Big Bend National Park is huge, and depending upon how much time you have in the park, it feels like you can never get around to see it all. If you’re spending a lot of time hiking around, it’s good to get off your feet for the day and take a river trip. Sure, you could do a scenic drive, but then you would miss finding one of the only true swimming holes in Big Bend AND learning about the history of the region over a four-hour period.
While our group was originally going to raft down Santa Elena Canyon, the water levels were too low. The low water levels were attributed to the struggle over the Rio’s water rights , which if you’re interested, you can read about here. Instead, we opted for the Hot Springs Canyon Tour, a 4 -mile trip that takes you through some of the Rio’s best hot springs and some breathtaking canyons. Also, did I mention that someone else paddles the raft for you? I was geared up to raft like I was white water rafting with everyone dipping a paddle in the water. This isn’t that kind of river trip, so if you’re an adrenaline junkie, this might not be for you.
After being on the river for a couple of hours, you’ll stop for lunch on the Hot Springs Trail. It’s only a short hike to the hot springs, but if you’re looking for the gorgeous clear springs you see in the pictures, don’t expect them to look that way unless no one has been in them in quite some time. Also there are some fantastic pictographs on the cliffs to your left on the way to the springs. Don’t forget to stop and take a look, and also, don’t forget to bring your hammock. Lunch is the perfect time to lay back and relax before the last leg of the trip. Also, locals will have some of their wares for display here. Bring cash if you want to buy goodies.
Hot Springs Trail
Shortly downriver from the Hot Springs Trail stop, there is a fantastic swimming hole. Most of the river isn’t deep enough to dive into, but that’s not the case here.
Rio Grande River
You’ll cruise along after the swim for another hour before pulling the boat ashore and heading back to your car. And you’ll forever miss sitting in the cold river with hot springs bubbling up around you while staring at pictographs (or at least I do).