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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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Check-Ins

Apr 17, 2019
Preston Harris
Little hot around noon but worth the hike. Trail is much easier once you make it over the steps
Mar 12, 2019
Dona Torres
Mar 11, 2019
Brian Severski
Mar 5, 2019
Tom Herr
41 degrees. So close to crossing the border.
Mar 1, 2019
Graham E
Feb 26, 2019
Drew Domalakes
Hiked w sandals and bare feet
Feb 17, 2019
Sarah Hearn
Feb 14, 2019
Erika Chan

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Shared by Zander Göpfert on Jul 21, 2016. All Page Views: 1,883. Last Month: 50.