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Shallow ponds along the creek where the canyon begins to narrow

Big Bend Ranch: West Rancherias Canyon Trail


At a glance

Distance: 9.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation change: 950 feet
Hiking time: 3-4 hours
Highlights: Scenic trail parallels a creek bed and ends at a tall – often dry – waterfall

Difficulty: ★★★★☆
A relatively flat stroll up a creek bed with more strenuous rock scrambling in the second half
Trail conditions: ★★★☆☆
The path is smooth until the rocky upper reaches of the canyon
Scenery: ★★★☆☆
Colorful flowers in the spring, pristine pools of water and a rocky box canyon
Solitude: ★★☆☆☆
All the trails at Big Bend Ranch get less traffic than most other parks

Other reviews

Video of the upper trail


The West Rancherias Canyon Trail climbs slowly through the flowering Chihuahuan desert, a collection of pristine ponds and weathered volcanic canyon walls to reach a steep, though often dry, waterfall.

The trek through the southern Bocefillos Mountains is much shorter and less strenuous than it’s sibling, the Rancherias Canyon Loop, which is a backpacking trip of more than 19 miles. The turnoff to the longer trail is about 0.7 miles in.

Diamondback Rattlesnake on the trail path

Diamondback Rattlesnake on the trail path

The West Rancherias Canyon Trail dips down from the trailhead to follow a dry creek bed before turning onto an old wagon road for a short distance. From there it tumbles down into Rancherias Canyon, tracking a mostly dry stream bed along the canyon floor.

The trail is marked by cairns so elaborate at some points they look as if they were built by a stonemason.

Farther ahead, you notice a community of grasses, cattails and cottonwoods peeking out from between the boulders. As you get closer, you see why: a series of ponds fed by a shallow spring. The ponds draw a diversity of wildlife – from javelina to the diamondback rattlesnake that I almost missed in the middle of the path.

In the spring, the muted colors of the canyon are punctuated here and there by red, yellow and lavender flowers.

Further upstream, the climb gets steeper and more difficult as you navigate the last stretch to the waterfall.

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About Scott Clark

I’m a digital journalist who’s worked as a photographer, reporter, producer and editor. My interest in the natural history of my surroundings reaches back to my early days beachcombing on the Jersey coast, rowing my boat on a quiet lake in Missouri and, more recently, discovering the mountains and backwoods of Montana, where I was born.

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