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Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
Trail type
1.70 mi (2.74 km)
Please respect the outdoors and leave no trace. One tip how to dispose of waste properly: Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. For more information, visit

This easy 1.7-mile round-trip hike in Big Bend National Park lets one get up close with the Rio Grande River and the Santa Elena Canyon. The Rio Grande is the boarder between the United States and Mexico throughout the park, and Mexico is just a few steps away from the trailhead on the other side of the river. 

The trail meanders down to the river from the parking lot and trailhead, and one can wade out to the river. It is feasible to walk all the way across the river, and it makes a great spot to take a dip after hiking in and out of the canyon. It is important to be knowledgeable about the regulations regarding crossing the boarder before entering into Mexico. 

The hardest part of the trail is a series of switchbacks about a quarter of a mile into the hike. But once the series is over, the trail levels out and follows the banks of the Rio Grande. Hikers can spend the rest of their time on trail admiring the walls of the canyon.  

The majority of the hike is level, and there is plenty of flora to observe along with the geology of the canyon. The walls rise above the hikers, and the Mexico side of the Rio Grande has no bank to stroll on; instead, the river presses up to the canyon wall.  The trail finally ends when the canyon narrows and the Rio Grande takes over the river bank and from wall to wall. At that point hikers can turn around and exit the canyon. 

There are plenty of intriguing views on this relatively easy hike.  Hikers are treated to an intimate view of the canyon and an insight to the U.S. neighbor to the south.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

National Park Pass


Great views. Wading in the river.



Net Elevation Gain

160.00 ft (48.77 m)


Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Terlingua, TX 79852
United States


Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day



Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping


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