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Big Bend National Park - Rio Grande in Texas

Trip Overview

The first day we loaded up and anxiously got on the river around 2 PM after leaving kayaks, gear and the other 2 kayakers to wait while I drove the 3 and a half hour, 160 mile round trip from the put in at Rio Grande Village Campground in the national park (915-477-2251) to Heath Canyon Ranch (915-376-2235), downriver from the Park.

Heath Canyon Ranch is across the Rio from the site of an old ore processing plant in La Linda, Mexico. We planned to take out at the ranch at the end of the trip. I left the truck there and hitched a ride back with a ranch hand. The weather was great - sunny, temp range 45-80F, light breeze and an almost full moon. The river was low - measuring 1.4 ft at RGV. (1.8 ft or a little more would have been ideal)

We paddled 5 hours that afternoon, stopping once to check out a large hot spring on the Mexican side. We kept going nearly until sundown, and traveled about 9 miles; the last 5 miles within the beautiful high walled Boquillas Canyon. Desirable looking campsites were not numerous; we settled on a flat sandy spot about 6 feet above the river. The canyon was very peaceful at sundown as we made camp just below a sheer 1400-foot cliff.

The moon rose over the canyon later that evening and was really exquisite as it slowly came into view over the top. The high cliff's dark shadow slowly crept across the ground in the bright silver moonlight.

Day 2, we went about 13 miles in 7 hours. We didn't explore much until we left the canyon behind. It was enough just to paddle steadily while watching the wildly shaped canyon walls and hills slowly drift by hour after hour. About half of our 33 miles on the river were within the canyon.

We camped the second afternoon on a sandy bench on the Mexican side about a mile outside of the canyon. There was a hill right behind the campsite where we climbed up to get a great view of the canyon mouth. Every sunrise and set looked like a picture you would see on a calendar.

On the third day we floated the last 11 miles to the La Linda Bridge in about 5 hours enjoying the peace and quiet along the way. We made pretty good time considering the low water.

There were spectacular mountain and desert views all around and the river seemed to have more fun little rapids than within the canyon. Also there were more places to get out and explore and climb around.

The only other humans on the river were a few friendly natives, all on horseback going about their daily business. We saw one house on the U.S. side close to the end but very few signs of habitation elsewhere. There were wild horses and burros as well as numerous waterfowl and other birds.

We made it off the river about 4 PM on the third day. After hot showers we enjoyed wonderful home made chicken-fried steak along with cold cervezas (bring your own) at the Open Sky Cafat the ranch - a fitting end to a fabulous trip.

Next time we plan to put in at Heath Ranch and run the 83 miles (7 days) through the Rio Grande Lower Canyons to the Dryden Crossing take out - hopefully very early next spring.

Accommodations:

Bring your own, we camped in tents. Heath Ranch has food, showers, camping and a bunkhouse.

Fees:

Free river use permit from National Park HQ. Takeout, parking and shuttle fees at Heath Ranch - very reasonable.

Directions:

Big Bend NP - far S.W. TX on the way to nowhere.

Resources:

River Guide to the Rio Grande: Mariscal Canyon through Boquillas Canyon. Published by Big Bend Natural History Association.

  • Duration: 2-3 Day Trip
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip