Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Hike Santa Elena Canyon Trail Big Bend National Park

Santa Elena Canyon with Kids

If you recall, I mentioned Big Bend is a large park – to travel from the Chisos to Santa Elena Canyon is to travel about 40 miles. Which, if you mind the posted speed limits in the park (and, you should) means this is a drive that will take over an hour. I fretted a bit at our late start when I realized how far we had to go and how popular this hike was. I was more than a little concerned it would be unpleasantly crowded, but que sera sera what are you going to do but hit the road?!

BBNP Castolon

Castolon – The Last Stop Before the Trail

As you near the border the road veers northwest and here you will find the outpost of Castolon. It is the last regular restroom before you hit the trail – though, there are composting toilets at the trailhead. We made a quick pit stop. Nothing was open that early – and by nothing I mean the store but the area was nice and bathrooms were clean.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Boardwalk from the Santa Elena Canyon Trail parking lot to the main trail.

From Castolon we proceeded along the Rio Grande another twenty minutes to the end of the road and Santa Elena Canyon. The hike lived up to its reputation. The scenery was gorgeous and worth every step. You begin by following a boardwalk down to the banks of the Rio Grande.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail
You enter the trail through the opening in the vegetation on the right (it’s bigger than it looks!).

As we approached we saw several canoe tours launching out for various excursions. One was taking a couple up the river for a few hours. Another was taking a group up and back over the course of three days.

We skirted the beach and followed the trail, which shortly began to climb.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Our children were fine but if you have a wandering child or one that does not equate a sheer drop to your death with caution then best to skip this hike.

Once we went up we began a more gradual descent and eventually came to the end of the trail. From there you can only continue by boat.

It is an amazing sight to be surrounded and staring up at 1500 feet of canyon wall.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail
SEC Trail

Heading Back

The hike back seemed faster but that often seems the case with return trips. Most of the hike is in the shade, which is nice. The sunniest portion being the beginning climb up…and, eventually, back down. All in, all it took about 1.5 – 2 hours roundtrip with two children.

SEC Trail

Another pleasant surprise is that the trail was not crowded though it promised to be one of the busiest in the park. This actually turned out to be true but if crowded is twenty people then it was certainly manageable.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail is one of the most popular trails in Big Bend for a very good reason. It is beautiful and fairly easy. It is absolutely a must-do when you are in Big Bend with kids!

Similar Posts