Devils River Location
The Devils River is located in southwestern Texas, beginning in Sutton County. The river gets its start where six watercourses come together, Dry Devils River, Flat Rock Draw, Granger Draw, House Draw, Jackson Draw, and Rough Canyon.
The river runs southwest through Val Verde County for approximately 93.8 miles before terminating into the northeastern portion of Amistad Reservoir on the Texas and Mexico border.
Many consider the Devils to be the most pristine and unspoiled river in Texas, and I agree. From a “non-scientific” standpoint, the flourishing habitat, quality, and variety of species, and health of the wildlife in the area back up these claims.
The Devils River is very remote and can be considered a somewhat hostile environment. It is surrounded by rugged terrain and a desert climate that is typical of southwest Texas. It seems there is a new desert hill or limestone cliff around every turn. Texas Highways states that three eco-regions converge around the river – the Edwards Plateau Hill Country, Chihuahuan Desert, and Tamaulipan Thornscrub – resulting in a rich mix of plant and animal life.
At approximately 13 miles down the river, you will come across Game Warden Rock. It is a huge chunk of rock in the middle of the main channel. We didn’t have any issues here, but I was told this section can be rough at times.
According to Southwest Paddler, the Devils River is a pool-and-drop river with several Class II-III rapids. The upper half of the river drops at a rate of about 15 feet per mile, leveling out to around 7 feet per mile after that. Some of the rapids can reach class III depending on water levels.
The Devils has 32 tributaries that dump into it, one being Dolan Creek, which is approximately 16.5 miles downriver from Baker’s Crossing. At this particular location, a fall has formed, which is coincidentally named Dolan Falls. This particular geographic feature adds an element of adventure to the trip and requires some planning to navigate.
Southwest Paddler describes Dolan Falls as a solid class IV waterfall drop of at least ten feet with Class V consequences due to the remote nature of the river and the strong hydraulic currents below the drop. Dolan Falls isn’t a generic rapid you will be able to run and it requires a “semi-technical” portage to successfully get around.
We didn’t really see any other folks at all except for a few hours during the morning of the first day. Outside of that, we were essentially alone the entire trip. It’s a great feeling to be away from light and noise pollution so you can just focus on nature.
Why is it called the Devils River
According to the Texas State Historical Society, the name of this river has changed several times over the years. In 1590 Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, a Spanish explorer, traveled along the river and called it Laxas, meaning “slack” or “feeble.” Later travelers and settlers called the river San Pedro.
In the 1840’s Texas Ranger captain John Coffee (Jack) Hays asked the name of the river as he stood before one of its deep canyons. Upon hearing its name, he reportedly replied that it looked more like the Devil’s river than Saint Peter’s. It seems like this name has stuck.
My trip down the Devils River
I received this trip as a birthday present from my wife and it was booked with Shane Davies of River Run Guide Service (RRGS). Shane is highly recommended as a guide and outfitter, and I cannot recommend him enough. I have fished with Shane for almost 10 years on various trips and bodies of water and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend his services to anyone.
My trip began at Baker’s Crossing, which is where the Devils River crosses under Texas State Highway 163 and terminated at Rough Canyon Marina, Amistad Reservoir. The last portion of the trip was via a water taxi from Big Satan to the Rough Canyon Marina takeout. RRGS handled all of the logistics on both ends of the trip, which made it very easy. The entire trip was approximately 48 miles in total length.
River Run Guide Service supplied everything needed with the exception of toiletries, bedroll (sleeping pad and bag), proper attire, fly fishing gear (if you want to fly fish), and Texas fishing license. No state permits were required for this trip since we did not access TPWD managed lands.
It was recommended I bring (2) 32 oz. Nalgene water bottles for easy access hydration. RRGS provided low-calorie drink mixes if you prefer to add a little something to your water. It was recommended to pack anything needing to stay dry in a 40-liter or smaller dry bag.
Water was replenished at springs and RRGS provided a water purifier for purification purposes. I brought individual snacks for each day, as they were not provided. RRGS provided lunch and dinner on the 1st day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on days 2-4, and breakfast and lunch on the 5th day.
It cannot be stressed enough, but weight management is ultra-critical on these trips. Water is low on pretty much every river in Texas and the Devils is no exception. Light portaging and “lining” of the kayaks is the norm.
RRGS provided fully equipped 12′ sit on top kayaks and all rods, reels, associated tackle, and baits. Customer furnished gear is welcome but not required. Duplication of terminal tackle, baits, etc. can really add up weight-wise and also takes up critical space.
If you have a favorite medium or medium-heavy baitcasting or spinning outfit you can bring it. 12-15 lb. monofilament or 20-30 lb. braid is suggested.
According to Shane, he has found no substitute for good planning and preparedness on these trips. As they say “the Devils is in the details”. I want to give you the best experience possible.
You can see the actual gear I packed for the trip listed below.
Things to consider
Almost all, if not all, property adjacent to the Devils River is private property and camping can be extremely difficult. It is imperative you do not trespass on private land. There have been issues over the years and folks are polarized on both sides of the issue.
Be familiar with the laws and what you can and cannot do. It is best to stay in the river channel to avoid any potential issues. Do not camp or hike above the gradient boundary unless you have permission from the landowner. If you do, you will be trespassing.
Navigating the Devils can best be described as “tricky” in parts. Certain sections of the river fan-out with fingers of water running in every direction. Having familiarity and knowing the specific route to take can eliminate a lot of unnecessary portaging and lining due to low water.
There are also sections covered in thick river vegetation which really hinders your ability to see where to go. Again, without prior knowledge, it is a guess.
Weather is a finicky thing regardless of what type of outdoor endeavor you are pursuing. There are a number of issues you should be aware of, but I’m just going to hit on a few we dealt with.
Wind can be a son of a gun on any river trip in Texas, but particularly on the Devils. We were blessed with a few days of awesome wind conditions and we also had our fair share of horrible, in your face, “white-capping” type of wind. A strong southerly wind wrecks havoc on open sections of the river. If the wind is up, be prepared to lower your head and grind it out.
Storms seem to pop up somewhat unexpectedly at times. We had two nights where the weather was sketchy and it required constant monitoring of a weather radio. We were also receiving information via satellite phone, which can be a life-saver in these scenarios. While we weren’t directly hit with the severe weather, we were also monitoring what was going on upstream, which leads me to the next point…flash flooding.
Due to the location of the Devils and the geographic nature of the surround areas, it can flash flood at any time the conditions are right. If this happens, things can get serious quickly. Remember, due to private property issues surrounding the river, you are camping in places where there is no margin for error. Be sure you are monitoring conditions at all times and pay special attention to what is going on upriver.
Make no mistake about it, this trip is physically demanding. As mentioned above, a driving southerly headwind can at times make it feel like you are sitting still even though you are still paddling. Add in a decent amount of mileage and a good deal of portaging if the water is low and you will be putting in a full day’s work.
Cell phones do not work on most of this river. As such, you cannot rely on them for emergency communication. You need to make sure to have other provisions in place for this reason. Due to the remote nature of this river, and the harsh realities of the environment, bad things can happen. If they do, you need to be able to communicate effectively.
Medical considerations are something else you need to be able to effectively address. Again, due to the reasons listed above, you need the proper training and equipment/supplies to handle any issues that may pop up. If something major happens, will you be able to sustain life until emergency services can arrive? It’s a question you need to ask yourself prior to the trip.
This is another issue I can’t stress enough. This should be an exercise in ultralight paddling and camping. There are numerous low water areas and an inch can make all the difference in whether you get to keep floating or if you have to get out and start dragging. I was advised to try to keep my gear less than 12 lbs. for this trip and I’m glad I did.
Secure your gear
I’m not anywhere close to being great in a kayak and would probably “rank” myself as being somewhat average. With that in mind, I took several swims in the Devils…some were warranted and some should have been prevented.
If my gear had not been secured, it would have had its own personal float trip down the river. Packing light means there are some items with no built-in redundancy. It is paramount you make sure EVERYTHING is secure to make sure it doesn’t float away during rollovers.
As mentioned above, dry bags are mandatory! Your gear will get wet if not stored in an adequate dry bag. Clothing, bedding, and anything else requiring to stay dry should be placed in a dry bag anytime you are on the river. One of my “older” dry bags has seen some heavy use over the years and let in a very small amount of moisture. It was nothing major, but with the right conditions, it definitely could have been.
Preparation is key for a trip down this river. TPWD offers the following advice when planning your trip:
You must have a Devils River Access Permit (DRAP) if you plan to access the Devils River State Natural Area units or paddler camps. A DRAP costs $10, and camping fees also apply.
Call (512) 389-8901 to obtain a DRAP and reserve campsites. Read an overview of the Devils River Access Permit (PDF 326 KB).
- 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.
- Cooking: We recommend containerized fuel camp stoves for cooking while paddle camping.
- Campfires: Campfires are not allowed along the Devils River State Natural Area waterfront or at any of the TPWD Sanctioned Paddler Camps. Fires are allowed within the river’s gradient boundary only when Val Verde County is not under a burn ban.
My gear list
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost UL2
- Sleeping bag
- Mountain Hardwear Phantom 35
- Sleeping pad
- Nemo Fillo (You can read a review on the Fillo here)
- 32 oz. Nalgene x 2
- Coffee cup
- Dry bags
- Prana shorts
- Howler Brothers L/S shirt
- Mountain Hardwear Air Tech L/S
- Rain Jacket
- Rain Pants
Was this trip an “adventure”… I say it was. Adventure is subjective but can be defined as an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity. Did it meet these criteria? Yes, I think it did. A lot of the hazards can be mitigated with proper preparation, training, experience, etc., but it doesn’t remove it completely.
One of my personal goals was to get a little taste of Texas adventure and it checked the box for me. The other was to get into some quality fishing on one, if not the only, wild river left in Texas. This trip checked that box as well.
I can only describe the fishing as excellent. Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass were plentiful and healthy. We caught a range of sizes, but there were a few bruisers in the mix.
It could be described as a high adventure trip with a lot of different elements to contend with. If you want to put in the time to research and plan so you can do this trip on your own, it’s definitely doable. However, if you want to experience this adventure with a lot less work, or if you are inexperienced at this type of thing, I can’t recommend Shane Davies with River Run Guide Service Enough.
If any of y’all have ever paddled the Devils I would love to hear about your experience.