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gem icon Santa Elena Canyon Overlook [Suggest Edits]

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The sheer cliff walls of the Santa Elena Canyon offer a dramatic frame for this viewpoint at the shore of the Rio Grande. Traveling for many miles, the river makes a sharp turn to the west as it cuts cleanly through the rock layers to form this impressive landscape.

Enjoy a snack or picnic lunch after the ~30-mile drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive from the Visitor Center. Afterward, head down the Santa Elena Canyon Trail to the sandy shore of the river at its junction with Terlingua Creek. This creek is typically dry or very low, but after heavy rainfall, it can cause the trail to close due to dangerous conditions.

Another fun day-trip option is to rent or bring a canoe to paddle upstream on the river. Head out from the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead and go for a few miles into the canyon and then return back downstream. When the water level is low, the current becomes much easier to paddle against.

This is a great trip if you only have one vehicle or if you don't want to pay for a shuttle to take you back to where you started. Many visitors paddle up to Fern Canyon, a scenic side canyon that lies two miles upstream, which has lush, green ferns emerging from spots where the water trickles out of the canyon walls.

Short Walk: Around a half mile from the parking area, an out-and-back hike would be approximately one mile total.

Family Friendly: This viewpoint into the canyon is close to the parking and picnic area with access to a sandy beach at the bend in the Rio Grande.

Gem Type: Viewpoint

Shared by:
Zander Göpfert
Oliver Descoeudres   Sydney
This is a great short walk - and very different from most other, drier, desert walks. Some good views over the desert at the start of the trail too. hikingtheworld.blog/2017/10… Feb 1, 2018

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Your Check-Ins

Check-Ins

Dec 24, 2018
Justin Hill
Dec 16, 2018
Scott Street
Nov 24, 2018
Kenny Landrum
Nov 21, 2018
Ramu Kandula
Santa Elena Hike. 21 Nov 2018
Nov 8, 2018
Garrett Hellman
Oct 30, 2018
Leo Grrrl
The canyon can be seen from afar and when you finally approach it by foot, it’s massive 1500 foot walls leave you in awe.
Oct 19, 2018
Jeff Fuller
May 17, 2018
Ray Maldonado

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Shared by Zander Göpfert on Jul 21, 2016. All Page Views: 1,628. Last Month: 163.