3 days in Big Bend National Park
There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone.
Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend.
Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited national parks but most diverse in its offering. It is far from the civilization that makes it hard to reach but extremely beautiful sunsets with Sierra del Carmens on one side of the park to Santa Elena Canyons forming a huge natural wall dividing Mexico and the U.S. It is a true solitude to be here, camping and hiking.
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Lodging: Inside the Park: Chisos Mountains Lodge; Outside the Park: Lajitas Resort, Gage Hotel, Marathon Hotel, Eve’s Garden, Big Bend Casitas, Big Bend Resorts, Easter Egg Valley Motel, El Dorado Model, Longhorn Ranch Hotel, Ten Bits Ranch, Terlingua House
Camping: Inside the Park: Chisos Basin (60 campsites; $14 per night), Cottonwood (24 campsites; $14 per night), Rio Grande Village (100 campsites; $14 per night), Rio Grande Village RV (25 campsites; $36 per night)
Wildlife: Black bears, mountain lions, javelinas, coyotes, rattlesnakes
Getting Around: There is no easy way to get here. If you are on a budget then best would be to reach San Antonio and then rent 4WD (4 wheel drive) car and head to your long journey to Big Bend. 4WD will let you access various parts of the park including primitive campsites.
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- Day 1: Stop by at the Panther Junction (Visitor Center) to talk to the rangers, get permits for primitive campsights or book regular campsights
- Drive to Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive as it highlights the geologic splendor Big Bend is famous for and offers many scenic overlooks and exhibits along the way. Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, and Tuff Canyon are all worthwhile stops.
- Continue the drive to the magnificent Santa Elena Canyon, where limestone cliffs rise 1,500′ above the Rio Grande.
- [2 hours] Santa Elena Hike (1.6 miles round-trip): This trail crosses Terlingua Creek (usually dry) and gradually climbs up to an overloop before dropping to the river bank. Trail has some steep steps and can be very hot midday.
- Return by the same route, if your camping ground is in the park but if you got in late, then you can take the gravel Old Maverick Road to the western entrance of the park. This road is usually passable for most vehicles, but may be impassable after heavy rains. Check at a visitor center for current conditions
- Day 2: Chisos Basin
- Drive to the Chisos Basin is an excellent way to experience the transition between arid desert and cooler mountain habitats. As this scenic, winding road rises over 2000 ft above the desert floor, it offers vistas of the mountain peaks and the erosion formed basin area. Within the Chisos Basin area is a visitor center, campground, lodge, restaurant, gift shop, camp store, miles of hiking trails.
- Our recommendation is to do one or two of the hikes below, if not all three of them
- [4-5 hours] Lost Mine Hike (4.8 miles round-trip): Excellent mountain and desert views. For a shorter hike, 1 mile up is a great view to the south east
- [4-5 hours] Window Hike (5.6 miles round-trip): Descends to the top of the Window pour-off. Great scenery and wildlife viewing. For a shorter hike, start from the Basin campground.
- Plan to stay at Chisos or Cottonwood campground or a primitive campsite around the area
- Day 3: Rio Grande Village
- Drive to Rio Grande Village traverses ancient limestone and has marvelous vistas of the magnificent Sierra del Carmens. Along the way is the oasis at Dugout Wells, and a spur road leads to the popular Hot Springs
- Easy hikes on this side of recommendation)
- [1-2 hours] Hot Springs (0.75 mile round-trip): Easy walk past post office to the riverside hot spring. Enjoy a soak in 105
- [1- 2 hours] Boquillas Canyons (1.4 miles round-trip): Easy begins with a short climb, then descends via a sandy path to the river. Ends near a huge sand dune “slide”. Do not miss sunset on your way to Boquillas Canyons as you see the shiny Sierra del Carmens.
- If you have a couple of hours to kill before you head to the campsite or home, you may want to go to Mexico by taking a ferry across Rio Grande river for $5 and eat spicy food and get a flavor of a third world country
- Ferry runs from 9 am to 5 pm
- If you are staying for the night, plan your stay at Rio Grande Village campground or a primitive campsite around the area
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- Chisos Mountains Lodge at Chisos Basin is the only restaurant inside the park
- Convenient stores in Castolon, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grande Village
- Boquillas, Mexico has two Mexican food restaurants
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- Big Bend National Park Posters