If you have limited time in Big Bend National Park and want to see as many park highlights as you can, the thirty Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive needs to be on your list of things to do. Along the road, you’ll find stunning vista points, numerous roadside pullouts, the Castolon Visitor Center, and trails like the:
- Sam Nail Ranch Trail
- The Blue Creek Trail to the Homer Wilson Ranch
- Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail
- Tuff Canyon Trail
- Dorgan-Sublett Trail
- Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Ross Maxwell Drive and Old Maverick Road end at Santa Elena Canyon, where the Rio Grande makes a sharp turn through a vertical chasm in pure limestone cliffs — a result of movement along the Terlingua fault zone.
Santa Elena Canyon Overlook
The Santa Elena Canyon Overlook is a scenic viewpoint directly off Ross Maxwell Drive with panoramic views of the canyon’s sheer limestone cliffs rising 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande.
The magnificent canyon sits on the border of the United States and Mexico — the left side of the canyon is in Mexico and the right side of the canyon, with the Santa Elena Trail, is in Texas.
At the overlook, there are interpretive signs that provide information about how the canyon was formed and stories of early exploratory rafting trips through the canyon. A quick stop at the overlook before heading down to the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead is well worth your time. It’s pretty cool to see the canyon cut right through enormous cliffs in front of you and to see Mexico!
Know Before You Go
Santa Elena Canyon is at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive:
- The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a 30 mile adventure through the Chihuahuan Desert landscape of Big Bend National Park to the banks of the Rio Grande. It is an out and back road that begins near the park’s Maverick Entrance and has many vista points, scenic pullouts, educational displays, and short hikes.
About Big Bend National Park:
- Big Bend National Park is located in Brewster County, southwest Texas. The name Big Bend refers to the great U-turn the Rio Grande makes in Southwest Texas.
- Park entrances are open 24 hours daily, all year. Entrance fee stations have variable seasons and hours.
- Admission fees are valid for seven days and are $30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle, $15/individual/bicyclist/pedestrian.
- There are five Visitor Centers in Big Bend National Park: Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, Castolon, Persimmon Gap, and Rio Grande Village.
- Download the Big Bend National Park maps.
- Big Bend National Park has more than 150 miles of hiking trails, including desert hikes in the Chihuahuan Desert, mountain hikes in the Chisos Mountains, and river hikes along the Rio Grande.
- Convenience stores are available and open year-round at Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Basin, and in the historic La Harmonia store at Castolon.
- Gas stations are located at Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village, and outside the park in Study Butte and Stillwell’s Ranch. Diesel is available at Panther Junction and outside the park in Study Butte.
- Pets are not allowed on trails, off roads, or on the river. Your pet can only go where your car can go and must be on a leash no longer than six feet in length or in a cage at all times. Pet etiquette and park regulations require that you always clean up after your pet and dispose of waste in trash receptacles.