Santa Elena Canyon is one of the best-known natural features in Big Bend National Park. A short nature trail enters its shady depths, 8 miles west of Castolon, accessible by either Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive or the Old Maverick Road.
The nature trail crosses Terlingua Creek, climbs several flights of ramps and stairs and then descends into the canyon along the Rio Grande. At this point the canyon walls loom over 1500 feet above the river below. During the rainy season, Terlingua Creek can flood and make access difficult, so it is a good idea to check with Park Rangers for current conditions.
The best way to see the canyon is by raft or canoe. Local outfitters offer trips from one to three days in length when conditions allow, and river runners of intermediate or better skill level often go on their own. The scenery is spectacular, and there are many opportunities for wildlife viewing, hiking in shady side canyons and camping on spacious sandbars. There are a couple of rapids to watch out for, and the famed Rockslide can provide a challenge for even for experienced professionals. Know before you go. Contact a local outfitter, or purchase a guidebook, then find out what the current conditions are before heading off into the wilderness on your own.