Paddling and Pedaling

Big Bend of the Rio Grande
Just the Facts

Best time of year: Spring and fall offer the most hospitable temperatures, and the highest water levels, but beware of crowds during spring break. Summer can be brutally hot. Winter months are more temperate, but the river is at its lowest level.

Access: From Highway 90, to the north, reach the park via Highway 118 from Alpine, Highway 385 from Marathon, or Highways 67 and 170 from Marfa.

Hazards: Summer temperatures that can soar to 120° F., flash floods (late summer/fall), desert critters, tire-puncturing thorns, remoteness (especially on jeep trails), rapids (notably in Santa Elena and Mariscal Canyons), scarce drinking water.




The Big Bend of the Rio Grande, along the border with Mexico, is unique Chihuahuan Desert environment unlike any other country north of the border.

The Rio Grande flows for 110 miles along national park boundary, with additional stretches of attractive paddling immediately up and downstream. Three major canyons more than 1,000 feet deep (Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas) punctuate the Big Bend National Park stretch, with Boquillas offering the best option for inexperienced paddlers. Hot springs, exotic wildlife, and slickrock side canyons beckon to kayakers or canoeists.

Then pedal Big Bend on pavement and dirt jeep trails. Two-lane pavement leads steeply into the Chisos Mountains and to other park attractions, and long touring loops extend north to Fort Davis and west to Marfa and Presidio. Remote four-wheel tracks (and a few single-track rides outside the park) cross some of Big Bend's most isolated and seldom-visited backcountry.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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