Explore stunning canyons or scramble through boulder fields on one of these 4 easy and family-friendly 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.” 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,” according to Wikipedia, and 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 highlights four of the best short hikes throughout the park. All of these hikes are family-friendly, though dogs are unfortunately not allowed on any of these trails.
Considered two of the park’s best riverside hikes, Boquillas Canyon Trail and Santa Elena Canyon Trail both offer stunning views at the mouth of a canyon before leading visitors to the edge of the Rio Grande. While the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon is in the far southwestern reaches of the park, Boquillas Canyon is conveniently located near the Rio Grande Village, making it a must-do for anyone visiting the area. Should you have the time, bring along some cash and consider taking the $5 ferry to Mexico where you can eat, drink, and purchase small trinkets in the small town of Boquillas.
Located along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (the same road to Santa Elena Canyon Trail), the Tuff Canyon Trail is a classic short hike, and despite its name, it's actually quite easy! There are several views along the rim of the canyon, or you could venture further along a spur trail for spectacular close-up views where the lava rock walls seamlessly transition into the canyon floor. The canyon earned its name from "the material that lines the steep walls on either side of the trail," also known as "tuff". Abrasive and light and in color, "tuff is volcanic ash that has hardened into rock-like forms," and remnants of this ancient volcanic activity have created many unique and interesting rock formations.
Tucked away in the Grapevine Hills, the hike to Balanced Rock is one of the best short hikes in Big Bend – and one that the entire family will enjoy. Just under two miles total, children will especially enjoy scrambling along the boulder field where the iconic Balanced Rock is located. There is a 6-mile drive down an improved dirt road to access the trailhead, and while most vehicles should not have any issue navigating the road, a higher-clearance vehicle may make the drive more enjoyable. There are also no restrooms or water at the trailhead, so stop by Panther Junction Visitor Center on the way if you need anything.
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.”