Boquillas Canyon Trail is one of the more popular trails along the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. It’s a short out-and-back trail that both kids and adults can enjoy.
This hike is best done in the cooler parts of the year since it’s down by the Rio Grande, which can be one of the hottest parts of the park. If you want to do it in the summer, try getting to the trailhead first thing in the morning before the noon sun starts baking the area.
- Distance: 1.4 mile round trip
- Hiking Time: ~30-40 minutes
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Change: ~150′
- USGS Topo: Boquillas
To get to the trailhead for Boquillas Canyon Trail, take a right out of park headquarters at Panther Junction toward Rio Grande Village. At about 19 miles, you’ll see a sign indicating a left turn toward Boquillas Crossing (it’s a ways past the tunnel). Take a left there and drive about 3.6 miles until the road dead ends into a parking lot (29.200648, -102.919308).
Since this is a popular trail, the NPS has provided a large parking area, so there is generally plenty of room to park. There’s also a public restroom available for your group to take care of business before heading out.
Being a popular trail, don’t expect to have it to yourself.
The trailhead is clearly marked at the opposite end of the parking lot.
The beginning of the trail is the only area of the entire trail with any significant elevation change. Only about 85 foot in change overall. The rest is fairly flat and smooth throughout.
When you reach the top of the crest at the beginning of the trail, you’ll have a good view of the Rio Grande and into Mexico. You’ll also be able to see the village of Boquillas a few miles off to your right when facing toward the river.
When I was there, there were quite a few Mexicans hanging out on the opposite side of the river. Once I crested the hill, I could see a group that had ridden horses in. They had let a couple wander over to the river for a drink.
The entrepreneurial types across the river will ride their horses out to areas in the back country where popular trails come close to the river. From there, they’ll canoe across and set up trinket stands with tip jars for the American tourists.
They sit across the river and watch the activity near their stands, then canoe across at night to collect their pay.
Americans aren’t supposed to buy the trinkets and encourage the Mexican Nationals to cross the river illegally, but enough do to make it worthwhile for them. If tourists are caught purchasing items from these stands, the items purchased can be considered contraband and confiscated.
After you crest the hill and come back down toward the river, the trail will veer off to the left to follow the river further into the canyon. If, before you take that left, you take a right instead, around the base of the hill you just came down, you’ll find evidence of the prehistoric people that once resided on this part of the river.
Look for circular holes that were ground into the stone in this area. These holes were once used to grind up seeds and roots.
From there, hop back on the trail and continue following the river into the canyon. Being near the river, the trail will go from dry and dusty to green and lush.
Further down the trail on my hike, a Mexican man was across the river singing (he had placed a tip jar near the trail on the American side). Maybe it was the acoustics off the canyon walls, but I thought he had a great voice.
As you move further along the trail, the area will flatten out somewhat, and the canyon walls will start getting higher. This area is a great spot to hop in the river and cool off.
To get a sense of scale, you can just make out people at the edge of the river in the picture below. They’re the two dots cooling off at the water’s edge on the right side of the river.
Once beyond that open area, the canyon begins to narrow, and eventually you can’t go any further without having to jump in the water and swim (not recommended).
From there, there’s nothing left to do but double back to get back to your vehicle. Since it’s such a short trail, you should consider taking the opportunity to slow down and enjoy where you are.
Why do you need to hike fifteen miles in a day anyway?