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Best Singletrack Mountain Bike Trails in Big Bend

Explore the best mountain bike trails in the expansive Big Bend region of Texas.

Mountain Biking Moderate, Difficult, Severe

West Contrabando Trails: Dome Loop
Photo: Greg Heil


It's impossible to fathom the immensity of Big Bend until you see it for itself. This vast tract of wildland is found inside of a "big bend" in the Rio Grand River, which forms the US/Mexico border.

Exactly where you draw the line between what is and what is not "Big Bend" is a bit of an arbitrary discussion. Of course, most peoples' minds jump to Big Bend National Park, which covers 801,163 acres on its own. But then, about an hour away, you'll find Big Bend Ranch State Park. Big Bend Ranch reigns as Texas's largest state park, which is saying something in a place the size of Texas. This park alone covers an additional 311,000 acres. In between the national park and the state park, there's a bit of private land, but there are also additional vast swaths of public land that might not technically have the name "Big Bend" attached to them but still help form the greater Big Bend region.

In short, Big Bend is absolutely mammoth.

Big Bend National Park is growing as a bikepacking destination, thanks to its expansive network of rugged 4x4 roads running through the remotest corners of this massive park. But if singletrack mountain biking is what you're looking for, you'll have to turn your gaze further west to the section of Big Bend Ranch State Park close to Lajitas.

Even on its own, Big Bend Ranch is a massive area, but thankfully the best and most popular mountain bike trails are easy to access from the paved Highway 170. Known as the "Contrabando" trails, there are two distinct trailheads: East and West. The East trailhead provides access to the easiest trails in the network and offers a fantastic desert ride to the ruins of a quicksilver mine deep in the desert. This trailhead also serves as the beginning of a demanding 58-mile IMBA Epic loop ride heading deep into the remotest parts of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

The West Contrabando trailhead offers direct access to arguably the best singletrack mountain bike trails in Big Bend. While you can reach these trails from the East Contrabando Trailhead as well, many people opt to begin at the West trailhead. While the singletrack trails here aren't as buff or as well-defined as what you might have come to expect from popular destinations such as Moab or Sedona, the desert beauty, rough rock gardens, and historic sites make for a fantastic desert mountain biking experience.

Finally, the Lajitas Airport Trails offer beginner-friendly singletrack winding through the desert just to the east of the state park. While these trails are not nearly as high quality as the Contrabando trails, they still have a loyal following of riders and do offer some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.

While Big Bend can't compete with the likes of Moab, Sedona, and Tucson on the quality of its singletrack mountain biking alone, this majestic and landscape is a magical place that you absolutely have to experience. Combine a few days of mountain biking with a dash of hiking, and you have all the makings for an epic trip to Big Bend!

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