Big Bend National Park was basically established in the year 1935, and it covers the overall area of 324,153 hectares near the international border between the United States and Mexico. It is famous as the largest protected portion of Chihuahuan Desert that preserves numbers of desert springs, mountain ranges, desert landscapes, and riparian ecosystems. Note that, Rio Grande River runs via Big Bend National Park and it is actually named behind the big bend of the river in west Texas.
The overall elevation of the park varies from 2380 meters on the Chisos Mountains and 550 meters across river. Visitors are attracted towards the impressive geological structures preserved at this park including 450 different species of birds and 1200 unique species of plants such as rock nettle, lechuguilla, ocotillo, pink bluebonnets, and desert marigold. Tourists can also enjoy some adventure rich activities at this park including stargazing, scenic drives, and many other programs organized by the park rangers time to time.
The National Park covers almost 1252 square miles land that is why it is rated as the largest park in the area. It covers many eye-catching geographical contrasts such as Boquillas Canyon, limestone outcrops of Persimmon Gap, Chisos Mountains Peaks, Chihuahuan Desert and vegetation belts of the Rio Grande.
As there are numbers of geographical regions, you may find great variations in the weather of Big Bend National Park. It stays mild at most of the locations in the winter season; however, you can observe sub-freezing temperatures or even snow at some higher elevations. In the summer season, it stays hot and dry with low humidity. People find fall and spring season as the best time to explore this park. The estimated temperature in the Spring season is observed to be somewhere around 105-degree F.
You will be happy to hear that this park is the home to a variety of wildlife creatures. Here you may find 600 different species of birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians. Visitors can often spot rabbits, coyotes, mule deer and even rattlesnakes in this area. Other than this, there are 60 different species of cactus including claret cups, pitayas, and pears.
The Big Bend National Park stays open throughout the year for 24 hours a day. The admission charges are $10 for the individual on bike or motorcycle and $20 per vehicle; it stays valid for 7 days. One can also obtain annual passes to this park. The great news is that being a great source of information; this park waives off the entrance fee for educational groups.
There are numbers of hikes, waterfalls, deserts, mountains, water pools and forests within Big Bend National Park. This park caters more than 350000 visitors per year due to its remote location. But if you are truly in love with nature and want to explore the real beauty of wildlife, we advise you to book your tickets to this mesmerizing park. It is the best place to visit in Texas with family and friends.
One of the main attractions here are the geological structures that date back millions of years. You also get to check out over, 200 species of plants and 450 species of birds. Additional park activities include scenic drives, programs led by Big Bend park rangers, and stargazing. Even if you just wish to take a drive through the park, there are numerous interesting sites and scenery along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, hot springs to take a soak and relax, boat rides to Mexico for a sumptuous lunch, places to enjoy a beautiful sunset, and much more. Be sure to stop at one of the visitor centers for a map of the park and information on conditions, and then head out to explore.
Big Bend was established as a national park in the year 1935, preserving the largest tracts of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. It sprawls over a whopping 1252 square miles of land, which makes it bigger than the state of Rhode Island! Within Big Bend National Park are numerous geographical contrasts. These include the vegetation belts along the Rio Grande, the sparseness of the Chihuahuan Desert, the peaks of the Chisos Mountains, and the limestone outcrops of Persimmon Gap and Boquillas Canyon.
How can you get there?
Big Bend National Park is extremely isolated – it is the very definition of remote. Located in the southwestern corner of Texas, this sparsely-populated, wild patch of land on the U.S.-Mexico border is a considerable distance from cities and transportation hubs. It takes around 4 hours by car, from each of the nearest airports, in Midland and El Paso. However, you have lots of rental car options available. Several highways lead to the park: FM 170 from Presidio to Study Butte, TX 118 from Alpine to Study Butte, or US 90 or US 385 to Marathon. Greyhound provides daily service to Alpine, which is around 100 miles from park headquarters; this is the site of the nearest Amtrak station, as well. There are five visitor centers scattered around the park, although the Panther Junction and Chisos Basin centers are the only ones open year-round. If you need to secure river-use or backcountry permits, fill up with water, or simply get the lay of the land when you first arrive, Panther Junction is the place to do it.
Remember that gas stations are few and far between in this part of the world, as the area is so remote, so it is necessary to know where you can fill up well in advance, or you might get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village both have service stations with gas and diesel. Outside the park, the closest stations are located in Study Butte (Big Bend Resorts and Adventures), Lajitas (the Lajitas General Store), Terlingua (Terlingua Auto Service), and FM 2627 (Stillwell Store, just north of the park).
How is the weather here?
Big Bend National Park covers a wide geographical area with a lot of variety, so the weather varies accordingly. For instance, winters are generally mild throughout the area, but if you consider Emory Peak, there will be snow and sub-freezing temperatures because it is at a higher elevation. Summers feature hot and dry weather with low humidity. However, occasional afternoon thunderstorms are not out of the question during this time. Spring and fall are the best times to visit Big Bend, with mild days and cool nights.
What can you do at Big Bend National Park?
Take a hike at Santa Elena Canyon
If you consider the best reward-to-effort ratio of any hike in the park, the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, will be the clear winner. It is one of the most breathtaking hikes here – it is a 1.7 mile round-trip walk that follows the edge of the Rio Grande River into the Santa Elena Canyon, where sheer, 1,500-feet-high walls rise up on each side of the river above you. You can wade out into the canyon from the far end of the trail when the water level is low. The hike goes up to a total of about 80 feet and offers stunning views above the river near the start.
Ride on a canoe down the Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River winds its way along the border with Mexico, and at Santa Elena Canyon, it has cut through the earth to create 1,500-foot-high walls. If you wish to truly witness the geology of the area in its glory, then paddling through the canyon is one of the best ways to do so – it is an experience to cherish for a lifetime. Trips start from the town of Lajitas and end at the mouth of the canyon. These tours typically last all day and include lunch. You can arrange these trips either in Lajitas or Terlingua on the west side of the park. If you have your own equipment a “boomerang” trip might be on the cards! This involves paddling up through the canyon and drifting back down, but make sure you secure a proper permit.
Relax at the Hot Springs
One of the best ways to relax and unwind is at the Rio Grande Village – taking a dip in the 105-degree-Fahrenheit waters of the natural hot springs on the edge of the Rio Grande River. If hot springs aren’t your cup of tea, you can cool off with a dip in the river as well. The primitive pool is located just 0.25 miles from the parking area, along a trail running past pictographs and the remains of an old resort from the early 1900s. If you are a nature lover and don’t wish to miss out on spectacular views out over the Rio Grande River and mountains, you must walk the 0.75 mile hot springs loop. It is a picturesque trail that runs up along a ridge above the hot springs and offers views up and down the river. Taking pictures here is a must!
Drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
If you wish to just drive through the park and enjoy its scenic beauty, head out on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. You can see some outstanding desert scenery on the way to Castalon and the Santa Elena Canyon area. The mountain views that stretch out into the distance across the Chihuahuan Desert are simply fabulous. Stop off at the Homer Wilson Ranch Overlook to see the old homestead, but also to appreciate the view. The Mule Ear Springs Trail is accessed from this highway, but even if you are not up for the hike, you can stop at the overlook to see these twin peaks, the cores of ancient volcanoes.
Stop at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit
The area has loads of remarkable natural history that you must learn about. On the drive down from Marathon, north of Panther Junction, stop at Fossil Discovery Exhibit to know more about the geology of the park. This display opened its doors in 2017, and features outdoor rooms with informative plaques and displays. Pieces worth mentioning are the bronze skulls of a giant alligator and a Bravoceratops dinosaur, and on the ceiling in one of the rooms, a giant pterosaur, which is the largest flying creature ever known. It is quite exciting to learn about these prehistoric creatures that roamed through the Big Bend region.
Spend wonderful time at a nearby resort
Exploring the Big Bend National Park is the experience of a lifetime, but you deserve to rest and relax as well. Heading back to a luxury resort or a charming historic lodge can be a welcome treat at the end of the day. Check out the quaint little town of Marathon, situated north of the park – it offers an amazing experience with a few art galleries and the famous Gage Hotel. This historic property is an oasis and a reason in and of itself to visit this area of Texas. Built in 1927, the Gage Hotel is a wonderful place to gather around a fire pit at night with other guests, relax in front of a fireplace in one of the cozy common rooms, cool off in the pool, or enjoy some of the finest dining in the region at the hotel’s 12 Gage Restaurant. You can spend the entire trip here, or even just one night after a multi-day hike. Alternatively, on the west side of the park is the western-style Lajitas Golf Resort, with an 18-hole golf course designed by golfing legend, Lanny Wadkins. This large resort offers all kinds of activities, from horseback riding to canoe trips. It is also just a relaxing place to hang out around the pool or enjoy a tasty meal.
Take a walk along the Nature Trail at Rio Grande Village
The Nature Trail near the Rio Grande Village is apt for those who are looking to explore a short and easy trail that abounds in scenic beauty. This trail takes you out over a pond, where the sight of turtles basking in the sun or fish swimming below the low bridge that spans the water, is a common sight. This area is lush with greenery and a sharp contrast to the surrounding desert. If you are a bird watcher, this area is great for that purpose. On the opposite shore, the trail runs through desert scenery and provides views back over the pond and beyond to the Rio Grande River and distant mountains. The trail loops up to a lookout point. You can make this a short walk out to the bridge or do the entire walk, which is 0.75 miles.
Take a peek at the Ghost Town of Terlingua
Study Butte and Terlingua are just three to four miles from the west entrance to the park, and the Terlingua Ghost Town is six to seven miles down the road from here. Want to experience what life is like in a very small town in this area of West Texas? Then a quick stop for lunch in the Terlingua Ghost Town should definitely be on your to-do list. The Terlingua Trading Company is one of the biggest establishments in town, with a good selection of souvenirs, crafts, jewelry, and other random items. The Starlight Theatre Restaurant is right next door, with indoor dining and live music – you can spend an enjoyable hour here. Nearby is the Posada Milagro, a very good breakfast and early lunch stop with a lovely outdoor patio.
Go to the Mexican Village of Boquillas
If you wish to make a pit stop at a Mexican Village, you must remember to carry your passport, or else you won’t be allowed to make that trip. At Boquillas Crossing, a border guard will scan your passport before you walk down to the river and hail a rowboat from the far shore. The boat picks you up and drops you at the Mexican shore of the Rio Grande River, from where you can get a ride on a horse or donkey, or in a vehicle, depending upon how adventurous you feel! It is about a mile up to the village from the river. Walking is fine, but the trip is all uphill so scout your options beforehand. You might want to pay for the ride into the village and then walk back down. A few restaurants offer beverages and food. This makes a nice little afternoon outing for lunch.
Check out the sunset over the Window
The Window, which is a massive V-shaped notch in the mountainside, offers a brilliant glimpse of the sky and desert off in the distance. From the Chisos Basin Visitors Center, you have to head out to a 0.3 mile trail that leads out to the Window View, which is a great spot to watch the sunset. You can actually do this short, wheelchair-accessible trail at any time of day for a look out over the Chisos Basin to the Window, but at night, the rocks form a silhouette, with the colorful sky in the background.
Explore more hiking trails
For those who get immense adrenaline rush while hiking or trekking, you can plan some big adventures here with multi-day hikes or embark on some of the epic day hikes, like Emory Peak or the South Rim. On the other hand, if you are in the mood for modest hikes, you can check out the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Lost Mine Trail, or the Windows Trails that have fantastic scenery as well. For the serious hiker who wants to backpack through the park, the 30-mile Outer Mountain Loop is an outstanding way to experience Big Bend. There are other hiking options available too – you can get a detailed information guide before coming to the park.
Spend a night camping under the dark skies
Did you know that Big Bend National Park is a designated National Dark Sky Park? Since this area is pretty isolated, the is almost free from all light pollution, which is why the night sky is so clear and beautiful – it looks like a sea of diamonds with constellations visible in exceptional clarity. Camping at any of the Big Bend campgrounds will give you a front row seat to this nighttime spectacle, particularly on a moonless night. This is also an excellent opportunity to see the park’s wildlife. If you camp in the Cottonwood Campground, you have a good chance of seeing some interesting birds like javelinas, roadrunners, vermilion flycatchers, and great horned owls.
Spend time at the Chisos Basin Area
Situated in the mountains not far from Panther Junction, the Chisos Basin Area offers a full range of facilities. You can dine with a view out to the Window from the Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant and Patio, pick up stuff like supplies, souvenir jewelry, and clothing at the Basin Convenience store, or start with one of the many hikes at the Chisos Basin Trailheads. You can check out the Emory Peak, South Rim, Chisos Basin Loop, Window View, and Window Trail hikes. This area is also home to the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and just below is the Chisos Basin Campground.
What is the entrance fee to park?
As of now the park entrance fees are $30 per vehicle and $15 per individual. Fees and passes are available at visitor centers or entrance stations. You can purchase a Big Bend Annual Pass at $55 – it includes entrance fees to the park for one year. Fees are subject to change, so it is best to verify before you visit.
So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to Big Bend National Park right away!