Frequently Asked Questions
NPS Photo/Jennette Jurado
Will there be enough water for our trip?
Rio Grande has a very slight gradient, making for good boating even when water volumes are low. River levels of 200 cubic feet per second (cfs) or greater are enough for canoes and smaller paddle craft. A river level of 400 cfs is generally the minimum for rafts. Refer to flow readings at NOAA, IBWC or the Big Bend National Park Daily Report for river level readings at various locations along the river. Note: The IBWC website will give readings in cubic meters per second, convert the cms number into cfs by multiplying the cms number by 35.3 Example: 14 cms X 35.3 =492 cfs.
When is the best time to take a trip on the river?
What section should we do?
Time constraints and skill levels will be the main determining factors. Refer to the mileage chart to get an idea of the distances and average travel times.
Santa Elena Canyon: 20 miles of spectacular scenery, best done in two or more days. Easy access makes this the most popular canyon in Big Bend National Park. The Rockslide can be challenging on what would otherwise be a generally easy float trip. At low flows, canoes can partially line the rapid but rafts may get a little stuck. At higher flows, canoes should have skilled paddlers, and floatation in them, but rafts usually have no problem running the rapid. The Rockslide can be scouted at all flows. At flows of 100 cfs or less, river runners can paddle upstream into the canyon from the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead. This trip is often done in one day but overnighting in the canyon is recommended.
Mariscal Canyon: The least visited canyon and, at only 10 miles long, Mariscal is also the shortest of the major canyons, but it requires a long shuttle over a rough road. A trip through Mariscal can be extended by adding the canyons of San Vicente and Hot Springs. Mariscal Canyon is for all skill levels at all but the highest flows.
Boquillas Canyon: Boquillas is generally regarded as a beautiful, 3-day float, tailor-made for paddlers of all skill levels. Springs near Rio Grande Village give Boquillas a little more volume in the river.
Lower Canyons: Requires the longest time commitment, requiring up to a week on the Rio Grande. Remember, allow yourself ample time to really enjoy the river.
Is the water polluted?
The Rio Grande and her tributaries reach far into the high country in both Mexico and the United States and all along the way livestock, industry, and human habitation leave their impact on the river. Section, flow, seasons, and countless upstream influences all affect the water quality.
What is the best boat for the Rio Grande?
Canoes work well here due to their durability, speed, and ease of mobility in shallow waters. Inflatable rafts are suitable for higher flows. There are numerous types of inflatable and rigid kayaks, these too can be a good choice for the Rio Grande. You should be familiar with your watercraft, know its limitations, and be prepared with repair kits, extra paddles/oars, and consider floatation for open canoes.
What about drinking water?
Replenish your drinking water at the Cottonwood Campground, Rio Grande Village, and certain springs along the Lower Canyons. Bring one gallon of water per person per day on your river trip. For the Lower Canyons; bring enough for several days, and re-supply in the Asa Jones area. Filter all water from natural sources.
Will cell phones work on the river?
Cell phone service is limited in the park and along the river. The park service and many river users use satellite phones for communication but there is no guarantee the call will go through. Remember, phones can be handy tools but there is no substitute for good planning and preparedness. In case of emergency call: 432-477-2251 or 911.
How can I get a river map or guide book for our river trip?
Guide books, general information, and regional literature can be purchased at Big Bend Natural History Association bookstores located in Big Bend National Park, purchased on their online bookstore, or by calling 432-477-2236.
Can we camp on the Mexican side of the river?
No, you must remain and camp on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. You may only land on the Mexican side of the river for an emergency.