If you’re an outdoors enthusiast like me, you NEED to add Big Bend National Park to your to go list.
Located in southwest Texas, this magical place reminiscent of the Wild West is the fifteenth largest national park in the United States, contains over 800,000 acres of protected land, and extends along the Mexican border for over 100 miles.
With over 33 trails of various terrain including the Chihuahuan Desert, Chisos Mountains, and the Rio Grande, the park is a hiker’s paradise.
Although you could spend a week in Big Bend and still not see everything, four days will give you enough time to get a taste, and a reason to come back.
Here’s how to spend 4 days in Big Bend National Park, and Terlingua, TX.
-Settle into your accommodations.
-Hike: Window Trail. 5.2 miles RT/~3 hours/moderate. Downhill on the way in, uphill coming back. Beautiful trail with an amazing payoff.
-Dinner at Long Draw Pizza in Terlingua. This is another gem in the desert with fresh, unique pies and cold beer. What more could you ask for after a long day in the sun?
-Grab a drink at an underground bar called La Kiva (currently closed due to Covid), OR stargaze! Big Bend has the least light pollution of any other national park. Pack your binoculars for the best view of the Milky Way!
-Grab your gear, including a lunch, snacks, and water, and head to La Posada Milagro for a breakfast burrito and coffee. The food is incredible and will keep you full throughout your morning adventures!
-Hike: Lost Mine Trail. 4.8 miles RT/~3 hours/moderate. Gorgeous scenery along the entire hike and incredible 360 views at the top.
-Take a lunch break and refill your hydration pack.
-Hike: Balanced Rock: 2 miles RT.
-Dinner and live music at the famous Starlight Theater in Terlingua *Opens at 5pm, get there EARLY to avoid a long wait.
TIP: If you aren’t able to get in right away, explore the shop next door, or walk to the cemetery down the road. It might sound odd, but this is a top tourist attraction in Terlingua, due to the incredible history and stunning 100-mile views of the Chisos Mountains. Additionally, every year, locals celebrate Day of the Dead and decorate the cemetery with floral, candles, and paper streamers.
-Breakfast (We ate at La Posada Milagro again!)
-Hike: Emory Peak (10 miles RT/~5 hours/hard or the South Rim (12.6 miles RT/~7 hours/hard) *Unfortunately we did not get to do either of these since they were closed during our trip due to wildfires, but they came highly recommended!
-Relax in the car on the Roswell Max Scenic Drive. This is a 40-mile stretch which leads you through incredible scenic landscapes to Santa Elena Canyon.
-Hike: Santa Elena Canyon. Don’t worry, it’s a quick 1.5 miles RT with little elevation. Cool off in the Rio Grande and wave hello to Mexico! *If the river is high enough, opt to kayak the river instead with Far Flung Outdoor Center!
-Dinner at Lajitas Golf Resort. Be sure to stop by the mayor’s “office” on your way into town and give him a pat on the head!
–Breakfast at Chili Pepper Cafe *We did not eat here but heard great things!
-Hike: Hot Springs Historic Trail. The walk only takes 10-15 minutes to get to the springs. Take it slow and learn about the unique rock formations and historic buildings along the trail. The springs are 105 degrees, so go early in the morning!
–Hike: Rio Grande Village Nature Trail: This easy 1-mile RT trail looks nothing like the rest of the park, with a swampy river and gorgeous views across the Rio Grande into Mexico. You might even run into some donkeys here! Fun fact: These donkeys are not wild to BBNP; they actually regularly cross the Rio Grande from Mexico in search of food!
-Lunch at DBs Rustic Iron BBQ
WHERE TO STAY:
-Terlingua Ghostown. Home of the annual chili cookoff, and only ~110 residents. Here you’ll find a variety of accommodations from AirBnBs to yurts to hotels. Camping is also a great option!
–Badlands Hotel at Lajitas Golf Resort: Although staying here will put you about 20 miles from the park entrance, the beautiful views and onsite restaurants will provide a more luxurious ending to your day!
BEST TIME TO VISIT:
-November-May for more moderate weather
-Summers see temps over 100 degrees which can be dangerous for hiking.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST:
-Big Bend National Park only: $30, good for 7 days
-Big Bend National Park annual pass: $55/year
-America the Beautiful Pass – $80/year *FREE for military
-Camping: Additional fees vary
HOW TO GET THERE:
-The closest airport is Midland, TX.
-Rent a car from Midland, and drive ~235 miles to the park.
-The park is very spread out. Most trailheads are 45-90 minutes from the park entrance. Keep this in mind when planning your days!
-Keep jugs of water in a cooler in the car to refill your hydration packs and water bottles.
-Get gas often! Gas stations are slim, and are occasionally out of service. In case you run into road closures at certain areas of the park for maintenance, it’s best to stay filled up.
-Be cautious of wildlife. Bears, javelinas, mountain lions and more are native to BBNP. Bring bear spray, and be respectful. You’re in THEIR home.
-Dogs/pets are not allowed on trails.
-Bring snacks for the trip and the trails.
-Download the Visit Big Bend + All Trails apps for current weather and trail conditions, updates, and to navigate!
So, is Big Bend officially on your To Go List?
PS: Stay tuned for my next post: a detailed packing list for BBNP or most other hiking destinations!