There are countless beautiful and exciting places to visit in the US, but few are as unique and diverse as Big Bend National Park. If you’re planning a road trip through Texas, you should definitely consider making Big Bend one of your stops. From traversing the Rio Grande at Boquillos Crossing to marveling at the natural beauty of the Chisos Basin Mountains, this national park is a must-visit for any nature lover. In this article, we will explore the top reasons why you should visit Big Bend National Park and highlight the best activities to make your trip unforgettable.
Explore the Park’s Biodiversity
Big Bend National Park is often referred to as “three parks in one,” due to the multiple ecosystems found within its boundaries. There are trails for all skill levels and interests, from short nature walks to multiday backpacking trips. The scenery is truly stunning, with sweeping views of the surrounding desert and mountains.
- Chihuahuan Desert – About 80% of the park consists of one of the largest, driest, and most diverse deserts in the world, the Chihuahuan Desert. Home to some extraordinary flora and fauna, including cacti, lizards, and roadrunners you can get a quick introduction to it at the wheelchair-accessible Panther Path. Located at the Panther Junction Visitor Center, this short loop winds through a desert garden. There are several trails off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive including the one-mile Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off trail that ends in a narrow box canyon.
- Rio Grande River – The Rio Grande River flows through the park and marks the boundary between the United States and Mexico. There are several points to access the river, but one of the most serene is Santa Elena Canyon. This majestic canyon offers dramatic cliffs that soar over 1,500′ high and lush greenery along the 1.6-mile easy nature trail. Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (see more below) to the parking area, then enjoy a stroll along the banks of the river, where you can enjoy a picnic and soak up the natural beauty of the area.
- Chisos Mountains – The rugged peaks of the Chisos Mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this national park. They are home to some of the park’s most stunning natural features, including the Window, a natural arch that frames the southwest horizon. The Window View Trail offers an easy, paved .3-mile roundtrip route to a view of this beautiful feature. If you’d like to hike to the Window arch, the trail is 5.6 miles roundtrip. Our favorite hike in the mountains was the 4.8-mile roundtrip Lost Mine Trail. It ascends just over 1100′ through juniper, oak, and pine forests to a mountain peak with sweeping views of the park.
Start with a Visit to the Panther Junction Visitor Center
Whenever we travel, we always start at the Visitor Center and this one did not disappoint. Big Bend National Park has five, with the main one being the Panther Junction Visitor Center. It has a great movie about the history, flora, and fauna of the park, as well as interpretive exhibits to give you an idea of what to expect in the park. If you’re traveling with children, you can also get their Junior Ranger booklets here.
Traverse the Rio Grande at Boquillas Crossing
One of the most unique experiences you can have at Big Bend is crossing the Rio Grande at Boquillas Crossing. Bring your passport, and you can take a small boat across the river or wade across if the water levels are low. Once you’ve arrived on the Mexican side of the border, you can hire a guide and ride a donkey (or ride in a truck) to the charming village of Boquillos. In town, you can indulge in some delicious Mexican food, enjoy a cerveza, and purchase souvenirs and handmade crafts. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and see a different side of the Rio Grande.
Soak in Natural Hot Springs
After your journey to Boquillas, travel about five miles to the Hot Springs trailhead. These springs are all-natural and provide a peaceful and picturesque environment to soak in after a day of hiking or exploring. Located at the site of a former homestead, the hot springs are accessible via a short hike, and the temperature is usually around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It is a wonderful way to take in the beauty of the park in a more serene manner.
Paddle Through the Limestone Canyons
For a unique perspective of the park, taking a guided paddling trip through one of the many canyons is a must-do activity at Big Bend. From half-day floats to three-day river adventures, park concessionaires offer numerous options based on your preferences and water levels. These guided trips allow you to paddle through stunning canyons while your guide points out the local flora and fauna and shares the rich history of the area. If you have your own equipment, local outfitters also provide shuttle services.
Enjoy the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive takes you through some of the most breathtaking vistas in the park and offers panoramic views of the surrounding desert landscape. Along the way, you’ll pass scenic overlooks, historic sites, and geological formations. The drive is 30 miles long and takes a few hours, making it a perfect activity for a lazy afternoon. Many of the trails previously mentioned are found just off the scenic drive.
Spend a Night Camping under the Dark Skies
What better way to experience the beauty of the park than by spending a night camping under the dark skies? And when we say dark skies, we really mean it. Certified by the International Dark Sky Association, the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve is the largest in the world. It provides unparalleled access to star gazing, either on your own or through a regularly scheduled ranger-led program.
With a lodge, four campgrounds, and 64 primitive campsites located along back-country roadways, there is something for everyone.
- Chisos Mountain Lodge – With 66 motel-style rooms, six cottages, and a restaurant, the lodge is a great base for your Big Bend trip.
- Chisos Basin Campground – 56 sites, no water, power, or sewer hookups. There are coin-operated showers, flush toilets, a dump station, potable water, and a camp store. Located in the center of the park, but trailers over 20 feet and RV’s over 24 feet are not recommended due to the narrow, winding road.
- Rio Grande Village Campground – 24 sites, no water, power, or sewer hookups. There are flush toilets, a dump station, laundry, potable water, and a camp store. Located near the Rio Grande on the east side of the park.
- Rio Grande Village RV Park – 25 sites with full hookups (water, power, and sewer connection), laundry, and a camp store. Located near the DRY CAMPING Rio Grande Village Campground on the east side of the park.
- Cottonwood Campground – 22 sites, no water, power, or sewer hookups. There are vault toilets, potable water, and a camp store. Located near the Rio Grande on the west side of the park.
- Primitive Campsites – 23 of the most popular campsites can be reserved in advance. The remaining 41 can be reserved at the Panther Junction or Chisos Basin Visitors Centers up to 24 hours in advance.
Don’t Miss Nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park
Located on Highway 170 north of Terlingua is the 311,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park. The highway also known as El Camino del Rio (the river road) runs right through the park for 40 miles, providing a wonderful scenic drive with many pull-outs and trailheads along the way. Our favorites included:
- Closed Canyon trail – 1.4-mile out & back trail through a slot canyon.
- Hoodoos trail – 1.2-mile out & back trail to the Rio Grande River through a landscape of unique rock formations.
The Lajitas Golf Resort and the 100, full hookup site Maverick Ranch RV Park are conveniently located just outside the borders of the State Park. In fact, you can hike from either location directly into Big Bend Ranch State Park.
When to Visit Big Bend National Park
The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is from November through April. At this time, you’ll enjoy sunny days and cool nights. The spring is especially beautiful with the desert in bloom.
May through September is considered the rainy season. Summer brings extreme heat with temperatures soaring over 110 degrees Fahrenheit every day.
Sharing is caring! Feel free to share this article on social media or save the image below on Pinterest.