Preparing for a Devils River Trip

Overview

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River Reflections. Copyright Laurence Parent 2010. All rights reserved.

Despite the beautiful setting, a trip down any section of the 47.7-mile stretch of the Devils River from S.H. 163 at Baker's Crossing to the Rough Canyon Marina at Lake Amistad can be difficult and challenging to plan, exhausting to navigate, and life-threatening if you are not prepared. A thorough remote paddling education and paddling experience gained on less remote rivers is highly recommended prior to launching on a Devils River paddle trip.

There are currently no public take-out sites directly accessible by private vehicle between Baker's Crossing and Lake Amistad. It is critical that paddlers make arrangements in advance for take-out with a private outfitter or private property owner as needed. The shuttle options for Devils River paddle trips average two hours each way, and most involve travel on very rough dirt roads. The launch and take out locations are not near towns so plan to have all supplies before arrival. There is no cell service once you begin nearing launch locations or while on the river.

Public camping for permitted paddlers is allowed at Baker's Crossing, Mile 12 Paddler Camp, San Pedro Point - Del Norte (river mile 15), Mile 20 Paddler Camp, and Mile 29 Paddler Camp - Dan A. Hughes Unit.

Camping on islands within the river, while legal, can be extremely dangerous if the river rises. Any other camping or hiking along the river bank above the gradient boundary is considered trespassing if you don't have permission from the private landowner.

Private Property

Most of the land along the Devils River is privately owned. Although you may believe you are miles away from the nearest home or another human for that matter, know that landowners watch their properties carefully. Most have dealt with a long history of trespassing and other illegal activities such as fires, gathering of firewood, and littering occurring on their land.

Critical Paddler Information and Map

Read and print a paddler map, which has critical information that every paddler must know before taking a trip on the Devils River.

Planning Your Trip

You must have a Devils River Access Permit (DRAP) for all river trips which involve accessing the Devils River State Natural Area units or paddler camps. A DRAP costs $10

Camping fees also apply at Mile 12 Paddler Camp, San Pedro Point (Del Norte Unit), Mile 20 Paddler Camp and Mile 29 Paddler Camp (Dan A. Hughes Unit). These river campsites are open seven days a week for paddlers with advance permits to camp on their way downriver. Only one-night stays are allowed.

Contact the TPWD Customer Service Center at (512) 389-8901 to obtain a DRAP and make camping reservations. Read an overview of the Devils River Access Permit. You will also need an advance permit to camp on the Lake Amistad section of the lower Devils River, if you plan to paddle to the lake. Contact Amistad National Recreation Area at (830) 775-8779. View a larger version of this map of the Devils River Area

  • Distance:  Baker's Crossing to Lake Amistad (47.7 miles)
  • Float time:  Allow at least four full days
  • Sanitation:  Pack out what you bring in. Cat holes are not acceptable on the Devils River. WAG bags are required for human waste. Purchase them online or in most sporting goods sections.
  • Trash: You must remove all trash.
  • Campfires: Campfires are not allowed along the Devils River State Natural Area waterfront. Fires are allowed at the Mile 12 and Mile 20 paddler camps, and within the river’s gradient boundary only when Val Verde County is not under a burn ban.  When fires are legal, bring your own firewood. Use a fire pan and charcoal to limit resource damage. Containerized fuel camp stoves are the recommended option for paddle camping.

Allow at least four full days to travel from Baker's Crossing to Rough Canyon Marina at Lake Amistad. The best times to go are spring and fall. Begin each day early to take advantage of daylight!

Before going, print a paddler map and review available guides of the Devils River and surrounding area.  

Special Note: Loose items including coolers must be secured in your boat to withstand swamping and rollovers. Pack as lightly as possible. Use dry bags for trash, to avoid rips that could pollute the river. Everyone plays a role in keeping the river clean. Don't be an irresponsible paddler!

Weather

Know the conditions before you go. The Devils River can flash flood and become dangerous very quickly. Check the latest weather forecast and water levels before going on your trip.

Low water levels may cause canoes/kayaks to drag. Paddlers may need to portage around shallow waters. Strong southern headwinds can make for an exhausting trip, and extremely high or low temperatures can catch paddlers unprepared.

Getting There

Put-in access

Baker's Crossing

Baker's Crossing is 62 miles south of Ozona on State Highway 163, or 70 miles southwest of Sonora. Coming from Del Rio, Baker's Crossing is 21 miles north of Comstock on State Highway 163. (DD) 29.96628755 / -101.1491288

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Baker's Crossing

Distance to Baker's Crossing:

  • Sonora: 70 miles
  • Ozona: 62 miles
  • Comstock: 21 miles
  • Del Rio: 55 miles
  • San Antonio: 200 miles
  • Austin: 280 miles
  • Houston: 397 miles
  • Dallas: 400 miles

Del Norte Unit

From Del Rio, go north on State Highway 277 for 45 miles. Turn left on Dolan Creek Road (gravel) and go 18.6 miles to the state natural area boundary. Dolan Creek Road is a rough 22-mile gravel/dirt county road with multiple low-water crossings; use caution if you see flowing water! This is working ranch country. Please drive carefully and watch for loose livestock. (DD) 29.929326 / -100.942938

  • Permits and reservations: (512) 389-8901
  • Additional park information: (830) 395-2133
  • Note: Open only Friday at 8 a.m. to Monday at 5 p.m. No public vehicle access from gate at parking area to river (.9 miles). Make prior arrangements with an outfitter if you can’t carry your gear that far.

Take-out access

Dan A. Hughes Unit

Take-out at the Dan A. Hughes Unit requires prior arrangement with one of the TPWD-approved outfitters listed below.

Rough Canyon Marina

Public take-out is possible at Rough Canyon Marina at Lake Amistad National Recreation Area. Located on the left (east) side of the lake. Be prepared for strong headwinds. Phone: (830) 775-8779 (DD) 29.57717 / -100.97788

River Description

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Warning sign on river left before Dolan Falls.

Generally speaking, the river offers a mix of slow-moving pools and brief Class I to Class II rapids, with several other rapids that could be considered Class III when water levels are high.

Hazardous conditions may exist anywhere along the river. The movement of water has created an uneven limestone river bed. This, combined with encounters with submerged boulders, often leads to leg injuries. This same limestone is very abrasive and will quickly wear a hole in a boat.

Most major mishaps occur at the three rapids listed below, but expect to encounter other difficulties created by tight channels, shallow fast rapids, river cane growth blocking your path and strong head winds.  Changing water levels will affect all river conditions.

Game Warden Rock

About 13.3 miles downstream from Baker's Crossing, look for a large rock in the middle of the main river right channel. (Game Warden Rock is also known as Sycamore Chute.)

Portage is not necessary, but consider doing so as boats are often damaged beyond repair here. Position your boat on the left side of the main chute to move through the four-foot drop. Beware of low-hanging trees on river right, below the rapid. Loitering above this rapid on private property longer than the time it takes to actively scout and portage can lead to trespassing charges.

Dolan Falls

Dolan Falls

Portage is required around Dolan Falls, a 10-foot Class IV waterfall about 16.4 miles downstream from Baker's Crossing. Look for the large warning sign posted on a boulder on river left as you approach. Take out early above the falls, and portage on river left or right.

The river banks next to the falls are private property. Don’t loiter there more than the time it takes to actively scout and portage the falls, or you will be trespassing. Injury and loss of equipment are common when paddlers choose poorly and attempt to run Dolan Falls.

Three-Tier Waterfall

This Class II to III waterfall, also known as the Cascades, is about 20.4 miles below the put-in at Baker's Crossing. It requires careful negotiation. Scout prior to running if possible, and approach from river right.

Wildlife and Ecology

The spring-fed Devils River is one of the most pristine rivers in the state. It is well-known for its exceptional water clarity.

The land surrounding the Devils River is an important area of natural biodiversity and ecological integrity. The Chihuahuan Desert from the west, the Edwards Plateau to the north, and the Tamaulipan shrub land to the south and east meet here.

The region is a diverse hotspot containing many native species. Several federally listed threatened or endangered species live in the Devils River watershed. These include the Devils River minnow, Texas snowbells and the black-capped vireo. Several state listed species live here as well, including the Rio Grande darter, Conchos pupfish, and proserpine shiner. The river also supports populations of unique genotypes of headwater catfish and largemouth bass.

Animal attacks on paddlers have never been reported. There has not been a situation where paddlers needed a firearm to defend themselves while paddling the Devils River.

Shuttle and Guide Service

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has established a guide service agreement with the following outfitters to provide shuttle and guide services for paddling and fishing trips that launch and/or take-out on the Devils River State Natural Area units.

Additional Resources

Where to stay in the area:

River Information:

Related links:


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