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Santa Elena Canyon is one of the largest, most scenic canyons in Texas. Located in Big Bend National Park along the remote US/Mexico border. Santa Elena’s 1,500 foot canyon walls are visible for well over 10 miles away. The canyon is formed by the Rio Grande River as it cuts through the Sierra Ponce cliffs revealing the majestic power of water and time.
To experience Santa Elena up close take the short, yet spectacular, Santa Elena trail nearly a mile into the mouth of the canyon. Follow the path across Terlingua Creek through the thick vegetation. The trail begins to switchback up the side of the canyon wall before gradually making its way back to the river. The trail ends where the canyon walls meet the river and thus leaving no more room to walk. When water is extremely low further treks into Santa Elena may be possible. When water is high following rains or flash floods it may be impossible to cross Terlingua creek.
Santa Elena Trail
The Entrance to Santa Elena Trail may be difficult to find. Look for an opening in the thick vegetation just across Terlingua Creek. Marked here with an arrow.
Paddle The River
To experience Santa-Elena Canyon even closer you might consider rafting or paddling the mighty Rio Grande. When water is low (300 cfs or lower) opt for the “boomerang” trip paddling upstream two miles to Fern Canyon. Fern Canyon is a wonderful side canyon on the Mexico side. If the water is up a little (300 to 1200 cfs) put in just south of Lajitas, Texas and experience the entire 17 mile canyon. Be sure and consult the local river guides regarding water hazards before taking such a trip. Rock Slide Rapid just one mile inside the canyon is class V at certain water levels.
Paddle Trip into Santa Elena Canyon
Follow Texas hwy 385 south to Big Bend National Park. Turn south on the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive and follow the road until it dead ends at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.
Park Entrance fees are $20 per vehicle for a seven day pass.
A backcountry use fee of $10.00 per permit will be charged for all overnight use. A backcountry permit is also needed to paddle the river.
External LinksBig Bend National Park
Santa Elena Canyon Paddle Trip
Far Flung River Outfitters
Rio Grande River Flow Gage