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Rio Grande Lower Canyons Dryden Takeout

Rio Grande, Lower Canyons: Heath Canyon to Dryden Crossing (82 miles)

BBNHA Documentary video of a special Lower Canyons trip, narrated by Butch Hancock.

Recreation and Access

Quick Info

Length82 miles
Class (I-VI)II-IV
Minimum Flow200 cfs
Ideal Flow400 – 2,000 cfs
Maximum Flow5,000 cfs
Current River ConditionsUSGS Rio Grande Village
Put-in mapHeath Canyon
Take-out mapDryden Crossing at Harrison Ranch
Boats Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts
SeasonYear-round, weather/flow permitting
HighlightWild & Scenic River, wilderness whitewater paddling & camping
Distances to Panther Jct.Dallas 600 miles; Houston 625 miles; Austin 500 miles; El Paso 330 miles

Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande is arguably the premier multi-day wilderness paddling trip in Texas. It is best paddled over 6-9 days with a layover day built in. Heath Canyon to Dryden Crossing is 82 miles of extreme wilderness, very rugged terrain, and Class II-IV whitewater. Best map and guide is Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande by Louis Aulbach & Joe Butler. The very long shuttle may be arranged with one of the Terlingua outfitters listed below. Driving distance from Heath Canyon to Dryden Takeout one-way is 164 miles, 3 hours, 39 minutes.

Conservation & Threats

Bacterial infections are easy to contract. Use soap and clean water, especially with open sores on hands or feet. Development encroachment, water pollution. Invasive Giant reed or Arundo donax and Salt cedar, Tamarix are ubiquitous along the river banks.

Historical/Cultural Significance

For 196 miles, the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River flows freely through Big Bend canyons. There are many rock art sites and side hikes to abandoned candelilla wax sites. Conflict with Mexico continued when the United States annexed Texas as a state in 1845. Mexico claimed that the new border between Texas and Mexico was the Nueces River, while the United States contested the border was the Rio Grande. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, that brought an official end to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), was signed on February 2, 1848, at Guadalupe Hidalgo, where the Mexican government had fled with the advance of U.S. forces. By its terms, Mexico ceded 55 percent of its territory, including parts of present-day Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, to the United States. Mexico relinquished all claims to Texas, and recognized the Rio Grande as the southern boundary with the United States. The United States paid Mexico $15,000,000 “in consideration of the extension acquired by the boundaries of the United States” (see Article XII of the treaty) and agreed to pay American citizens debts owed to them by the Mexican government. The treaty gave rise to development of the IBWC International Boundary and Water Commission which governs all concerns of flow and sharing of the boundary waters of the Rio Grande and other boundary waters of New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Natural Features

Many deep canyons, several riverside springs providing clean, potable water.

Upper Madison Falls from Burro Bluff, photo by TRPA member Richard Grayson

Additional Resources

Flow information