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Difficulty II+
Length 20.8 Miles
Gauge Rio Grande nr Castolon, TX
Flow Range 200 - 10000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 47 minutes ago 289 [CFS] ℹ️
Reach Info Last Updated 01/02/2018 9:35 pm

River Description


Like all of the canyons of the Rio Grande, Colorado Canyon and Dark Canyon are incredibly scenic.  Because this section of the river has good access (via FM 170, which follows the river for most of the route), it is popular for day trips.  This section is beginner-friendly at low levels (< 1000 cfs), and rafts can run it down to about 200 cfs without much difficulty.  Lower levels than that require a hard boat.  This section gets pushy at high levels (thousands of cfs) but doesn't really get any more technically difficult, and many of the named rapids wash out at high levels.  It is not generally runnable below 100 cfs.

Many of the named rapids may require some maneuvering by canoeists, particularly when the river is relatively low and channelized.  However, whitewater paddlers will probably find them to be straightforward.

All of the river access points are on river left (Texas side.)

This section is entirely within Big Bend Ranch State Park and requires a permit obtainable in Lajitas or at Fort Leaton.  The state and national parks require anyone on a river trip to wear their PFD's through named rapids.

NOTE:  There is a high incidence of vehicle theft along the Mexican border.  For this reason, and simply because it makes the trip logistics much easier, many paddlers choose to pay one of the river outfitters in Terlingua to run shuttle for them.

Distances and gradient measured using GIS tools in 2015.

 

Rapid Descriptions

Rancherias Rapid

Class - II Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

At low levels, run right to avoid some boulders.  Straightforward at medium to high levels.

Colorado Canyon River Access

Class - N/A Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

No facilities

Closed Canyon Rapid

Class - II Mile - 1.74
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Most of the flow channels to river right at low levels, forming a wave train.  Washes out at higher levels.

While you're here, take a moment to hike up into the mouth of Closed Canyon.

Thread the Needle Rapid

Class - II Mile - 2.42
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At low levels, stay to the right and pick one of the two channels at the bottom between large boulders.  Straightforward at medium to high levels.

Quarter Mile Rapid

Class - II Mile - 3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Requires some light maneuvering at low levels to avoid boulders and a a wall shot near the bottom.  Straightforward at medium to high levels.

End of Colorado Canyon

Class - N/A Mile - 6.24
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Reference point

Panther Creek Rapid

Class - II Mile - 6.64
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Nice wave train at the center of the river.

La Cuesta River Access

Class - N/A Mile - 7.37
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

No facilities

Dark Canyon Entrance

Class - N/A Mile - 7.58
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Reference point

Dom Rock

Class - N/A Mile - 8.17
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

The large rock outcropping at river left is where the iconic champagne scene in "Fandango" was filmed (thus giving the rock its name.)  The section of FM 170 leading up to the overlook at the top of the rock is supposedly the steepest highway in Texas.  Look for a rusted-out tanker truck and car alongside the river underneath the rock

End of Dark Canyon

Class - N/A Mile - 8.99
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Reference point

Tee Pee Picnic Area

Class - N/A Mile - 9.22
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Reference point (no camping or access here)

Madera Canyon River Access

Class - N/A Mile - 9.3
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Composting toilet and picnic shelters at river left.  Camping allowed (permit required.)

Ledge Rock Rapid

Class - II Mile - 9.96
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Can be run either right or left, but right is the typical line.  At the right level (recommended 1000-3500 cfs), this is a great surf rapid with two or three medium holes, and it is fairly easy to paddle back upstream to the Madera Canyon access point.

Grassy Banks River Access

Class - N/A Mile - 12.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Composting toilet and picnic shelters at river left.  Camping allowed (permit required.)

Fresno Creek Rapid

Class - II Mile - 14.9
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Wall shot at lower levels.  Straightforward wave train at river right at medium to high levels.

 

Contrabando Creek Rapid

Class - II Mile - 15.7
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Run left.

Contrabando Movie Set

Class - N/A Mile - 15.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Reference point.  This set was originally constructed in 1985 for "Uphill All the Way" starring Roy Clark but was also used for the "Lonesome Dove" miniseries in the 90's.

Lajitas River Access

Class - N/A Mile - 20.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

Large dirt parking lot and boat launch at river left

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Gage Descriptions

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Directions Description


Use Hwy 170. 

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Alerts

News

article main photo

County to Vote to Extend Closure on Guadalupe Tonight (TX)

2002-07-11 00:00:00-04
Jason Robertson

The Comal County Commissioner's Court is taking measures that will restrict access to the Guadalupe River indefinitely. AW's primary objective on the Guadalupe is to restore access as soon as possible and to make sure that boater access does not impede on-going rescue and recovery efforts.
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Matt Muir

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Rob

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DRC

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Kevin Colburn