Floating the Rio Grande
If you have the time and a spirit of adventure, you may want to consider a river trip. Seeing the park's canyons from the middle of the Rio Grande can be an incredible experience. Depending upon the river levels, there are many possibilities including half-day floats or multi-day excursions.
Floating the Rio Grande can take you through miles of canyons up to 1,500 feet deep, where the sunlight may reach the bottom only briefly on winter days. As in other parts of the park, your ears may tell you more than your eyes. Listen for beavers crawling through the brush;you might catch a glimpse as one slides down the riverbank into the water. Turtles, especially red-eared sliders, often sun themselves on rocks and logs just above the waterline. Great blue herons and green kingfishers are just some of the many birds you may see flying along the river.
Along the more open areas of the Rio Grande, you may see local people fishing, farming, and engaging in other traditional activities. These quiet stretches of the river offer expansive views of the colorful buttes, mesas, and mountains in both the U.S. and in Mexico. Far fewer people float the open water between the canyons, so it is possible to go for days without seeing another boater.
There is often concern about being close to an international border, but incidents between Big Bend visitors and Mexican nationals are exceptionally rare.
The middle of the deepest channel of the Rio Grande is the international boundary. Over the course of your trip, you may cross this boundary several times. Currently, passports are not required. Landing on the Mexican bank of the river is considered an illegal crossing and could result in fines and jail time. However, limited exceptions are made when safety is a consideration: to bail/repack a boat, scout rapids, or seek shade when overheating.
Choose A Canyon
River Use Regulations
Obey all river use regulations for your safety and the protection of park resources. For more information visit the river use regulations page.
By giving forethought to your actions, you can have a safe, exciting, and rewarding experience while floating the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River. For more information visit the river safety page.
Current ConditionsLive weather readings and river levels.
Three options are available if you desire to make a river trip: you can bring your own equipment, rent equipment, or hire a guide service that will provide all permits, food, equipment, and shuttles.
Information on guided trips, equipment rental, and shuttle services. For more information visit the outfitters page.
River MileagesChart highlighting the basic distance and estimated time for float trips on the Rio Grande from Presidio to Langtry. The number of days estimated for each trip given certain safety and pleasure considerations, e.g. layover days, extended trip lengths, bad weather and injuries. Ten to fifteen miles per day is a normal pace on the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.
Water Quality & River Users
The quality of water in the Rio Grande through the Big Bend region is highly variable. Big Bend National Park staff sample the water for bacterial levels on a monthly basis at several locations within the park. For more information visit the river water quality page.
Last updated: March 2, 2023