Your Ultimate Guide to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park - West Texas

Big Bend National Park is a beautiful area located in far west Texas on the US-Mexico border. It's massive and contains plenty of deserts, canyons, mountains, and stunning vistas. Also to our surprise, Big Bend is home to the last remaining black bear and mountain lion populations in Texas. After a roughly a 7-8 hour (very boring) drive from Dallas, we were eager to enter the park. We opted to take advantage of their camping facilities to immerse ourselves in nature and beautiful scenery.

When to Go

Spring is one of the most beautiful times to visit Big Bend because all the cacti and succulents are blooming. DO NOT go during the summer unless you're fully prepared for immense heat. We went in March, and it was still in the mid 90s (F) during the afternoon. 

Where To Stay

There are several options if you would like to stay within Big Bend National Park. We recommend camping at one of the three separate camping areas: the Chisos Basin campground, the Rio Grande Village, and Cottonwood campground. After investigating all 3 sites we ended up camping at the Chisos Basin. We liked it better because it was located within the mountains, it's slightly cooler, more wildlife, and incredible views. Chisos Basin contains a significant amount of trees and greenery which is a nice change of pace from the surrounding desert environment. Here is a couple pictures driving up and our campground.

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park

One of the best aspects about this campsite is that it's located less than 1 mile from a park convenience store that has some basic food and essentials. There's also a restaurant nearby on the campgrounds that has some incredible views, decent food, and alcohol! If you are wanting to experience Big Bend without camping, you can book lodging at the Chisos Basin as well.

Keep in mind when planning to stay inside the park that it fills up very fast- especially on weekends. The campground was completely full by our 2nd night. If you would like more information on the other campsites as well as information about lodging at Big Bend check out their website! If you are not able to camp at the park or are needing some amenities, we highly recommend staying at Big Bend Far Flung.

Things To Do

You could easily spend a couple weeks exploring every nook and cranny of the park, here are the activities you don't want to miss. 

  • Santa Elena Canyon - This place is absolutely breathtaking. It's a must-see landmark in Big Bend. There is a relatively short hiking trail that goes into the canyon along the Rio Grande River. Trail difficulty is easy to moderate. Definitely check it out. Pic below!
  • Lost Mine Trail - Located in the Chisos Mountains near the Chisos Basin campground, this is a 4 mile hiking trail with stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding vistas. It wasn't the easiest trail we've ever been on and you definitely want to bring lots of water, but the views are jaw-dropping. 
  • Rio Grande Hot Spring - This hot spring is located directly on the Rio Grande River. You can actually put one foot in the river and the other in the hot spring. The water temperature is 104 degrees F all year long. It's a small hot spring and can get crowded quickly. Go in the morning for best enjoyment. There is also some fun historical sites in the area and Native American artifacts. Occasionally visitors from across the border will set up unmanned shops for you to purchase Mexican goods via the honor system.
  • Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive - Just wow. The drive is about 40 miles and has multiple pull outs for photo opportunities. Take a half day to complete this drive and be sure to stop at every pull out. You can get more info on this drive at the park info center. 
  • Star Gaze - Whatever you do, don't forget to look up at the sky late at night. Big Bend has the darkest skies in the USA. There is no light pollution for hundreds of miles. You will see the Milky Way in all its glory. Take a DSLR camera and a tripod and get the best pictures of the night sky you'll ever see. 

There are many other things to do within Big Bend National Park. If you want to know more check out TripAdvisor!

Santa Elena Canyon
Santa Elena Canyon
Big Bend Hot Spring
Big Bend Hot Spring

Other things to do in the Big Bend Area - there are several worthy attractions less than an hour or two from Big Bend. Here are some useful links and info to help you get there.

  • McDonald Observatory - Located in Ft. Davis you can tour the observatory during the day, but I would highly recommend going to a "star party" or schedule a special viewing of the massive research telescopes. Please note the special viewing nights at the observatory sell out very fast as they only happen once or twice a month. Schedule far in advance it is absolutely worth it!!  We were able to view distant nebulae, dead stars, and check out Uranus in our solar system. Its an unforgettable experience and is very affordable too! 
  • Fort Davis Mountains State Park - Check this place out for some great hiking and great views of the Davis Mountains.
  • Balmorhea State Park - This park is great for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving. This spring fed pool pumps millions of gallons of water a day and water visibility is ultra clear. Literally the clearest water Ive seen in Texas.
  • Monahans Sandhills State Park - If you have ever wanted to slide down a sand dune this is the place to do it. Really beautiful but small park. Great for a pit stop on the way home. Check out their site

While in Texas, be sure to check out the 5 Best Texas Road Trips

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