A man paddles a kayak down bright blue water with a hilly desert landscape in the background

Photo by Todd White

The Devils River got its name from early settlers, who said the 93-mile waterway—and the treacherous terrain surrounding it near the U.S.-Mexico border—was created by Lucifer. The river runs between the present-day cities of Sonora and Del Rio, a slim turquoise ribbon cutting into the thornscrub and sunburned sand of the Chihuahuan Desert. The river is fed by a series of springs that keep the water cool even in the desert. It’s never been dammed or impounded. Evidence of recent human activity along its banks is nearly nonexistent—hardly anyone ventures here because it’s so remote. That’s heavenly for adventurers seeking isolation but potentially dangerous for the poorly prepared.

Devils River State Natural Area

Though most of the land surrounding the river is privately owned, this 37,000-acre natural area has water access and 12 miles of hiking trails, along with 10 primitive camping sites. Bird blinds in the Del Norte Unit give visitors a view of one of the most diverse avian communities in the country. The Dan A. Hughes Unit, acquired by the state in 2010, has even more river access.

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Dolan Falls

One of the only natural waterfalls in Texas, Dolan cascades over a 12-foot limestone cliff. The waterfall creates churning rapids that make for thrilling paddling about 16 miles south of Baker’s Crossing. Visitors can access the falls from downriver 1 mile south of the state natural area. The Nature Conservancy operates the 4,800-acre Dolan Falls Preserve, which is located midway between Sonora and Del Rio.



If you’re not too tuckered out after a day of fun in the sun, stay up late to watch the stars above the Devils River. The sky is so dark here that it has earned a near-perfect score on the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale, meaning little to no human-made light pollution is visible. Stargazers can peer deep into the far reaches of the universe with the naked eye, or they can bring a telescope for an even better view. It’s amazing to look up and see more stars than space.


Paddling the River

Seasoned adventurers will be interested in a multiday kayaking journey downriver. Secure the services of an experienced outfitter, such as Amistad Expeditions, before setting off for the harrowing trip. It’s worth it; kayakers will experience remote rapids, ancient native art, and pockets of lush vegetation that would seem more at home in the Hill Country than the desert badlands.


Hooker’s 1-Stop

This bar, grill, and convenience store sits near the top of Rough Canyon and gives a bird’s-eye view of the Devils River flowing into Lake Amistad. Hooker’s serves up a selection of familiar favorites, including pizza, fried shrimp, and rib-eye steaks. On  Friday nights the restaurant offers special fare, such as a Monte Cristo sandwich, chicken and dumplings, and flautas.


So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path,
I hope to see you on the road.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.
To view the Devils River episode, visit thedaytripper.com.
Follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @chettripper.

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