Hike Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend

1.7 miles 610 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Sarah Vaughn

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!

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Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Picnic Area


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Overall rating: 

Listen to me...go in the water and take it all in!

I went here in mid may for sunset. Let me tell you, the water was like bathwater and the sunset was the best spot I've ever witnessed. You can either hike farther down to canyon or walk in the water and go down the canyon. I walked in the water. It's about knee deep with some deeper spots. It's also very muddy at first, but the ground becomes harder the farther you go. If you go here, grab a pair of sandals, walk to the water, take them off, and walk far and take it all in! Amazing! Best spot at Big Bend!

🥇Top Contributor

over 2 years ago

Great canyon hike

Beautifull short canyon hike in Big Bend. The walls are impressive and the view is stunning. I tried to be a cowboy and hike in cowboy boots and my advice is: don't do it. Santa Elena is absolutely worth your hiking boots if you are less into longer desert hikes or to cool off a little.


🥇Top Contributor

over 4 years ago

Great Hike to Escape the Heat

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


🥇Top Contributor

over 4 years 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!

Loved It!

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.

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