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Devils River, Texas
Report by Darin Bird and Marc W. McCord

SH 163 to Rough Canyon Marina
~ 47.7 miles

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SOAR Inflatable Canoes - Somewhere On A River

General Description

Rising in northwest Sutton County, the Devils River is a remote, natural, scenic whitewater river that is recommended only for experienced paddlers who are properly equipped for wilderness paddling. It flows about 100 miles in a generally southerly direction through Sutton and Val Verde Counties to the confluence of the Rio Grande near Del Rio. Above Baker's Crossing the river is extremely seasonal, and actually flows underground for several miles, making trips on the upper section difficult at best to impossible at worst. All property adjacent to the river is privately owned, so stay in the river channel and do NOT trespass on private land. On this river it is HIGHLY recommended that you obtain permission before taking out or camping on private land.

The Devil's River is one of the most beautiful, unspoiled rivers in Texas. It is spring fed and flows over solid limestone, so flows and depth increase as it moves downstream. Water quality is among the very best in the State of Texas. It truly is an oasis in the desert. The river offers a good mix of slow, deep pools separated by brief rapids. The rapids generally range from Class I to II, but several larger rapids could be Class III in high water. Dolan Falls, about 16.4 miles below Baker's Crossing, is a solid class IV waterfall drop of at least ten feet with Class V consequences due to the remote nature of the river and the strong hydraulic currents below the drop. Under normal conditions the rapids are shallow with large boulders as obstacles. The rapids require technical maneuvering to avoid rocks. Except during flooding, you won't see any significant hydraulic currents, whirlpools or standing waves. But, beware the Devils River in flood stage - it can be a killer! The river can flash flood quickly from rains that fall 50 to 100 miles away.

The Devil's also offers good fishing for small mouth bass, large mouth bass, catfish, and carp. The river is especially well known for its small mouth bass fishery. The usually crystal clear waters make seeing and being seen by fish very easy. More people canoe and kayak the Devils River to fish than to run the whitewater rapids and drops, though those are part of the program unless you have access to private lands where you can avoid those hazards by sataying in a localized area of the river.

In years past, the ugliest things on the Devils River were those 4' X 8' plywood "NO TRESPASSING" signs. Those have given way to much smaller, metal, professionally made signs that warn you against getting out of your boat on private property. As of 2011, the ugly signs are gone, but the metal ones are everywhere, though far less obvious. Picking up any litter you may see (which is VERY rare on this river), even if it is not yours, will go a long way toward further reducing hostilities between landowners and paddlers. PLEASE RESPECT PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS!

Location

Val Verde County in the Southwest Texas Rio Grande basin, between Juno and Del Rio. The river flows from near Juno, where Buckhorn Draw and Johnson Creek converge, down to Lake Amistad on the Texas-Mexico border above Del Rio, parallel to the Pecos River to the west.

Distance from major cities

Del Rio 55 miles; San Antonio 200 miles; Austin 280 miles; Houston 397 miles; Dallas 400 miles; El Paso 415 miles; Oklahoma City 609 miles; Little Rock 725 miles; Kansas City 905 miles; Albuquerque 681 miles; Phoenix 853 miles; Denver 1,108 miles; Salt Lake City 1,285 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

The water quality in the Devils River is generally considered to be the cleanest of any river or stream in Texas. Water from the spring has historically been safe for drinking, but proper precautions should always be taken before consuming natural water. The water is nearly crystal clear with a beautiful green tint. The Devils River usually has an adequate flow for paddle trips except during prolonged droughts. Flow levels are subject to extreme fluctuations that can occur on a moment's notice, especially if rains fall 50-100 miles away, so beware of the potential for flash flooding. Always camp on the highest ground possible and keep your eyes peeled for changes in water level.

Best time to go

Early Spring to mid summer and early to mid-autumn are generally best. Strong southeast winds and searing summer temperatures can be bigger hazards than the rapids, so plan accordingly. This is especially true on the last half of the approximately 48 mile run, as you approach Lake Amistad. Expect hot temperatures from June through September. This IS Texas, ya'll!

Permit Requirements

Permits from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department are now required for ALL Devils River trips. The permit fee is $10.00 per person. Trips are limited to a maximum of 12 boaters per day. Free parking and overnight camping is allowed at Baker Crossing on the south downriver side of the bridge along the DOT right-of-way, but no guarantee of vehicle safety is made for cars left there during your trip. It is advisable to leave vehicles with an outfitter downriver and shuttle to the top to launch.

Contact the TPWD Customer Service Center at 512-389-8901 to obtain a Devils River Access Permit (DRAP) and camping permits, and to learn about commercial outfitters. Read an overview of the new Devils River Access Permit.

Hazards to navigation

The Devils River is a pool-and-drop river with several Class II - III rapids. The upper half of the river drops at a rate of about 15 feet per mile, leveling out to around 7 feet per mile after that. Rapids, most of which are boulder gardens or solid rock shelves, will quickly increase in difficulty during flood stage. When in doubt - ALWAYS SCOUT! The first major obstacle is an illegal dam/bridge at about 10.1 miles. Portage on river left. Game Warden Rock, at about 13.3 miles below the SH 163 launch, is the next major hazard. It is characterized by two huge boulders on either side with a large, but smaller boulder in between them. Technically, you COULD run either side of the middle boulder, but left is best. Approaching this hazard, move into position on river left to align your boat with the channel through small boulders, and then immediately move left for the four foot drop. THIS IS A BOAT BENDER, so BE CAREFUL!

Dolan Falls is at about 16.4 miles below the Baker's Crossing put-in. Do NOT attempt to run this hazard unless you are an extremely experienced paddler in a short, lightly loaded boat, and ONLY after having carefully scouted the run, which is on the middle right side - it will be obvious to you when scouting. The double drop is about 10-12 feet with a step about midway into the run ending into a strong hydraulic current that is generally not a keeper. Take out above the falls and portage on river right or left until you are safely below the suction of the hydraulic. The other rapids are boat benders and bone breakers if run improperly, so take adequate precautions to make sure you are safe. While not hazardous, the long pools usually end in willow or reed "jungles" without clearly defined channels. If you get lost in one of these, then backtrack until you reach the main river channel and try again (in a different route!) People have been lost in those willow jungles for hours.

Three-Tier Waterfall (Class II+ to III+), at about 20.4 miles below SH 163, is a major hazard if not negotiated properly. The approach is across a normally shallow channel that may require dragging boats to get to the run. The river is choked with reeds and finding the best channel and line is not easy. Enter the approach to the gradient slide at the top on river right. Scouting is definitely recommended prior to running unless you have past experience and are sure of what lies ahead. In low water either run or line boats down the far right side of the gradient slide at the top, and then move to river left after the 90@#176 left turn at the bottom to begin the run through Three-Tier waterfall. Flipping out of your boat here WILL result in scraping skin off your body as you flush through the limestone river bottom! In high water, where the boulders of the gradient slide are submerged adequately enough to allow a run, stay far left on the gradient slide, make a hard 90@#176 left turn at the bottom of the slide and then run Three-Tier Waterfall along the river left side.

The river will move you to the right, and that's where the best flow and deepest water is found. The slide at the top has a small "island" of trees and brush thats eparates the larger left side from the much smaller right side, but teh right side always has more water. The right side does, however, line you up for a right side run, which is easier and not as much fun if you enjoy running drops. The slide is also where you are most likely to capsize, and you WILL get wet, so be sure to dry everything in and lash it securely to your boat. The blind entry makes Three-Tier Waterfall a serious hazard that must be respected and paddled with control and confidence.

Summer temperatures should be considered a hazard if proper precautions are not taken. Always have protective clothing, sunscreen and plenty of non-alcoholic liquids to prevent dehydration. Strong intermediate or higher level whitewater paddling skills and swiftwater rescue training are strongly recommended. If you encounter an angry landowner with a rifle, then that should also be considered a hazard that is more easily negotiated with courtesy and politeness. Whether he is legally right or not, a loaded Winchester beats four aces and the law everytime! The guy you encounter could just be the "Law EAST of the Pecos". For the record, this author has never encountered a landowner along the river on many trips here, and hostilities have mitigated significantly thanks to the efforts of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

River Access Points

TPWD Baker's Crossing access at SH 163 on the southeast corner at 0.0 miles; Upper Devils River State Natural Area (Del Norte) at San Pedro Point on river left at 15.9 miles; Blue Sage Subdivision (private access) on river left at about 23.8 miles; Dry Devils River (private access) on river left at about 25.1 miles; Lower Devils River State Natural Area (Big Satan) on river left at 30.0 miles; Rough Canyon Marina (830-775-8779) on river left at Lake Amistad at about 47.7 miles.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has acquired the Devils River Ranch with ten miles of river frontage just above the main body of Lake Amistad (though you will start to feel the lake effect before getting there) as an addendum to the existing Devils River State Natural Area. The new SNA is now open for access and camping, and will allow trips of 3-5 days, and several more miles below Blue Sage without having to paddle across the lake with its lack of current, strong headwinds and power boat traffic. See "Permit Requirements" above for details on the new permit reservation system. Note: The Devils River is restricted to launches by only 12 paddlers per day, and all paddlers must have a copy of the permit and their boat permit tags in their possession while on the river.

The final take-out point is Rough Canyon Marina. Take out on the left side at 47.7 miles below Baker's Crossing. Many paddlers opt to hire a water taxi at Rough Canyon Marina to tow them to and across the lake to avoid strong headwinds and tough paddling. Note that upon leaving Blue Sage access your next stop is either 6.2 miles (Big Satan Access) or 17.7 miles (Rough Canyon Marina), so make sure you have landowner permission before stopping to camp between Blue Sage and Rough Canyon Marina. There are no other access points for the Devils River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

Most of the land along the Devils River is privately owned, so please respect private property by not trespassing or littering, and keep noise levels to a minimum. Under Texas Penal Code (30.05), criminal trespass occurs when one enters property after receiving notice not to enter. Notice includes verbal notice, a fence, sign(s), purple paint on posts or trees, or the visible presence of crops grown for human consumption. Additional information about river navigation laws can be found in the Texas River Guide.

Public camping for paddlers only is presently allowed at Baker's Crossing, San Pedro Point - Del Norte, and 29 mile Paddler Camp - Big Satan (river mile 29). Camping on islands within the river, while legal, can be extremely dangerous if the river rises. Camping is not allowed along the river in sight of Blue Sage. Any other camping along the river bank above the gradient boundary would be considered trespassing if the user doesn't have permission from the private landowner. There is currently no fee for camping at Baker's Crossing. Fees for camping at the Upper (Del Norte) SNA or Lower (Big Satan) SNA are $6.00 per person per night.

An advance permit is also required to camp at Lake Amistad below the Weir Dam. Contact Amistad National Recreation Area at (830) 775-8779. Rough Canyon Recreation Area (830-775-8779) has full improved camping facilities including restrooms, covered picnic areas, boat ramps and trailer sites. The Devils River offer abundant natural campsites, but many are on private land. Camp in the river bed whenever possible or make prior arrangements with local landowners to avoid a confrontation. If camping on an island in the river channel be prepared for flash flooding that may occur from rain far away from the river! If camping on private land, on an island or in a public park always leave only footprints and take only photographs. You should always leave the area cleaner than how you found it! Be aware of the fact you are in rattlesnake country when on the Devils River. Generally, they will leave you alone if you leave them alone, but they get really pissed when you step on them, so be careful! Look before you step, especially at night. For the record, this author has never encountered a rattlesnake on many Devils River trips, though he has seen a few non-venomous, common watersnakes.

The private campground and launch site at Baker's Crossing is no longer available to the general public. While hostilities toward paddlers has been greatly mitigated by the efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department access to the river is becoming the prevalent deterrent to this river as a recreational destination. Be sure to have your arrangements set before making the long drive to Val Verde County.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are at least two commercial outfitters along the Devils River offering rentals, shuttles and/or river information.

Reviewer's Comments

From Baker's Crossing to Dolan Falls (approximately 16.4 miles) the river is shallow and rocky. You will probably find that you have to pull/push your canoe in several places. If you're loaded to the hilt, you'll feel it here. Do yourself a favor and go as light as possible. Also, tie a good 25 to 50 ft. rope at each end of the canoe to be used for pulling. Before your trip check the river gauges at TPWD or call ahead to Gerald Bailey or Baker's Crossing. There is light at the end of the tunnel. A creek enters the river at Dolan Falls and nearly doubles the flow. From Dolan Falls to the take-out you shouldn't have to pull/push except during a severe draught.

Shallow water isn't the only obstacle. You may also encounter a strong head wind for most of the trip. The prevailing wind is out of the southeast. It can be strong enough to blow you back upstream and make progress downriver VERY difficult. The limestone riverbed is extremely coarse, almost like volcanic rock. It will literally shred aqua socks, ankles, and your canoe. Consider installing Kevlar skids plates, or rent a canoe and save yours if that is your preference. Wear tough sneakers or river shoes. Don't even bother with sandals or aqua socks. In places, the rocks are very slippery, and falling onto the limestone bottom or protruding rocks can be injurious and painful. Getting flipped out of your boat in rapids and getting washed downstream across the limestone WILL grind skin off your body and open up cuts, so wear protective clothing to prevent injury and pain. Be sure to carry a First Aid kit with Neosporin, alcohol wipes, hydrogen peroxide, Betadine, gause bandage, waterproof tape and waterproof Band Aids that are accessible to treat wounds. You might also want to pack some Ben-Gay or other deep heating rub for sore muscles in the event you are paddling against the headwinds, which is most of the time in spring through fall months.

All that said, the Devils River is a magical place with some of the cleanest water to be found in a Texas river. The surrounding scenery is very rugged, undeveloped and completely serene. This is not a place with large crowds of paddler or campers, and you might not even see anybody other than those in your group. The Devils River SNA, at about 15.9 miles, offers excellent camping along the river, albeit on a rock slab where tent stakes are worthless. The slab overlooks the river across to the other side facing west, where gorgeous sunsets can often be seen. Below the SNA the river takes on a different character. There are also 16 individual campsites about 0.9 miles off the river at San Pedro Point in the Del Norte (Upper) SNA.

Dolan Falls is an unrunnable (for most paddlers) waterfall drop of at least ten feet that can be portaged on river left or right (I prefer the right, over the boulders that form Dolan Falls.) Below Dolan comes a combination of flatwater pools, hidden (by river reeds) rapids, small drops and (often) monster headwinds. Three-Tier Waterfall is a major obstacle that can be exciting, dangerous and difficult, all at the same time. Scouting the fall and planning a route is strongly recommended. You'll know you are there when you see the huge mansion resembling a motel high on the hill on river left. After Three-Tier, everything else is a piece of cake, technically speaking, though you stillhave to find your way through reed gardens in the river and against a strong headwind coming off Lake Amistad.

All things considered, this is a premiere river trip for wilderness paddlers having at least strong intermediate level whitewater skills. If you are properly prepared and ready for the adventure of a lifetime, then catch the Devils River when it is flowing, but be prepared! This run is NOT for inexperienced paddlers.


Dolan Falls looking back upriver
Dolan Falls looking back upriver
Technical Data
Class Rating I to IV
Length 47.7 miles
Minimum Flow 250 cfs
Optimum Flow 400 - 900 cfs
Maximum Flow 1,200 cfs
First Put-in SH 163 bridge
Lat/Long 29.9527779 / -101.1361084
Last Take-out Rough Canyon Marina
Lat/Long 29.5788898 / -100.9836121
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
NWS Gauge Web: Baker's Crossing
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season March-June, September-October
Permits Yes

Devils River slideshow

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Approaching the SH 163 bridge at Baker's Crossing
Approaching the SH 163 bridge at Baker's Crossing

Low-water bridge at Baker's Crossing just below SH 163
Low-water bridge at Baker's Crossing just below SH 163

Reed gardens growing profusely in the river bed
Reed gardens growing profusely in the river bed

Typical Devils River topography
Typical Devils River topography

Reeds growing in mid-river
Reeds growing in mid-river

Devils River State Natural Area campsite
Devils River State Natural Area campsite

Devils River sunset
Devils River sunset

Caves in the cliffs along the Devils River
Caves in the cliffs along the Devils River

Devils River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Devils River map courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Approaching Dolan Falls
Approaching Dolan Falls

Immediately below Dolan Falls
Immediately below Dolan Falls

3-Tier Waterfall
3-Tier Waterfall

Devils River Outfitters access at Blue Sage
Devils River Outfitters access at Blue Sage

Devils River below Blue Sage access
Devils River below Blue Sage access

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 ] [ Lower Rio Grande ]

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[ 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 ]

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