Boquillas Canyon: Trails and Trinkets

IMG_5015Another short, rewarding hike from Big Bend National Park. Less than three river-miles east of the Boquillas Crossing is an over-too-quickly hike to the mouth of Boquillas Canyon. Easy, extremely pleasant, and chock full of scenic beauty, this trail is definitely worth your while. The trailhead departs from a parking area at the end of Boquillas Canyon Road.

IMG_5016IMG_5026IMG_5027The trail starts out climbing, cutting a dusty track up the side of a hill on the banks of the Rio Grande. As soon as we crested the hill, our view of the river opened up. Also, we began to see small collections of copper and bead ornaments and woven novelties along the trail. Sometimes, these pop-up souvenir shops were staffed by children; others ran on the honor system. All were relatively unobtrusive, taking up just a couple of square feet of Texas desert. AllTrails user “t m.” mentioned them in a review of the hike.

“It was alright. Wish we could get into canyon but climbing on the boulders and to the cave are cool. Could do without the “questionable” homemade trinkets.”

We questioned t m.’s questionable use of quotation marks and found the trinkets charming rather than annoying. We would also disagree that the hike was just “alright”.

IMG_5025IMG_5034IMG_5036Regardless, the homemade trinkets only graced the first few hundred yards of this trail and, after descending from the hillside, we walked at river level toward the high walls of Boquillas Canyon. Here we encountered a beautiful blonde … horse, standing sheepishly among the bushes. In truth, the steed was on the lam. As we watched, a swarthy cowboy galloped up, reining in his mount in a cloud of dust. From his well-worn cockroach-killers and dirty dungarees up to his full-taco-style, straw Stetson, this guy was the real deal. His leather-like skin was the color of burnished bronze, and his hands were heavily calloused from a life on the range. In one fluid motion, he swung himself off his horse and greeted us as if we were old friends. He then explained, in broken English, that he had crossed the river after the wayward blonde who was still standing, shamefaced, a few feet away. His story, likely an excuse for why he was on the American side of the river, had a wink-wink, nudge-nudge quality to it, for he then directed our attention to a selection of beautifully carved walking sticks available at a reasonable price. We declined to buy and, after chatting for a few more minutes, left the cowboy to tend to his north-bank business. Whatever that might have been. We continued down the riverbank, gazing at the river through tall reeds. Lisa saw some more cabarellos on the Mexican side; she waved her arms at them, grinning; they waved hello in return.

IMG_5044IMG_5052IMG_5060There is, as t m. alluded, a cave in the canyon wall. It doesn’t look terribly deep, but it does look like a good time if you are into spelunking; we are not and passed it by.

IMG_5065Somewhere around three-quarters of a mile, the trail opened onto a sandy floodplain dotted with reeds and shrubs. The riverbank was grassy, and we sat for a while, watching the Rio Grande swirl by. The day was sunny and warm and, with the canyon walls blocking any wind, it felt like springtime. Around us was a variety of plant life; sorry-looking desert marigolds drooped near the path in the shadow of giant reed. Honey mesquite bushes lined the banks and made us long for barbecue.

When we headed down the trail again, it was into the mouth of Boquillas Canyon. The river bent to the left and disappeared into a high-walled gorge; our path shrank as every step we took brought the canyon wall and the river closer together.

IMG_5059IMG_5062IMG_5069An enormous boulder rose in front of us and blocked our path. It sat half-in/half-out of the water. Don’t let it stop you – as long as you’re up for a little scrambling you can navigate it easily. Beyond the rock, we threaded our way down a winding path that was flanked on the left by a hundred foot cliff and on the right by the slow-moving, muddy waters of the Rio Grande. Despite our determination, we were running out of dry land. The last few yards of the Boquillas Canyon Trail consisted of 12 inches of level ground between rock and river. That ended at a backstop of limestone.


Lisa navigates the boulder (on the way back)



A backstop of limestone

We turned around and retraced our steps to the parking area. This trail is short, easy … and extremely enjoyable. By the time we had explored the full length of passable trail we had managed almost two miles and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We’re not sure why AllTrails rates this trail as moderate (perhaps it’s based on a mid-summer venture in oppressive heat), but we felt this rated easy – with the possible exception of the short scramble over the boulder, and we’re not sure we were still even on the trail at that point. Boquillas Canyon is in the southeastern corner of Big Bend National Park. This is about as far from the lodging in Terlingua as you can get (drive time: 1h 13m), so this hike might not rate the drive in and of itself if you’re stationed there with minimal time to spare.

Lisa says:  “Anyone who really wants to experience the diverse topography that this park has to offer should plan on spending at least three days here. The driving distances between each unique area are further than one might expect. Unless you live in southern Texas, this is not a park that you can just pop in on. Plan to spend some time here. You’ll be glad you did!”

Boquillas Canyon Trail, the Boquillas Crossing, and Hot Springs Canyon are all within a couple of miles of each other and make a delightful trifecta of scenically spectacular hikes that can easily make it worth spending a full day (or more) in this quadrant of the park. Enjoy yourself and try not to let the “questionable” trinkets get you down!  ♦


Date: December 29, 2019
Location: Big Bend National Park, TX
Trailhead: 29.200620, -102.919317
Distance: 1.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 145 feet
Difficulty: Easy

8 thoughts on “Boquillas Canyon: Trails and Trinkets

  1. Thanks J.R.! That’s the best compliment I could get! I have been too busy to start your book yet, but suddenly find myself with a lot of time on my hands …


  2. Super photos. Interesting for me, coming from a misty moist country, where sometimes there’s more water than land; and sometimes it’s possible to get three seasons all in one day! Is there any rock/sports climbing to be had in the area? The rock looks a bit friable.


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