Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River

Scoping out some rapids in the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River

The Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River designation applies to about 196 miles of the river. About 69 miles of that is within Big Bend National Park but the rest is downstream of there. Most folks who float the river tend to hire a local outfitter to deal with the permits and other logistics. Because the area is so remote, once you commit to the trip you commit to finishing the trip... and there is a problem with theft from vehicles parked at most of the regular put-in and take-out areas. Another element in a float trip is knowing where you plan to take out: it's best to scout the river at the take-out point because if you don't recognize it while coming down the river, it's a long way to the next take-out. And your transportation is probably parked well upstream by the time you do exit the river.

Some of the most popular float trips on the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River take place in Mariscal Canyon, Boquillas Canyon and the Lower Canyons. Some folks like the run through Santa Elena Canyon but that is upstream of (and not included in) the Wild and Scenic River property.

Access to Mariscal Canyon requires 4WD but the float trip is only 10 miles long. The canyon offers varied scenery with limestone cliffs rising as much as 1,400 feet in places. Depending on water levels, the rapids vary between Class II and III.

The Boquillas Canyon float is a 33-mile journey that takes between two and four days, depending on how intent you are on getting to the end. The trip begins at the Rio Grande Village put-in and ends at Heath Canyon (just downstream from the La Linda bridge). That take-out is on Heath Canyon Ranch and you might want to have permission to take-out there first. There are some rapids along the way but they never exceed Class II.

The Lower Canyons involves a five-to-ten float where the rapids vary from Class II to Class IV. Because the entire journey is through private property, there is also a release form you need to fill out and sign. It also helps to have permission to use the put-in and take-out sites along the way. This is a journey not for the faint of heart or inexperienced: floating the Lower Canyons is a adventure in wilderness where help is days away, if that potential help even knows you're having a problem. Floating the Lower Canyons is a once-in-a-lifetime journey that tends to leave those who make the trip different from when they began...

Other than the entry fee for Big Bend National Park, there are no entry fees associated with Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River... but if you are planning an overnight or multi-day float trip on the river you'll need to have a permit for that and that permit costs $10. Day-use is free.

A view along the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
Sunset above the Rio Grande
Sunset above the Rio Grande