Santa Elena Canyon

  • Put-in Location (moderate to high water): Lajitas, Texas
  • Put-in Location (low water): Terlingua Creek
  • Take-out Location: National Park Service boat ramp, about 1 mile downstream from Terlingua Creek
  • River Mileage (moderate to high water): 20 miles
    River Mileage (low water): 6 miles
  • Best Done as an: Overnight or Three day trip
    Best Craft (moderate to high water): Rafts or canoes
    Best Craft (low water): Canoes

This section has one well-known rapid - Rock Slide. In reality, Rock Slide is more of a maze or labyrinth (except at high water) that requires guides to have a very good understanding of the routes and hydraulics that are hidden by house-size rocks that have fallen from the limestone walls.

Many folks don't realize that the canyon starts 10 miles downstream from Lajitas, so on an overnight trip, you will generally have a open, mountainous float trip the first day with mostly canyon time on the second day.  The canyon's end, like its beginning, is an abrupt termination at Terlingua Creek.

If you're a river rat and like to just float, do this canyon as an overnight journey. If you like to explore and hike, make it a three day trip to give yourself plenty of time to explore the many side canyons. Depending on water levels this trip may be by canoe or raft.  By canoe, this is an intermediate level run.

Santa Elena canyon is of limestone base, originating first from faulting and then carved and polished by the silty Rio Grande. Be sure to note the "optical illusion" as you enter the canyon. The canyon walls tip upstream making it appear that the river is much steeper than it is.

Time permitting, there are some great hikes at the Entrance camps . Entrance camp has a trail that leads to the rim of the canyon affording some magnificent view of the area.

Have a question? Drop us an email at or call (800) 839-7238.