navigation bar

Rio Grande, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Boquillas Canyon
Rio Grande Village to La Linda Crossing
~ 36 miles

General Description

Boquillas Canyon is more renowned for its scenic beauty than for a technical, bumpy ride. It is the last of the Upper Canyons along the Big Bend area on the Texas-Mexico border, and gives the appearance of leaving the big canyons behind. While it has magnificent canyon walls and rock formations it is much more open and "airy", with erosion more evident than in the other Upper Canyons. The river is a little wider and more shallow than above Boquillas. There is only one major rapid to encounter, and it comes near the end of the trip about a mile above La Linda and the Heath canyon Ranch take-out. The trip ends with a 4-6 mile paddle through open desert that can be especially tough with a strong headwind.

Good riverbank campsites with moderate of firewood are almost always available. Even though the Rio Grande has generally been too low to paddle for several years except for brief periods following heavy local rains, paddlers are advised to camp high off the river and secure boats well above the waterline just in case it rained somewhere else within the past few days, sending rising waters down the canyons. There are several liveries and shuttle services operating in the Upper Canyons, any of which can help with anything from shuttles to turnkey guided river trips, one of whom also treats you to nighttime musical entertainment by your river guide, Steve Fromholz. Going for that alone would be well worth the price! Steve is a true Texas legend in music circles and among afficionados of quality musical composition and performance.

The trip is long for some people. At 36 miles, most paddlers prefer a 3-4 day trip. It could be accomplished in a single day, conditions permitting, but you would miss out on the chance to see some really unbelievable side canyons, wildlife, plantlife and the awesome grandeur of the Rio Grande - the Texas Grand Canyon (see, everything is NOT bigger in Texas, as we can admit that the few times it happens.) Javelina, deer, raccoons, raptors (mostly hawks) and buzzards are in abundance. Snakes, including rattlesnakes and water moccasins, may be seen during warm to hot months (see safety section for information relating to snakebite avoidance and treatment.) Take a properly protected camera and capture photographic images you will not get on other rivers.

Location

Far southwest Texas, in Brewster County on the Mexican border and inside Big Bend National Park. Marathon is a little more than 70 miles away to the north and Alpine is about 135 miles to the northwest. No other American cities are anywhere near Boquillas Canyon. The Town of Boquillas del Carmen is just across the river from Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park and the ghost town of La Linda is just across the border from Heath Canyon Ranch on FM 2627, but access to those Mexican towns is strictly prohibited by current federal regulation.

Distance from major cities

Dallas 500; Austin 415; San Antonio 400; Houston 600; El Paso 350; Midland-Odessa 175; Oklahoma City 710; Little Rock 815 (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Good most of the time, but muddy during periods of high water. Illegal dumping of heavy metals can lower the quality of the water at any flow rate. Flow is generally adequate for river trips except during periods of prolonged drought. Beware of flash floods that can raise the river level and flow rates very quickly after rainfall in the drainage basin, even if it down not rain at the river. Due to the remoteness of the area it is generally best to be prepared for any and all weather possibilities. Adequate flows are available when the Rio Grande Village gauge is at or above about 2.3 feet - any lower and you can expect dragging through gravel bar areas, usually where the river bends.

Best time to go

Early November through mid-March is generally the best time to paddle the Rio Grande. Summertime temperatures can soar above 100° F. Spring and Fall are frought with the possibilities of flash floods. BBNP off-river camping areas are limited and may be very crowded during holiday periods or during the winter "snowbird" season, which is also the time most likely to have favorable paddling conditions. Summertime low-water conditions may be inadequate for rafting, but canoes can almost always navigate the river.

Permit Requirements

Entrance permits to Big Bend National Park are required for all vehicles entering the park for river access. Fees are $15.00 per vehicle and allow park access for up to seven consecutive days. Leaving vehicles overnight in a campsite also requires an additional fee of $10.00 per car per night (there is no additional fee for leaving cars in designated parking lots, but you do need to get an "overnight pass" for your dashboard so that rangers will know yours is not an abandoned vehicle.) A Backcountry Permit is required for boaters paddling Boquillas canyon, but is available from Park Rangers or independent agents (outfitters, shuttle services and campgrounds who are licensed concessionaires) near the park without charge. Groups of up to 30 people may travel together for Boquillas Canyon trips.

Hazards to navigation

There are no significant hazards in Boquillas Canyon. You just have to be properly prepared and outfitted for a 2-4 day trip, allowing time to "smell the roses" and considering possible weather or other environmental factors that are unpredictable. About 1.5 miles before Heath Canyon Ranch there is a Class II rapid where the river turns sharply to the left, then back to the right. It is characterized by a strong current that sweeps toward the Texas (left) bank, which is rife with Willow and Tamarisk trees. There are two distinct ledge drops of a few inches each, but the real hazard is getting capsized by rolling up onto one of those ledges in the swift current. With a loaded canoe it is generally best to line or portage on the left. The right channel, around an island, offers a sneak route if there is adequate water. The two chanels join again about a quarter mile from where they split. Once you start the 36 mile trip you are committed to the end regardless of what happens along the way.

River Access Points

The ONLY put-in is at Rio Grande Village. Take out at Heath Canyon Ranch at the La Linda Crossing at 36.0 miles. Auto theft and vandalism is a recurring problem at backcountry parking areas, so do not leave unattended vehicles there if not necessary, and do not leave valuables inside vehicles. If valuables must be left with a vehicle, then make sure they are locked securely in the trunk. The problems of theft and vandalism are much less probable if parking cars at Stillwell Store or Heath Canyon Ranch.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park has good campsites and parking for vehicles. There are numerous great campsites inside the canyon, but there are several major factors that must be considered and planned for accordingly. Winds through the canyon can be fast and furious, coming and going without warning. These can blow away tents, loose gear and boats. Be SURE you secure everything before going to bed for the night. Choose a campsite that is high off the water, sheltered from the upriver headwinds that prevail by camping close to and behind rock walls whenever possible, and pitching tents parallel to the riverbed and canyon walls to allow them to bend with the wind. Camping is also available on Heath canyon Ranch at the take-out. There are no other campsites in the Boquliias Canyon area.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least four known commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for this reach of the Rio Grande.

Reviewer's Comments

There is no river trip in Texas that can compare to the Rio Grande. The Upper Canyons offer moderate whitewater rapids breaking the calm of flatwater pools amid towering canyon walls on one or both sides. Native American culture is evident in the pictographs that appear on canyon walls dating back one or two hundred years, perhaps much longer. Hot and cold natural springs are many, as are caves, high, sheer walls of rock, boulder gardens in mid river and a chance to put life in perspective as you wonder about the age and geological process required to create such a beautiful, natural landscape.

Boquillas Canyon is an easy trip that most people can enjoy regardless of paddling skills. It is accessible in canoes, kayaks and rafts when the river is staging at or above about 2.0 feet. The biggest difficulty factor is probably the strong headwinds that can whip up dust storms, blow away tents and make paddling very tiring with little or no advance warning. Good natural campsites can be found on both the Texas and Mexico sides of the river. You might see bears, mountain lions, bobcats, javelina, feral hogs, rattlesnakes, smugglers or who knows what else - or you may just see Mother Nature at her finest hour. The scenery in Boquillas Canyon is simply awesome, and except for periods around Thanksgiving, Christmas or Spring Break you are unlikely to encounter anybody else while on a Boquillas Canyon trip.

Technical Data
Class Rating I-II
Length 36 miles
Minimum Flow 200 cfs
Optimum Flow 300 - 1,000 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,200 cfs
Min. Stage ~ 2.0 feet
Opt. Stage 3.0 - 5.0 feet
Max. Stage
First Put-in Rio Grande Village Access
Lat. / Long. 29.1808338 / -102.9647217
Last Take-out Heath Canyon Access
Lat. / Long. 29.4483337 / -102.8247223
Elevation 1,901 - 1,714 feet msl
Gradient 5.36 fpm
RGV Gauge BBNP Daily Report
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
Season Dependent upon local rainfall
Permits Yes, Big Bend N.P.


Preparing to launch at Rio Grande Village
Preparing to launch at Rio Grande Village

Boquillas del Carmen across the river from Rio Grande Village
Boquillas del Carmen across the river from Rio Grande Village

Entering Boquillas Canyon by canoe
Entering Boquillas Canyon by canoe

Rio Grande map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Rio Grande map courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

A view of the Mexican wall in Boquillas Canyon
A view of the Mexican wall in Boquillas Canyon

Boquillas Canyon on the Rio Grande
Boquillas Canyon on the Rio Grande

Nearing the end of the canyon and the take-out at Heath Canyon Ranch
Nearing the end of the canyon and the take-out at Heath Canyon Ranch

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Rio Grande and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Rio Grande

[ Rio Grande Homepage ] [ Colorado Canyon ] [ Santa Elena Canyon ] [ The Great Unknown ]
[ Mariscal Canyon ] [ San Vicente & Hot Springs Canyons ] [ Lower Canyons ]

Pecos and Devils Rivers

[ Red Bluff Dam to FM 11 ] [ FM 11 to US Hwy 67/385 ] [ US Hwy 67/385 to FM 1980 ] [ FM 1980 to US Hwy 290 ]
[ US Hwy 290 to Pandale Crossing ] [ Pandale Crossing to Pecos River Marina ] [ Devils River ]

Southwest Paddler
Click to return to the Southwest Paddler Homepage
Home Page
Southwest Paddler


Texas Rivers Index
Canoeman River


Guide Services
Canoeman.com
Return to the canoeman.com homepage
Home Page

CobraGraphics - Web Designs with a Bite!

Send E-mail This web page designed, created and maintained by
Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics
© March 10, 1998. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 6, 2014

Copyright © 1997-2014, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Services are trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photographs on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner without prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.