Big Bend National Park
Flora and fauna
Big Bend National Park is one of the most remote parks in the United States. The nearest commercial airports are Midland (~230 miles), Del Rio (~230 miles), San Angelo (~300 miles), and El Paso (~300 miles).
The nearest towns of size are Marathon (~40 miles from Persimmon Gap/North entrance), Alpine (~75 miles from Maverick Junction/West entrance) and Presidio (~70 miles from Maverick Junction/West entrance, but requires driving through Big Bend Ranch State Park, which is slow going).
There is no public transportation into the park; driving a car is required.
- Vehicle: $20 for a seven day pass good at any park entrance.
- Individual (on bicycle or motorcycle): $10 for a seven day pass.
- Children (15 and under): Free
- Santa Elena Canyon, via the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
- Chisos Mountains Basin
- Castolon Historic District
- Soak in the Hot Springs
- Go canoeing in the Santa Elena Canyon
- Raft the Rio Grande River through the Santa Elena, Mariscal, and/or Boquillas Canyons
- Take a jeep tour on some of the 'primitive' dirt roads
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience Big Bend National Park. Trail maps and topographic maps (for back-country trails) can be purchased at the various visitor centers. Some of the paths of desert hikes are marked by rock cairns (piles of rocks). Most of the trails, desert or mountain, offer minimal to no shade. Always make sure to bring plenty of water and dress smartly!
Chisos Basin Hikes
- Window View Trail. (0.3 miles round-trip). Flat, paved and wheelchair-accessible. A good, short introductory hike that offers good sunset views. Trail-head can be found at the Chisos Basin Lodge.
- Window Trail. (There are two trail-heads: From the Chisos Basin Lodge it is 5.6 miles round-trip. From the Basin Campground - Site 52 it is 4.4 miles round-trip). Among the more popular trails. Descends to a gap in the Chisos Basin Mountains ("The Window"), revealing a stupendous view down to the desert far below framed by enormous cliffs. There is some rock-scrambling at the very end and you may get your feet wet. The end point is a water pour-off; it is likely not safe to hike this trail during or after a rain. Keep in mind the descent is easier and quicker than the ascent all the way back.
- Lost Mine Trail. (4.8 miles round-trip). Among the more popular trails. Climbs higher and higher along ridges, offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the desert starting about 1/3 of the way through (you can even turn around about this point to make a good, shorter day-hike). A hike to the very end rewards you with the highest vantage points and a chance to scramble on some precipitous and unusual rock faces. The trail-head is on a marked pull-off on the way towards the Chisos Mountain Lodge.
- Emory Peak Trail. (9 miles round-trip). Leads to the highest point in Big Bend National Park with (of course) spectacular views as your reward. The trail-head begins at the Chisos Basin Lodge. Take the Pinnacle Trails up 3.5 miles, at which point you'll see the side trail to Emory Peak. The last part requires a rock-scramble up a steep wall (but it's worth it).
- The South Rim. (~12 miles round-trip). There are multiple route options here; leads to wide, stunning views down to the desert and far off into the distance. Can be done in a day if you're fit and start early, but best as a 1-night backpacking trek. The trail-head is at the Chisos Basin Lodge; start either at the Pinnacles Trail or Laguna Meadow Trail (both form part of a big loop). If you have the time and stamina, you can also add the Emory Peak Trail to your itinerary since it's along the way (add 2 miles total, 1 purely vertical). Another option is to explore the East Rim Trail sections to get the full Rim Experience (tack on an extra 3.3 miles total). The turn-offs are marked along the way on the main trail; however, know that a portion of the East Rim Trail (the Southeast Rim Trail) is closed to hiking during the peregrine falcon breeding season (February 1st to July 15th).
North Desert Hikes
- Panther Path. A pleasant, short hike in front of the Panther Junction visitor center.
- Grapevine Hills Trail. (2.2 miles round-trip). Requires driving a dirt road to the trail-head, but is usually suitable even for sedans. Take the Grapevine Hills Road turn-off 3.3 miles west of Panther Junction and follow it for about 7 miles. A neat balanced-rock formation is at the end (you may have seen it in various Texas guidebooks and brochures).
- Dog Canyon Trail. (4 miles round-trip). Leads into Dog Canyon from the trail-head about 3.5 miles south of the Persimmon Gap visitor center. There is an exhibit at the trail-head, you'll be able to see Dog Canyon in the distance. Requires some path-finding, a map may be a good idea.
- Devil's Den . (6 miles round-trip). This actually shares the same trail-head and part of the path with Dog Canyon Trail. About 1.5 miles in there will be a fork in the trail (and a sign) that will point the way. Requires some path-finding, a map may be a good idea.
West Desert Hikes
- Bottom of the Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail. (1.0 miles round-trip). You'll see a turn-off for the Burro Mesa Pour-Off between the Sotol Vista Overlook and the Mule Ears Viewpoint along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Follow the road 1.5 miles to get to the trail-head. Requires a bit of path finding - rock cairns mark which way to go through the washes. Along the way you'll notice a giant rock formation that looks quite like a sideways sandwich and of course the enormous pour-off at the end. A different trail will take you to the top (see entry).
- Santa Elena Canyon Trail. (1.7 miles round-trip). Among the more popular trails - a definite must-see. Follow the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the end, past Castolon. From near the parking area there, you'll get great views of the canyon. To get even better views, cross the creek (Terlingua Creek) towards the right-side of the canyon. You'll likely see other people already doing it; just follow them. Requires a bit of stair climbing once you're at the canyon. It is possible for the creek to become too high to cross; if there's any doubt at all, do not attempt.
- Tuff Canyon Trail. Take the well-marked turn-off before Castolon (headed towards Santa Elena Canyon). There are viewpoints here but you can also hike down into the canyon; just follow the signs.
- Red Rocks (Blue Creek) Canyon. (3.0 miles round-trip). A scenic trail through a large canyon; the eponymous red rocks can be seen at the end. The trail continues after that very steeply up into the Chisos Basin but this is only for hardcore backpackers. The trail-head is at the Homer Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch Overlook turn-off from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
- Upper Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail. (3.6 miles round-trip). A very scenic trail that leads to the top of the Burro Mesa Pour-Off (a different trail will take you to the bottom - see entry). The trail-head is found 6.9 miles south of the beginning of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Requires some path-finding and rock-scrambling. Do not attempt during or just after rains.
- Ward Spring Trail. (3.6 miles round-trip). Leads through the desert to a pleasant spring; requires some path-finding. The trail-head can be found at mile-marker 5.5 along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Requires some path-finding.
- Mule Ears Spring Trail. (3.8 miles round-trip). A trail with great views of the Mule Ears formation that leads to a spring. The trail-head starts at the well-marked Mule Ears Overlook turn-off along the Maxwell Scenic Drive. Requires some path-finding.
- The Chimneys Trail. (4.8 miles round-trip). Leads to a series of "chimneys"; rock pinnacles formed through volcanic activity. There's also Indian art on the chimneys. The trail continues far past the chimneys and eventually leads to the unpaved Old Maverick Road which becomes an extremely long hike, instead just go back the way you came after visiting the chimneys. The trail-head is marked, about 1.2 miles south of the Burro Mesa Pour-Off turnoff on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
East Desert Hikes
- Rio Grande Village Natural Trail. (0.75 miles round-trip).
- Boquillas Canyon Trail. (1.4 miles round-trip).
- Ernst Tinaja. (1.4 miles round-trip). Requires a high-clearance vehicle to reach trailhead.
- Hot Springs Trail.
- Pine Canyon Trail. (4 miles round-trip). Requires a high-clearance vehicle to reach trailhead.
- Ore Terminal Trail. (8 miles round-trip).
- Marufo Vega Trail. (14 miles round-trip).
Other Desert Hikes
- Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail. (6.6 miles round-trip). Requires a high-clearance vehicle to reach the trail-head (take the Talley Road spur off of the River Road), located on the remote, extreme south-side of the park. Rugged terrain, path-finding required.
- The Mesa de Anguila. Trailhead is accessed from nearby Lajitas. Very rugged, remote, and primitive. See here before attempting. The Resort at Lajitas also offers a guided tour along a section of this route.
A gift shop is located at the Chisos Mountain Lodge (see below).
A dining room and small grocery is located at the Chisos Mountain Lodge (see below).
Outside of the park there are dining options in nearby Study Butte/Terlingua and Lajitas.
- Chisos Mountain Lodge, 432 477 2291, . A lodge in the Chisos Basin with rooms, cottages, a gift shop, and a dining room.
Outside of the park there are lodging options in nearby tiny Study Butte/Terlingua, luxury accommodations in Lajitas, and guest ranches in the surrounding countryside.
Three vehicle-accessible campsites are available with a self-pay fee of $14/night. Certain park passes will get you a discounted rate of $7/night. Camping at developed sites is limited to 14 consecutive days, with a maximum of 28 days in any given year. A limited number of sites are reservable at 1 877 444 6777 or the government reservations website .
- Chisos Basin Campground - A large high-country campground with flush toilets and a dump station. Several trailheads are nearby.
- Cottonwood - A shady riverside campground with pit toilets. No generators.
- Rio Grande Village - The park's largest campground, with flush toilets, dump station, laundry facilities and showers.
This page was last edited at 08:04, on 28 March 2009 by John Malone. Based on work by Nick Roux, Stacy Hall, Ryan Holliday and Troy Hocking, Wikitravel user(s) Highwayboy, Texugo and Schzmo and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.