothing and gift shop, and Made in Chama Not China, a blacksmith shop. “The owner makes knives out of old wrenches and railroad spikes,” she says.

Chama Downtown

For a sumptuous snack, Jazzmyn Cramer’s Wilder Bake Shop dishes out artisanal pastries using Chama River Farm eggs, Belgian chocolates, and Colorado honey. “It’s an amazing patisserie,” says Ruppert. “The quality of baked goods is on the level of anything you’d find in France.” For dinner, there’s Local, which plans to reopen with a new chef and menu this spring, and Outlaw BBQ Company. “They smoke their meats,” says Ruppert. “They have a really good brisket and the smoked shrimp are delicious.”


After a hearty meal, friends, families, and couples might take in a film beneath the stars at the Elevate Chama drive-in movie theater—another of the old-time charms of this family-friendly mountain town. After just one visit, it may be hard to leave.