Big Bend National Park has this extra-special component to it. The Rio Grande river cuts through the land here creating canyons along the way and Mexico lies on the other side of this river. This section surprised me for many reasons. The portions of the Rio Grande that I saw were so much smaller and way more mild than I had expected. The thing I was most surprised by was the way that The Rio Grand humbled me. I have crossed borders dozens of times, but there was something really mind-boggling about standing in America, that for all of its problems is a really amazing place to live and opens up so many opportunities, and then looking into a third-world country just 10-15 feet away. I have so much to say about this, but I’ll save it for my border-crossing post. For now, back to hiking along the river.
⋙ Santa Elena Canyon
» 1.7 Miles Round Trip – Rated Moderate Difficulty
Take Old Maverick Road until it basically ends. You will see the canyon as you approach it and it is massive! The trail crosses Terlingua Creek and then up into the canyon along the Rio Grand. You go up a set of switchbacks to get up into the canyon and then it’s a gradual decline down right next to the Rio Grande. Looking up you see these sheer canyon walls towering overhead – some of them are over 1,500 feet tall! This is a beautiful canyon and it made me smile to see people of all ages doing this trail. Even though it is rated moderate, it’s definitely a doable trail because it’s so short. This was a perfect first look at the Rio Grande and first river hike for our trip.
my feet in the Rio Grande
In love with the cacti while looking out of the canyon toward the mountains
⋙ Boquillas Canyon
» 1.4 Miles Round Trip – Rated Moderate Difficulty
To me this was the easiest river hike that we did. You do start off going downhill, which you have to come back up in the end, but it’s a very short portion and the rest was completely level. I loved this hike because the plants around us were green, the canyon was tall and you could see Mexican people across the river going about their daily lives and even little fences with horses grazing. They shouted ‘Hola!‘ from across the river and waved and I waved enthusiastically back and shouted greetings back at them. I was very excited because I knew after this hike we were going to be crossing the river and going to Mexico for the afternoon.
the pathway through the green
the fence with horses behind it
⋙ Hot Springs Canyon
» 6 Miles Round Trip – Rated Moderately Difficult
We started our Hot Springs Canyon hike at the Hot Springs, but we only did about 4 miles of the RT hike. This was probably my favorite river hike because of the amazingly beautiful views. This is one of those hikes that you definitely don’t want to forget to look all around you every few feet. It’s seriously incredible! Also on this trail is the 105° F hot springs that the canyon gets its name from. It sounded really relaxing after a day of hiking, but when you’re a bit sunburnt and make the mistake of arriving in the peak heat of the day it’s not so relaxing. I could barely get my legs in, which is good because I had forgotten my swimsuit in Terlingua and was almost coerced into getting in with my shorts and all! Don’t miss this beautiful canyon whether you do all of it or just part of it, it’s totally worth it!
This is the view looking back. So beautiful!
Putting my toes in the 105° water. I love the way they built this area up to enjoy the springs. I also hear Boquialls del Carmen, Mexico has an even bigger hot spring.
Big Bend National Park is easily one of my favorite parks because of the amazing changes in scenery. I spent an amazing three days there loving all the rock formations & mountains, scoping out all the different desert succulents & cacti, sitting in hot springs, watching coyotes walk across roads, star-gazing, crossing into Mexico [post coming next week], and dipping my toes into the Rio Grande. This park is stunning, worth protecting and perfect for making memories.
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