The Rio Grande, or El Rio Bravo del Norte, borders Big Bend National Park for 118 miles. A 1978 Act created the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River and charged the National Park Service to care for an additional 127 miles downstream from the park. Providing protection and maintaining the pristine character of the Rio Grande along this stretch, the Wild and Scenic River designation actually begins at the Coahuila/Chihuahua, Mexico, state border upstream from Mariscal Canyon and continues downstream 196 miles to the Terrell/Val Verde County line in Texas; approximately 69 miles of this designation lie within Big Bend National Park. Both the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River and the river along the park's boundary are managed for recreation and preservation by the National Park Service.
Three options are available if you desire to make a river trip: you can bring your own equipment, rent equipment, or hire a guide service that will provide all permits, food, equipment, and shuttles.
Motorized watercraft used within the park is limited to conventional boats with up to 60 horsepower inboard or outboard motors. Jet skis are not allowed in the park.
Gas-powered motorized watercraft will be prohibited on the following sections of the Rio Grande River:
o Santa Elena Canyon, from the western park boundary to the Santa Elena Canyon take-out
o Boquillas Canyon, from the entrance of Boquillas Canyon to the eastern boundary of the park.
Gas-powered motorized watercraft will be prohibited on the following section of the Rio Grande River except for the month of October:
o Mariscal Canyon, from Talley to Solis.
Although this canyon lies within Big Bend Ranch State Park and is administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, it is included here because of the many requests for a relatively easy, one-day trip. This float can vary from nine to 21 miles depending on put-in and take-out points. The most popular section is from the Colorado Canyon put-in to the Madera Canyon take-out on Highway 170, a river distance of nine miles; floating on to Lajitas makes the run a total of 21 miles. Colorado Canyon is cut through igneous rock, unlike the three major park canyons, which are cut through limestone. This trip offers some fun rapids of Class II and Class III. Permits are available and user fees may be paid at the Barton Warnock Center (432-424-3327) in Lajitas or at the west entrance to Big Bend Ranch State Park at Fort Leaton (432-229-3613). Self-registration is also possible at both locations.
Santa Elena Canyon
A 20 mile, one to three day trip begins at Lajitas and ends one mile downstream from the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon. For the last seven miles the river is confined between sheer limestone walls that rise as much as 1,500 feet above the river. The Rock Slide rapid is located within two miles of the canyon entrance and is the major hazard for rafters and canoeists. At certain water levels, the Rock Slide becomes a Class IV rapid. Scouting this rapid before running it is essential. Prior to beginning your river trip, consult a Park Ranger about current conditions. Click here for some nice photos of Santa Elena Canyon.
A 10 mile, one day trip begins at Talley and ends at Solis Landing. Access to the put-in is rough and not recommended for ordinary automobile traffic. Consult a Park Ranger about road conditions before you finalize plans. Mariscal Canyon, six miles long with walls exceeding 1,400 feet, is spectacular. The rapids in the canyon are Class II-III.
Note: Theft of property left in vehicles is not uncommon at Talley, Solis, or the Santa Elena Canyon take-out. Remove valuables from vehicle. Storage lockers are not available in the park.
A 33 mile, two to three day trip begins at Rio Grande Village and ends at La Linda, Mexico. The Heath Canyon take-out is located on the U.S. side of the river, just downstream of the La Linda bridge. Permission to take-out at Heath Canyon should be obtained by calling Andy Kurie at (432) 376-2235.
Boquillas Canyon is the longest canyon trip in Big Bend National Park, and its walls rise 1,200 feet above the river. Since no rapids rate higher than Class II, this is an ideal trip for those with less experience. Strong headwinds are common. Click here for some nice photos of Boquillas canyon.
The Lower Canyons
A five to 10 day float trip, the journey through the Lower Canyons offers a true wilderness experience. The trip begins at La Linda and ends at either Dryden Crossing (83 miles) or Foster's Ranch (119 miles), which is at the end of the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. Some river runners continue to Langtry (137 miles). If that is your chosen take-out, be sure to portage the dangerous weir at Foster's Ranch. The Black Gap Wildlife Management Area does not allow put-ins for Lower Canyons trips.
Permission to take-out at Dryden Crossing should be obtained by calling Dudley Harrison at (432) 345-2403 or 345-2503. Permission to take-out at Foster's Ranch should be obtained by calling (432) 291-3232.
The terrain along the Lower Canyons is open desert, rugged hills, and deep canyons. Access to the river is difficult below La Linda and most of the land above the riverbank is privately owned. The rapids in the Lower Canyons are Class II-V. Click here for some nice photos of the Lower Canyons.
Admission: Park Permit: $15 per vehicle or $5 per person for motorcyclists, bicyclists, or pedestrians.
Hours: Year Round
Address: Big Bend Country - Extreme SW Texas
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