Santa Elena Canyon

In the canyon

Spectacular Santa Elena

Santa Elena Canyon, downstream, is the most popular overnight or three day trip, not only because the put-in and take-out are easily accessed by car, but because it is often considered the most dramatically beautiful. Santa Elena has the tallest cliffs forming the canyon wall—up to 1,500 feet.

The first 13 meandering miles from the put-in at Lajitas give you a good look at the contrast between the riparian and desert ecosystem. The river becomes more technical in the last seven miles when you have entered the actual canyon. Two miles into the canyon, the largest rapid, the Rock Slide is classified as a Class IV rapid at certain water levels.

A backcountry permit is required for all overnight river trips

Santa Elena Upstream

An enjoyable day trip consists of paddling upstream, from the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead, a few miles into the canyon, and then returning back downstream (also known as a "boomerang" trip). If the water level is low, you do not have to fight the current much going upstream, making this trip quite leisurely. It is an ideal trip if you only have one vehicle, or if you do not want to pay for a shuttle back to your starting point. A backcountry use permit is required for all river trips; no fee is charged for day-use trips.

Detailed trip description by American Whitewater

River Guide to Colorado and Santa Elena Canyons

River Guide to Colorado and Santa Elena Canyons

NEW! this full-color laminated trip log is filled with detailed maps of the entire route, as well as historical and natural history notes. The guide covers from Tapado Canyon to the Santa Elena Canyon takeout, and includes Colorado Canyon and Santa Elena Canyon.
A must-have for any trip, and excellent for trip planning.

Available through the Big Bend Natural History Assocation

Note: Border Activity Notice
Illegal border crossings are known to occur in this area. If you encounter anything that appears illegal, suspicious, or out of place, please do not approach or intervene. Note the location, description, time, direction of travel, and call 911 as soon as possible.

Last updated: June 29, 2021

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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