Explore mountain peaks, hot springs, and low desert on these 10 hikes in Big Bend National Park.
Named after a large bend in the Rio Grande River, Big Bend National Park is home to the “largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States,” according to Wikipedia. The park is home to “more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals,” the writer continues. The region is packed full of cultural history dating back to historic ranches, mines, and other early pioneers. Though one could spend months – or even years – exploring the park’s numerous trails, roads, and canyons, this guidebook showcases 10 of the must-do hikes to add to your list during your visit to this remote corner of southwest Texas.
Topping the list as the most epic multi-day hike in the park, the Outer Mountain Loop wanders through the desert and around the Chisos Mountains, summiting Emory Peak along the way. This circuit is most often divided into three days, though two days is still attainable for an experienced hiker. Most importantly, though, this circuit requires hikers cache water at Sotol Vista Overlook prior to the trip. If Emory Peak – the highest peak in the Chisos – is on your list, you could also consider this shorter circuit to the summit instead. It also offers plenty of options to turn it into an overnight trip with the appropriate backcountry permits.
To explore the park’s stunning canyons, consider Boquillas Canyon or Santa Elena Canyon – both offering commanding views into the mouth of their respective canyons. Tuff Canyon is another short hike through a small canyon formed by an ancient lava flow. For an even more rewarding canyon experience, the Marufo Vega Trail is a remote backcountry loop with incredible cliffside views along a remote stretch of Boquillas Canyon. For experienced trail runners, this may be one of the best long runs in the entire park.
Ready to relax in a natural hot spring? Book a campsite at Rio Grande Village and make you way over to the Hot Springs Trail, which you could even walk to from the campground. This out-and-back can be hiked from either trailhead, and in addition to the warming waters, the trail offers spectacular views from just above the Rio Grande. For the most adventurous, consider a visit across the river to the quaint village of Boquillas, then see if you can commission a local to show you their own hot spring – which is rarely visited. Bring cash, though – there is a $5 fee to be ferried across the river, and the town offers a few options to eat, drink, or even spend the night.
Due to the remoteness of the park, a downloaded map on your phone or GPS device is crucial during your visit. There is no reliable cell reception in the park, and the wifi is often slow during periods of heavy use. Water, restrooms, and even gas are sparse throughout the park, so plan accordingly before you arrive. Snakes, including four species of rattlesnakes, can also be found in Big Bend, so be mindful of your steps and do not attempt to entice or handle any type of wildlife. According to the NPS, “All wildlife, including snakes, are protected in the park. Please don’t harm, handle, or otherwise disturb them.”