• Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Year Round

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    1.7 Miles

Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Picnic Area

Enjoy spectacular Canyon views along this mostly shaded hike in Big Bend. You'll also get to enjoy part of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Santa Elena Canyon is one of the crown jewels of Big Bend National Park, and something you surely don't want to miss if you pay the park a visit. To get here you will take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive from Panther Junction, the park's headquarters. This drive has many pull-offs to take advantage of for.. you guessed it- scenic views! The road ends at Santa Elena Canyon Overlook which is where you will find access to the 1.7 mile out and back trail that takes you into the canyon.

Starting off, you will walk across a sandy area to the river banks of the Rio Grande. It is here that your first views of the mouth of the canyon will come into sight and they won't disappoint. Depending on how much rain the park has had you may have a little trouble getting to the other side of the runoff creek that blocks you from the trail, but don't worry! If you head down a little west you can find an easier spot to cross without getting wet.

The trail is clearly laid out and offers spectacular views of the canyon as it takes you up 160ft above Rio Grande, but still leaves you surrounded by the towering 1500ft canyon walls on either side. If going in Spring or Summer do not forget to bring ample water as temperatures can often rise over 100 degrees!

Pack List

  • Water
  • Camera
  • Sunscreen
  • Picnic Supplies if desired
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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Overall rating: 

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This hike is perfect to go for a swim and cool off in the canyon shade. Short and easy

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Catching sunrise and sunset here is really nice! As dawn breaks you get to see the sun light up the canyon walls and the bats come out to feed! But be wary, after the sun rise and the bats go away the biting flies come out!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

We are from the Pacific NW and moved to Texas 3 years ago. We miss the mountains of the West, so took our four small children out to Big Bend for our mountain fix. We went April 2016. This hike was hands down the favorite we've been on in Texas this far (and we've been on a lot). It actually had a few switch backs. Our kids (7, 6, 3, 19 months) loved it (we wore the baby in a backpack because there are a few areas with steep drop offs). They got quite the thrill from hearing their voices and giggles echo off the canyon walls. My favorite was wading out into the middle of the Rio Grande - one foot in the US and one in Mexico (although the water was gross and super slimy/muddy). Definitely bring plenty of water - it can get really hot.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

It's like The Wall from Game of Thrones. It's spectacular to look at. A must if you visit Big Bend.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

Fairly easy hike for a great view. Last time I did this we also saw a beaver! Lots of wildlife so be on the lookout.

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

A short, steep hike that lends some spectacular views of the canyon and overlaying land of Big Bend. I wish there was a way to get in the canyon on foot, but I'll just have to plan a canoeing trip to do that!

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

Great fun for a quick trip if you want to knock out a few of the shorter adventures Big Bend offers. We went during a rainy season (in Texas, believe it or not). However, the mud on the banks of the Rio Grande made enjoying the river/canyon difficult if you were knee deep in thick and sticky mud. The views and the sheer size of the canyon made ever lost shoe worth it.

over 2 years ago
over 2 years ago

Sarah Vaughn Explorer

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