Santa Elena

Get notified when the Santa Elena Canyon guidebook is available for download
on the FarOut app with offline navigation, photos, and lifetime updates.

Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA

Santa Elena Canyon Guidebook

Santa Elena Canyon of the Rio Grande is a phenomenal stretch of river. In Santa Elena Canyon, the Rio Grande winds its way through steep canyon walls and rugged borderlands, creating a gorgeous and solitary environment to enjoy. The river forms the border between the US and Mexico, and so for the entirety of the trip the US is on the left banks, and Mexico on the right. The 20 mile trip is generally done in 2-3 days, although a single-day “boomerang” trip is possible. The optimal time for this stretch of river is November-March. Santa Elena Canyon can be boated on a variety of watercraft depending on preference. During the flash flood seasons of spring and fall, rafts or hardshell kayaks are recommended for safety. Santa Elena Canyon is in Big Bend National Park, and so permitting and NPS regulations are a required part of an overnight adventure down the river. Permits are not required for single-day trips.

FarOut Logo

4.8★★★★★ 20K+ Reviews

Our Santa Elena Canyon guidebook will be available soon for download & offline navigation on the FarOut app!
Please add your name to be added to the interest list and we will email you once it’s released.


Lajitas to Santa Elena Take-Out Class I – IV

Mile 0 – Put-In:

Lajitas River Access is a solid launching point. You can back your boats down very close to the river. Be aware that the put-in can get quite muddy – muck boots are advised!

Mile 3.36 – Matadero Rapid:

Read-and-run. This is the first rapid of the trip and is a fun riffle.

Mile 11.7 – Entrance Camp:

This is the most popular campsite on day one of a Santa Elena Canyon trip. Enjoy the scenery and get ready to enter the Canyon the following morning.

Mile 11.8 – Entrance Rapid:

Read-and-run over a series of small drops. Welcome to Santa Elena Canyon!

Mile 13.4 – Rockslide Rapid:

Class IV. Right scout. Rockslide Rapid is a maze of boulders. The rapid is the most challenging boating in Santa Elena Canyon. At low flows, the rapid is slow, and small craft generally have little issue picking lines through the boulder channels. Low-flow rafting can be frustrating as the opportunities for getting stuck are abound. At high flows, the rapid can form large hydraulics and should not be taken lightly. It is possible to do a partial lining of boats to portage if necessary.

Mile 16.5 – Opposite Fern Canyon Camp:

There is nice camping just upstream of Fern Canyon. It is possible to visit the Canyon and then boat back upstream to camp at most flows. Otherwise, it is an easy pop down to Fern Canyon in the morning.

Mile 16.7 – Fern Canyon:

Fern Canyon is a serene place to stop during a float down Santa Elena Canyon. The mouth of the canyon is a mess of lush greenery. Pass through the brush and enter the canyon. It is necessary to do some scrambling in order to get far into Fern Canyon, but it is stunning from the outset so it is a solid destination for all groups. Make sure to leave the delicate flora as untouched as possible.

Mile 17.56 – Smuggler’s Cave:

Look back and enjoy this enormous hole in the wall.

Mile 20.2 – Santa Elena Take-Out:

Santa Elena Take-Out is the end of a trip from Lajitas, or a starting point for a one-day boomerang trip. If you hired one, your shuttle will meet you at the Santa Elena Take-Out.