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Rio Grande, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

Lower Canyons Permit Requirements and Regulations

A backcountry use permit is required for day and overnight use of floating craft on all sections of the Rio Grande administered by the National Park Service, except for persons day-fishing downstream from the National Park boundary. The permit is free and can be obtained from BBNP Rangers at park visitor centers and at self-permit stations at Lajitas, as well as at the Stillwell Store on FM 2627 enroute to the Lower Canyons put-in at Heath Canyon Ranch across the river from La Linda, Mexico.

A group of up to 20 persons, not including professional guides, may put on the Rio Grande daily along the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River downstream from the National Park.

All human waste must be carried out. Portable toilets are available for rent from several river trip outfitters located in Terlingua and Study Butte on the western edge of Big Bend National Park.

The Superintendent of Big Bend National Park may close to public use portions of the Rio Grande when necessary for public safety or for resource protection.

Equipment Checklist

Required Equipment

A Park Ranger may inspect your boat for required equipment while you are on the river. The following equipment is essential for a safe river trip:

• Boat: Canoes, kayaks, or heavy duty inflatable rafts.
• Dump-station compatible carry-out toilet to pack out all human waste.
• PFDs (Life jackets): One U.S. Coast Guard-approved TYpe III or Tupe V PFD per person. PFDs MUST be worn on class II or greater water (as rated on the International Scale of River Difficulty). Bring at least one extra PFD per group.
• Paddles/Oars: Each vessel (except inner tubes and air mattresses) must carry an extra paddle or oar, except for kayaks, which must carry one extra paddle per party.
• Patch kit/pump: All inflatable vessels, except inner tubes and air mattresses, must carry a patch kit and pump.

Recommended Items

The following gear is recommended to increase safety, reduce impacts to the environment, and make your trip more enjoyable:

• First aid kit to handle major and minor emergencies. Because of the wilderness nature of this trip and the lack of access to outside medical assistance a major medical kit should accompany each group, and a minor medical kit should accompany each boat.
• Plastic trash bags - Carry out all trash. Leave no trace of your having been here!
• Safety line: 3/8" diameter rescue rope with a length of 50-100' should accompany each group. Additional rope should be carried to assist in lining boats and gear past unrunnable obstacles, should they be encountered. Carry tie-downs to secure gear in your vessel.
• Bailing bucket for removing water from inside your boat. You WILL get wet on this trip!
• Water-tight containers such as drybags or dryboxes to keep food, clothing, medical supplies and gear dry.
• Clothing for wet, dry, hot and cold conditions, especially between October and April.
• Small shovel
• Flashlight.

For a Safe and Legal Trip:


• Get a permit. It's free, but you are required to obtain and possess one while on the river or in the canyons.
• Report all injuries or property damage or losses over $100 to a Park Ranger.
• Treat and sterilize any water collected for drinking or use in food preparation.
• Carry out all litter including cigarette butts and toilet paper.
• Carry out human waste.
• Urinate in the river or on wet shoreline.
• Use a fire pan if you build a campfire. A stove is better to protect the environment.
• Burn only charcoal or dead and down wood from the floodplain in a fire pan.
• Carry out all floatable debris. The common method is to place fire remains in a bucket of water, remove floating material to garbage sack, and pour remainder in the main river current.
• Wear a USCG-approved Personal Flotation Device (life jacket.) A type I, III, or V PFD is required for Santa Elena, Mariscal, and the Lower Canyons.
• Carry gear in waterproof bags and boxes, lashed into your boat to prevent loss in event you capsize.
• Scout all major rapids and consider portaging whenever necessary and if possible or preferred.
• Camp well above the high water mark and out of any side canyons. Beware of flash flooding, especially at night!
• Respect private property on both sides of the river. Remember that river right is Mexico!


• Operate any vessel in a reckless or negligent manner.
• Overload vessels.
• Use firearms or explosives. They are prohibited.
• Disturb natural, historic or prehistoric features along the river.
• Forget to secure boats with lines at night as sudden river rises do occur.
• Take your pet on the river.
• Collect or disturb rocks, plants, wildlife, or any historical or archeological objects in the park and along the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River.
• Float on inner tubes in the Lower Canyons.

Swimming in the Rio Grande is not recommended. The river can be hazardous, even in calm-looking water. Be aware of strong undercurrents, shallow areas with sharp rocks and large tree limbs, and be watchful for trot lines with large hooks.

For more information, call Big Bend National Park at (432) 477-2251.

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Rio Grande and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Rio Grande

[ Rio Grande Homepage ] [ Colorado Canyon ] [ Santa Elena Canyon ] [ The Great Unknown ]
[ Mariscal Canyon ] [ San Vicente & Hot Springs Canyons ] [ Boquillas Canyon ] [ Lower Canyons ]

Pecos and Devils Rivers

[ Red Bluff Dam to FM 11 ] [ FM 11 to US Hwy 67/385 ] [ US Hwy 67/385 to FM 1980 ] [ FM 1980 to US Hwy 290 ]
[ US Hwy 290 to Pandale Crossing ] [ Pandale Crossing to Pecos River Marina ] [ Devils River ]

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