Santa Elena Canyon Trail

easy 413 reviews
#5 of 72 trails in

Santa Elena Canyon Trail is a 1.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Terlingua, Texas that features a river and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from September until May.

Distance: 1.5 miles Elevation Gain: 610 feet Route Type: Out & Back

kid friendly

hiking

nature trips

walking

bird watching

running

beach

rails trails

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

bugs

rocky

no dogs

This trail begins at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Although a short trail, it is one of the grandest spectacles in the park. After crossing Terlingua Creek, the trail climbs several short switchbacks and then gradually descends along the banks of the Rio Grande. Hikers are surrounded by lush riparian vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone. The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river. Take a lunch and enjoy the scene. Note: Following rains, flash floods, or periods of high water, Terlingua creek can be impassable, effectively closing the trail.

hiking
3 days ago

Easy, relaxing trail. Depending on water flow there may be a shallow stream crossing near the beginning - bring appropriate shoes! Most of the hike along the Rio Grande faces an imposing rock cliff on the Mexican side which provides welcome shade. For a different view of the Mexican side (i.e. not a big rock wall), about 2 miles down the road there's a river access point where you can see clear into Cañon de Santa Elena National Park on the Mexican side, and even stare straight down the middle of the Rio Grande US-Mexican border at a bend.

hiking
10 days ago

Easy fun trail; great views!

hiking
10 days ago

Great easy trail. You must hike the trail to get the true beauty of the canyon. It was muddy crossing the creek to get to the trail but fine after that. There is an alternate route that avoids the mud if needed. We had been before and didn’t hike the trail; it is so much more beautiful from the trail.

hiking
muddy
15 days ago

They prepared to get muddy crossing turn lingua Creek! Unless you’re willing to wait through ankle deep mud you really cannot get on the trail at all.

hiking
off trail
scramble
21 days ago

Incredible views. The water in the tributary was kinda high so I crossed farther up and took the alternate route. Was some slightly difficult terrain but made it a fun challenge!

hiking
28 days ago

Just down to the river and back

muddy
off trail
rocky
scramble
1 month ago

The trail itself is beautiful and definitely worth the troubles to get to the trailhead. the views from up top are gorgeous and walking through the reeds of the Rio Grande is surreal after being surrounded by desert moments before. Like many others have said, if it has rained recently the entrance is either flooded or knee-deep muddy. Some people choose to traverse the mud, and I even saw one girl doing the hike barefoot with muddy feet since the hike after that point is truly that easy. There is a non-muddy option that requires a lot of climbing up and down very vertical slopes with unsteady shale as the only thing to grab onto. My buddy and I decided to do this option both up and back, but there were some scary moments where we could have easily fallen all the way down to the creek below. The amount of time you save trekking the mud is actually wasted on washing your feet after. Keep that in mind. With that said it was worth it and I'd do that climb again to hike the trail.

hiking
1 month ago

We stopped here after a morning hike. Didn’t do the whole trail, just walked to the river. So pretty!

hiking
scramble
1 month ago

hiking
scramble
1 month ago

Epic hike! I would think a morning hike would be even better for pix. Stay away from Old Maverick Road (unless you can off-road)

hiking
flooded
off trail
scramble
1 month ago

It rained the day before, so we had to go around the creek and up a pretty difficult scramble, which made the whole trail a lot longer, but it was still really cool!

hiking
flooded
off trail
rocky
scramble
1 month ago

hiking
1 month ago

Did this as a recovery walk after Marufo Vega. Pretty easy with a few short areas of incline. Nice views, but absolutely packed with people. Not a relaxing quiet hike - if you do this hike, expect tons of people that aren’t very keen on hiker etiquette.

hiking
1 month ago

Trail has different route when water is higher, more difficult than expected. Cool to see this part of the park but after hiking the Windows trail and the South Rim trail this was less impressive than the views in the Chisos Mountains. Took us 80 minutes and we traveled 3.6 miles.

hiking
1 month ago

This trail is set up for the masses, and for good reason. It is stunning! A word of caution though, for those looking for an easy, effortless hike. If the river is up, which it was when we went (January 3 after a night of rain), the crossing at Terlingua Creek may be too deep. The alternate route is upstream just a couple hundred yards but it is a tricky scramble on lose rock after an easy crossing. No big deal for most people but we watched some older folks, young kids and very inexperienced hikers really struggling to make their way back to the main trail. I heard no one complain but it clearly wasn’t what people were expecting. The rest of the trail is suitable for anyone who can walk up a few flights of stairs. Don’t do it for solitude! It’s a popular trail. Do it because it is a uniquely awe inspiring canyon and a must see.

hiking
1 month ago

Like others were saying, the river is high so you have to take a very steep detour. The trail isn’t always intuitive, a lot of people were turning around. Once past that section, the trail was easy. Once into the canyon the views were incredible.

hiking
scramble
washed out
1 month ago

Absolutely stunning. The canyon is something you wouldn't expect in Texas! I would consider this more of a "walk/climb" than a true hike. Lots of families (young and old) - don't expect a "peaceful" or quiet experience. The trail is still washed out - walk further down the shore to scramble up some rocks that eventually connect to the trail. It's not easy, but I also watched kids and adults of all ages climb it - just take your time :) If you only have one day, definitely go see the Santa Elena Canyon!

hiking
1 month ago

Great hike! You can go pretty deep inside the canyon. My kids loved climbing on the rocks in the bottom of the canyon. Right now the river is high so you have to go upstream a little and cross and the initial climb is a little treacherous.

rocky
scramble
1 month ago

easily one of favorite hikes ever. Santa Elena Canyon is a spiritual experience near sunset

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