Madrid Falls

Little known to most, we have an aquatic wonder right here in the Big Bend, in the Chihuahuan Desert, the driest region in the state. At 100′, it is the highest waterfall in Texas accessible to the public (although not easily accessible). It lies deep in the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park. I spent a full day riding my mountain bike the 11 miles up East Contrabando Trail to Fresno Cascades, then hiking with day pack the remaining 2.5 miles, with the last mile up Chorro Canyon off-trail up the dry creekbed, then bushwhacking through rock and trees and reeds to one of the most beautiful grottos I’ve ever seen:

P1100857 madrid falls

After an 11-mile ride on mountain bike up the East Contrabando Trail, accessed from the Barton Warnock Center in Lajitas, TX, it’s time to hit the trail through Arroyo Primero for 2 1/2 miles, past the Madrid Ranch Homestead (covered in a previous post), then up Chorro Canyon mostly off-trail to the box canyon that features Madrid Falls and its accompanying pools and grotto:


Along the way, I pass the first Big Bend Bluebonnets of the season, growing in the dry creek bed of Fresno Creek. Officially lupinus havardii, this is the tallest of the lupines:

P1100819 bluebonnets flowers

After passing the Madrid Homestead, you will cross a wide dry creek and continue up a well-defined trail to the sign “Primero Trailhead” that marks a hard southerly left turn. Continue on due west up Chorro Canyon:

P1100823 Chorro Canyon

The trail is faint, then when it disappears, just follow the path of least resistance up the dry creek bed, until you see the first signs of water, flowing from the falls and its pools:

P1100825 chorro spring

The canyon makes a hard left, up into a box canyon where you get the first glimpse of the top of the falls:

P1100826 madrid falls

From this point, stay out of the deep drainage and follow a fairly well-defined trail around the right side of the canyon until you begin to hit the lower pools:

P1100833 madrid falls spring

From here it’s a matter of bushwhacking your way through reeds, rocks, and the growth that accompanies water until you finally reach the pool at the base of the falls. There is a small upper falls (not visible in this photo, that drops into a small upper pool, then continues over the main falls:

P1100851 madrid falls

It’s hard to describe how this lush grotto feels when you encounter it in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert after a long, warm, dry 13-mile hike/bike. It’s a true slice of heaven:

P1100852 madrid falls

After spending lunch here, and re-hydrating from the hike (don’t drink this water unfiltered…animals use this as a water source and it contains bacteria such as giardia), it’s time to enjoy the lower pools on the way back out of the canyon:

P1100846 madrid falls spring

P1100839 madrid falls spring

Published by texasflashdude

Photography and Travel, specifically adventure travel and backpacking in remote North America, give me an excuse to stay outside. If kayaks, bikes, backpacks, Jeeps, archeology, geology and wildlife can be included, all the better. Having spent my life working in the fashion and photography industries, I love the unusual, the spectacular, and the beautiful. God has given us a wonderful world in which to live, and I try to open others’ eyes to its wonders. I have shared nearly 50 years of this indescribable wonder with my wife, Jodie, and we go everywhere together. I hope you will share some of our journey with us.

9 thoughts on “Madrid Falls

  1. I enjoyed the sight of those bluebonnets – thanks for including them. As for the grotto, I never would have imagined such a place out there. I got a kick out of this: “The trail is faint, then when it disappears, just follow the path of least resistance.” That’s not bad advice for other life situations, now that I think about it.

    Do those pools drain, or simply evaporate? They’re remarkably green, which suggests algae and maybe a slow water flow, but in the next to last photo it does look like there’s an active stream.

    What a great experience, and great photos. I’ve wanted to visit some of the waterfalls that are around Texas, but I don’t think I’ll make it to this one!

  2. Bluebonnets were a total surprise! First I’ve seen anywhere this year.

    As for the pools, the waterfall is spring fed from above, so it really has to be very dry for a long time for this stream to dry up, resulting in a steady flow through the pools. The pools with the highest flow volume have no algae, while those on the periphery are green (excellent observation on your part).

    I usually try to follow the path of least resistance. Jodie & I have been married 54 years, and it’s partly due to a slogan that I have printed on a t-shirt of mine: “Yes, Dear.”

    Thanks, Linda, for reading and commenting. I always enjoy your posts as well.

    1. You have some sensational water motion images on your site. I’m heading back to these falls soon with my ND filter and doing some slow shutter images of the falls, hopefully during a wetter period where the water flow is a little higher.

  3. It’s definitely worth the effort. Unfortunately, right now it’s not running any water due to our extended drought. I’m hoping that all the lush greenery of the grotto returns when the drought breaks.

  4. Just returned from a trip there. Fantastic place but bushwhacking definitely needed to get there. Hiked down from Chorro on the Madrid House trail. Four-wheel drive or bike required to get to the trailhead. Flow was fair. The office at Ft. Leaton has information on flows.

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