Canoeing the Rio Grande

Trek Essentials

Where: Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA
Best season: 
Wet summer months June – September
Best sights: 
Sunrise over the Chisos Mountains
Remember to bring: 
Local guide, portable toilet, cotton T-shirt 
Watch out for: 
The descriptively named Tight Squeeze Rapids and dangerous flash floods

Canoeing the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park in Texas is like stepping back in time and seeing just how the earth began. The rugged solitude encompasses an area of ancient mountains, deserts teeming with wildlife and, best of all, the mighty Rio Grande coursing a green path through steep canyons. Canoeing down the Rio Grande is an experience in true solitude. At dry times of the year the river levels are low, so you may have to drag your canoe through shallow parts of the river. It can get slightly tiring on the arms, but with views like this, you won’t even notice.


– Seeing the sunrise over the Chisos Mountains
– Navigating your canoe through Tight Squeeze Rapids 
– Canoeing through Mariscal Canyon 
– Campfire stories about the stars with guides who live their life on the rivers

A Journey Path 

Begin your journey at Santa Elena Canyon. Following the course of the Rio Grande, continue down it through to Mariscal Canyon. The only access into this canyon is via the river and the entrance to Mariscal is via the Tight Squeeze, famous by river buffs for being a bit tricky to get your canoe through.

Continue along the Texas-Mexico border to the village of Boquillas, which is on the Mexican side of the border.

Traveller’s Tips

– Go with a guide; they know the most about the area and are chock full of interesting facts, stories and anecdotes about the river. If you’re going on your own, make sure you tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to end your trip.

– Wear long cotton t-shirts; they dry quickly and keep you from getting burned by the very intense sunshine.

– Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses!

– You need a permit to camp in Big Bend National Park. The Park office supplies them for free.

– Portable toilets are essential in Big Bend National Park. Human waste upsets the fragile ecosystem of the desert and mountains. A portable toilet is a must for all guided trips, as well as individual campers.

Did You Know?

– Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks in the United States. With fewer than 350,000 visitors every year, that leaves a lot of untouched open space to explore! You can go for days on a river trip without seeing a soul.

– Humans have inhabited the Big Bend area for thousands of years. An archaeological dig in 1993 discovered the remains of fire hearths dating back 9000 years. Like the Native Americans who came after them, these people are believed to have been hunter-gatherers who moved throughout the year. Later, the Big Bend became part of the Comanche War Trail. This was the Comanche and Kiowa Indian route to northern Mexico, and was also the route taken by Comanches raiding livestock and slaves. In 1916, Pancho Villa’s banditry caused Gen. John J. Pershing to send troops to Lajitas to establish a cavalry post. Lajitas became a major headquarters of troops in the Big Bend. In fact, the original Cavalry post has now been rebuilt as a hotel!

– The Rio Grande is the second-longest river in North America, flowing 1885 miles from Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico.

– Canoeing isn’t the only activity you can do on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. In fact, during the rainy season, when the water levels are higher, rafting is an even better way of seeing the Park. After the wet summer months, the Rio Grande can rise by 25 to 30 feet, offering a fantastic chance for some adventurous rafting. One thing to bear in mind though, is that while flash floods are seldom seen, they do occur. You can see evidence of this by watching for tumbled boulders, pockets of silty soil, tangled leaves, and pools of water.

More Information

The Pilot crew travelled down the Rio Grande with the river guides of Far Flung Adventures.
Far Flung Adventures

Box 377, Terlingua, Texas 79852
Tel: 1-800-359 4138; (915) 371 2489
Fax: (915) 371 2325

Brewster County Tourism Council
Box 335, Terlingua, Texas 79852
(877) BIG-BEND

main image: Park ranger on a horseback patrol near Santa Elena Canyon c/o National Park Service –