Expect to see wide swaths of desert, granite mountain peaks framed against a pitch-black night sky, and towering canyon walls right out of the Lord of the Rings when you visit Big Bend National Park. The solitude of Big Bend adds to its allure. This part of Texas feels utterly sealed off from the rest of the world, with the nearest big city about 5 hours away. While it is becoming more popular—and crowded—as time passes, it is still large enough that you can easily find a spot to yourself where you can properly appreciate the barren landscape’s great beauty.
Where is Big Bend National Park?
Big Bend National Park, in West Texas, near the US-Mexico border, where the Rio Grande River makes a spectacular south-to-north bend (thus the park’s name). Between El Paso to San Antonio, it’s roughly midway. Big Bend National Park, on the other hand, is almost in the middle of nowhere, which is precisely what makes it so intriguing.
How to get there?
The closest city to Big Bend National Park is El Paso, but the drive will take you about five hours. Because service stations are few and far between, make sure you fill up whenever you can. Take I-10 East out of El Paso until you reach Van Horn, then U.S. Route 90 East. Turn right onto US Route 385 South in Marathon, which will take you to the park gate.
It takes roughly six hours to drive from San Antonio to the park. Fill up on petrol anytime you have the opportunity. The quickest option is to take US Route 90 West, which will take you all the way to Marathon. Then proceed straight to the park on US Route 385 South.
If you’re planning a road trip through Texas National Parks, make sure to stop by Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is about four hours northwest of El Paso.
Despite its remote location, Big Bend National Park can get congested during certain seasons of the year. The best time to visit is from mid-January to mid-April, when the weather is pleasant. March is normally the busiest month of the year due to Spring Break. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve are other prominent holiday celebrations. If you plan on going during one of these dates, make sure you have a camping area or a hotel room reserved ahead of time.
It is highly recommended that you visit Big Bend National Park outside of these peak hours if you can endure the heat. The throng will have thinned away, allowing you to experience the Chihuahuan landscape’s majesty and tranquilly. Plus, with less people around, you’re much more likely to see wildlife at these hours.
Big Bend National Park is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day. Although the park has five visitor centres, only two of them—Panther Junction and Chisos Basin—are open all year. The other three are open from November 1 to April 30: Persimmon Gap, Castolon, and Rio Grande Village. The Panther Junction Gas Station (the park’s only gas station) is open 24 hours a day, although the store is only open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Due to COVID-19, the park’s operations are now restricted. Check out Big Bend’s status and updates for the most up-to-date COVID information.
Park Entrance Fee
A private, non-commercial car must pay a $30 admission fee that is valid for seven days. The charge covers everyone in the vehicle, up to a maximum of 15 people. Individuals (such as bicycles and pedestrians) must pay $15, while motorcyclists must pay $25. A $55 yearly pass is also available, which is valid for one year from the date of purchase.
Big Bend National Park Hiking Trails
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail
Grapevine Hills Trail
Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail
Mule Ears Spring Trail
Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail
Boot Canyon Trail
Where to stay?
The greatest place to stay in Big Bend is in the backcountry, and you may book 20 of the park’s rustic roadside campsites and 34 backpacking sites starting this month. Most backpackers adhere to the mountains’ higher elevations; the desert, with its abundance of unimproved roads and roadside campsites, is better suited to overlanding. In the Chisos Mountains, there are 42 backpacker sites, many of which feature food storage lockers where you may store water and food for a multi-day hike. The park’s east rim, where sites are tucked into the trees near a tall cliff on the southern edge of the Chisos Mountains, has views of the Sierra Quemada in Mexico, while the park’s southwest rim, where sites are tucked into the trees near a tall cliff on the southern edge of the Chisos Mountains, has views of the Sierra Quemada in Mexico.
With three front-country campsites and hundreds of backpacking and rudimentary roadside choices in the backcountry, camping is your best bet within the park. Big Bend recently set aside nearly half of its front-country sites for bookings (up to a year in advance; from $16), while still leaving plenty of first-come, first-served sites accessible. Each one provides drinking water as well as restrooms. There are 60 campsites in the Chisos Basin, 40 of which can be reserved. It’s at a height of 5,400 feet, surrounded by cliffs, with campsites hidden among groves of Arizona cypress and mesquite trees. Popular paths such as the Lost Mine, Window, and Pinnacles are all within walking distance. Cottonwood Campground is the park’s least-visited campground and your best chance if you arrive late and don’t have a reservation. Despite being a little out of the way at the Castolon Visitor Center in the southwest section of the park, it’s still easy to travel to the main sites. It’s located at the end of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, about eight miles from the popular Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead, and it has 24 big campsites. If you have an RV, the Rio Grande Village campsite near the river includes 25 full hookup sites.