Big Bend National Park, Texas: Everything You Need To Know

big bend national park texas everything you need know

Imagine miles upon miles of open desert, with windswept brush and wild west vibes.  Think of rocky, bolder laden mountains covered in forests, where bears and mountain lions still roam wild.  Envision a river flowing through canyons, a landscape so vast it was once inhabited by the largest dinosaurs to ever live, and open skies so immense and dark the cosmos come to life at night.  This is Big Bend National Park.

 

lost mine trail big bend national park texas
View from the overlook on Lost Mine Trail.

Big Bend National Park is one of the United States’ largest and most remote national parks; preserving the largest tracts of Chihuahuan Desert in the United States and encompassing an entire mountain range within its borders.  It’s rugged and remote landscape just might make you feel like you’re the last person standing!  Its remoteness means it is one of the least visited national parks, but its diversity of plants, animals, and geology give it a distinct terrain found in few other places.  With three ecosystems, Big Bend National Park is a paradise for any adventure and nature lover. 

 

Need to Know

Location

 

Big Bend National Park is located in Far West Texas.  It sits along the Rio Grande as it swoops north creating a bend in the Texas-Mexico border. 

 

Hours

 

Open 24 hours/7 days a week.   

 

You may enter or exit at any time, but the visitor centers and pay booths are only open during business hours. 

 

Cost

 

$30 entrance fee per vehicle (non-commercial) and is valid for 7 days.

$55 for Big Bend Annual Pass (best option if you will be staying over 7 days)

 

Free entry with America the Beautiful Pass.  This pass can be bought at any of the entrances for $80.  It allows free entrance to most national parks for a year, so it is a good investment if you plan to visit other national parks. 

 

When to Visit

 

Fall and Spring are the best times to visit Big Bend National Park due to the favorable weather.  Temperatures during this time are mild during the day and cool at night.  March is by far the busiest time for the park due to Spring Breaker travel.  The Winter and Summer are the off seasons for the park.  The winter can also be a good time to visit to avoid the crowds; except Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The weather is cool during the day, but can drop to near freezing during the night.  During the summer temperatures typically exceed 100 degrees by late morning and can reach as high as 130 degrees during the day.

 

 

What to Do

 

Take a Hike

 

window trail big bend national park texas
A section of the Window Trail.

Big Bend National Park has more than 150 miles of trails that weave throughout the park; from 1,800 ft along the Rio Grande to 7,832 ft on Emory Peak.  The trails showcase the extraordinary scenery of the park and there are trails rated for all ages and abilities. 

 

Some of the most popular trails in the park are the Window Trail (6 miles round trip) and the Lost Mine Trail (5 miles round trip).  Both are located in Chisos Basin and offer scenic viewpoints that are not easily rivaled. 

 

Note: Most hiking trails are primitive, with rock cairns and few signs.  Always carry a map when hiking/biking in the park.  Carry plenty of water and wear appropriate protective clothing; the desert heat can get extremely hot.    

 

Explore the Fossil Discovery Exhibit

 

tyrannosaurus rex skull fossil discovery exhibit big bend national park texas
The Tyrannosaurus Rex skull is one of the many fossils displayed at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

The Fossil Discovery Exhibit leads visitors through 130 million years of Big Bend National Park’s history and showcases many of the fossil records of the plants and animals that lived there.  Home to some of the largest animals to ever inhabit the earth, the exhibit displays replicas of dinosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus (the largest flying creature) and the skulls of a Deinosuchus and Tyrannosaurus.

 

Catch a Sunset

 

sunset fossil discovery exhibit big bend national park texas
Sunset from the Fossil Discovery Exhibit

The sunset in Big Bend National Park is like nowhere else.  The sun setting behind the mountains and casting vibrant twilight colors across the feathery clouds is a sight to see, but possibly the real beauty lies in the other direction as the dying light paints the canyons and dessert in vivid colors. 

 

There are many great places to catch the sunset in Big Bend National Park and it is hard to go wrong with your choice.  One great location,  and easily accessible, is at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

 

Drive the Scenic Roads

 

scenery big bend national park texas

 

Big Bend National Park has 100’s of miles of road to discover; both paved and dirt.  Although there are a number of scenic paved roads in the park, the most notable is the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  This 30-mile route highlights the scenery that Big Bend National Park is famous for and features historical points as well.  Starting just east of the Maverick Entrance Station, the roads heads south and leads to the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon.

 

If you wish to get off the paved roads, there are miles of both improved and primitive dirt roads as well.  Most of the improved roads, like the Old Maverick Road and Dagger Flats, are accessible for most vehicles.  The primitive roads, like the Old Ore Road, will require high-clearance vehicles and possibly 4WD. 

 

Float Down the Rio Grande

 

Tubing, rafting, kayaking, and fishing are all available activities to do in the Rio Grande.  The rapids may not be very large, but there are not many places you can go float down an international border.  There are a number of river entry points, so if you bring your own gear, you can jump right in.  If you don’t have your own gear, don’t worry, you can set reach out to one of the many companies in the area that can take you on a guided trip or rent out equipment.

 

Watch the Wildlife

 

mule deer big bend national park texas
A Mule Deer spotted off the Lost Mine Trail.

 

Big Bend National Park offers a unique landscape and climate to observe wildlife.  The national park is famous for its birding and there has been over 450 species of birds that have been spotted.  Due to the park being situated at the intersection of the western, eastern, and tropic bird species, the park has been recognized as a Globally Significant Bird Area. The park also harbors a number of other species as well; including black bears, mountain lions, and javelina, just to name a few. 

 

Soak in the Hot Springs

 

hot springs big bend national park texas
The hot springs within the ruins of the old bath house.

 

The hot springs are located in the southeast portion of Big Bend National Park, right along the Rio Grande.  The Hot Springs Historic District preserves thousands of years of human existence in the area.  Visitors can view rock art left behind on the cliffs centuries ago and bath in the ruins of a 20th century bath house.  The hot spring is located .25 miles from the trailhead. 

 

Gaze at the Stars

 

The starry sky can be mesmerizing and there are few places better for stargazing in Texas than Big Bend National Park.  The national park has the darkest night sky of any national park in the lower 48 states.  The conditions for viewing the heavens are so excellent here that the park was designated as a gold tier International Dark Sky Park in 2012.  You can find a tranquil place to view the skies yourself or join a park ranger on one of the Night Sky Programs. 

 

Horseback Riding

 

You can’t visit the wild west of Texas without hopping on a horse and riding off into the sunset.  Fortunately, Big Bend National Park has many trails that are multi-use and allow for horseback riding.  Although the park doesn’t have horses, you can set up a horseback excursion with a number of outfitters in the area.  Many of them offer a few hours to a few days’ trips.

 

Enjoy Backpacking

 

window trail big bend national park texas
Window Trail section in the desert.

There is nothing like the no-frills, nature indulging experience of primitive camping.  Add in backpacking to your destination and you have an experience to remember.  With hundreds of miles of trails in the park, there is a lot of land to be discovered in your adventures. 

 

Due to the complexity of the terrain, a topographic map and a compass/GPS are necessary for some hikes.  Before starting your trip you will need to purchase a back-country permit ($10/night) and give a park ranger a detailed itinerary of your trip. 

 

Note:  You will need to bring in all of your food and water.  Remember to practice “Leave No Trace” principles and pack out anything you bring in.    

 

Where to Eat

 

Within the Big Ben National Park, you will be able to find food if you do not bring it in yourself.  The Mountain View Restaurant, located in the Chisos Basin, provides a full-service dining experience and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  “Hikers Lunches” are also available for purchase from any of the Convenience Stores (located near the Visitor Centers).  The Convenience Stores also carry basic groceries for cooking.  Outside the park there are several restaurants and convenience stores in Terlingua and Study Butte.

 

Where to Stay

 

Inside the Park

 

camping chisos big bend national park texas
One of the camping sites within Big Bend National Park.

 

Big Bend National Park has an array of options for accommodations.  Whether you want the ease of a hotel room, bring your own RV, or backpack out to a primitive camping site, the park has you covered.

 

Tent Camping

 

There are both developed and primitive tent camping sites within the park.  There are three developed sites in the park.  These are located in the center, east, and west of the park (the final two located near the Rio Grande).  There is drinking water and bathrooms nearby all of the sites.  Reservations are required for all sites.

 

There is a number of primitive roadside campsites and back-country campsites for tent camping.  These sites have no amenities, so you will need to bring in all of your food and water. 

 

RV Camping

 

There are both developed and primitive RV sites within the park.  For the developed sites, the Rio Grande Village RV Park is the only one that has full hookups.  The other three developed sites have no hookups, but there is drinking water and bathrooms nearby.

 

There is a very limited number of primitive roadside campsites that can accommodate an RV.  These sites have no amenities, so you will need to bring in all of your food and water, and plan to take it all back out with you.  Generators are also not allowed in these sites. 

 

Lodge

 

Sheltered in the Chisos Basin, the Chisos Mountains Lodge offers a number of rooms and cottages for its guests.  There is also a restaurant and a convenience store nearby. 

 

Outside the Park

 

If camping isn’t your thing, or all of the sites are full, there are still many options for accommodations nearby.  Both Lajitas and Terlingua (to the west) have hotels and RV parks for you to stay.  These towns are just a short drive into the park.  Big Bend Ranch State Park is also a great option if you’re willing to primitive camp.  It is only about an hour drive west of Big Bend National Park.

 

 

How to Get There

 

Driving

 

big bend national park sign texas

 

Depending on where you are driving from and what entrance you are wanting to enter will determine your driving directions.  For the Maverick Entrance Station (west entrance) you will want to travel south on TX 118 from Alpine to Study Butte and then east into the park.  For the north entrance (to Panther Junction) you will want to travel south on US 385 from Marathon.  There is gas in Study Butte, Marathon, and at Panther Junction (in the park).

 

Airplane

 

The closest airports, with rental cars, are located in El Paso and Midland, Texas.  The El Paso International Airport (ELP), northwest of the park, is about 330 miles to the park headquarters.  The Midland International Air & Space Port (MAF), northeast of the park, is about 235 miles to the park headquarters.

 

What was your favorite thing about Big Bend National Park?

 

big bend national park texas everything you need know


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2 comments:

  1. Saving this post for future reference. I've lived in Texas all my life and still have not made it to Big Bend! It's on my bucket list though and has been since I was a kid.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.

      It took me leaving Texas and going back before I visited Big Bend National Park. It is so far out there, but it is such a great park. Hope you make it there at some point.

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