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Best American Adventures: Float the Big Bend of the Rio Grande

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We've just updated our popular America's
Best Adventures
feature with 50 new trips, bringing our grand total to 100 iconic escapes (see the map, state-by-state list, and photo gallery, too). So no matter what your pleasure—hiking,
heli-skiing, surfing, climbing, biking, or paddling—we've got the perfect adventure
for you. Check in each day for a new, out-the-backdoor adventure highlighted here on our blog.

By Kate Siber; Photograph by Crystal Allbright

Deep in the southwestern corner of Texas, the Rio
Grande enters an arid, no-man’s-land of deserts and canyons that for
centuries has been considered godforsaken. For rafters, however,
there’s liquid gold in these hills. For 231 miles (372 kilometers),
between Big Bend Ranch State Park, Big Bend National Park, and the town
of Dryden, the river winds through canyons as deep as 1,500 feet (457
meters) and wide-open rangeland with views of faraway mountains,
offering one of the country’s top river trips.

Sports, an outfitter based in Terlingua, Texas, offers full-day and
multiday trips along different sections of the river, from calm,
grandma-friendly floats to stretches with roller coaster rapids. But
the mother of all is the Lower Canyons, a wild, 83-mile (135-kilometer)
stretch where civilization and any sort of help are days away. Fewer
than 1,300 hardy river rats attempt it every year (by comparison,
24,000 float the Grand Canyon), and getting away from it all takes on
an entirely new meaning here.

For seven to 12
days, paddlers negotiate up to Class V rapids that rumble like 747s
against the canyon walls, soak in wilderness springs, and witness signs
of cowboys and Native Americans—some of the few humans to attempt to
eke out a living here. Even more than the thrill of the rapids, what
rafters love most is the stillness. It’s on those cloudless
star-sprinkled nights that they begin to understand the true meaning of
utter, mind-clearing silence.

Need to Know: Desert Sports ( offers seven-day trips on the Lower Canyons for $1,200 to $1,450 per person.