Outfitters evolve during COVID

Kayakers paddle on the Rio Grande near Big Bend National Park. Courtesy photo

One of the drivers of tourism in Big Bend are the river outfitters, who of course have struggled along with everyone else during COVID this year. In March the companies were hit hard, a time of year they usually see the most business coming in.

After speaking with outfitters, their overall attitude was mostly positive, albeit a little apprehensive. Typically when there is raftable water in Big Bend, life is better in Terlingua.

Two of the newest outfitters in the area are Big Bend Boating and Hiking and Wild Adventure Outfitters, and both are rumored to be getting creative with trips in the Big Bend.

Erica Little at Big Bend Boating and Hiking said they re-opened Sept. 1, and have been rafting the entire time. She said the large majority of those booking trips were Texans, but noted that wasn’t much different than any other year.

Little also spoke about new kayak trips they are offering through Colorado Canyon. Colorado Canyon is a fantastic day river trip in Big Bend Ranch State Park, and historically is only rafted commercially. Few activities offer a better one-day Big Bend experience than kayaking that section of river. 

One of the biggest challenges local outfitters are facing is the limit on the number of people allowed on trips. And with as busy as it’s been, companies are likely turning away business with these restrictions. 

Logistics are also more complicated since large distances are driven from town to and from the river. Some outfitters are offering shuttles with single group limits, and frequent disinfecting. Others are choosing to meet guests at the take-out spot, limiting their time in the van. 

Mike Long at Desert Sports summed it up best, saying, “We don’t really know what we’re doing with COVID, but we’re doing the best we can.”

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