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Everything You Need to Know About Big Bend National Park

A Story By

In the middle of the desert in west Texas lies expansive canyons and mountains as far as the eye can see in Big Bend National Park. This little slice of paradise sits right on the border of Texas and Mexico, making this 6.5-hour road trip from Austin the perfect getaway for a long weekend!

Here is everything you need to know about Big Bend National Park from where to stay, places to camp, trails to hike, activities, and travel tips!

The best time of year to visit Big Bend is November through April. Since the weather is milder, it is the most popular time to visit the park. While visiting in the summer is less busy, it gets extremely hot during the day, so if you go be prepared with lots of water and sunscreen! Due to the desert environment, the weather can drastically vary, dropping to freezing temperatures during the night. Come prepared with lots of water, sunscreen, and warm clothes, especially if you are camping.

A few lessons that I learned during my trip to Big Bend is that cell service is limited throughout the park, so definitely make sure to have a first aid kit, go with a group, and have maps of the trails handy. Make sure to leave your pups at home since dogs are not allowed on the trails at Big Bend. Last but not least, make sure you pack extra food and water and wear layers!

Big Bend National Park is one of two national parks in Texas. Check out our guide to Guadalupe Mountains National Park for another great road trip to add to your bucket list! 

Where to Stay in Big Bend

From camping in Big Bend to glamping in style to staying in a luxurious resort, we have a list of the best places to relax after a long day of exploring! Each spot provides a unique and memorable experience at different price points. For those on a budget, you can camp for under $20 per night. For those looking to ball out for a lavish stay, a hotel or glamping is the way to go.

Big Bend is comprised of four campgrounds, one of which is exclusively reserved for RVs, and primitive backcountry camping sites. Permits are required for all backcountry camping. All camping is currently by reservation only and we suggest making reservations in advance since they fill up very quickly!
 
 

Chisos Basin Campground is the best place to camp in Big Bend. Located in the middle of the park, it is the go-to spot for camping in the summer and winter. In the summer, it is typically cooler than the other campsites and warmer in the winter because of its high elevation.

Cottonwood Campground is the smallest campground but is especially popular for bird watching. They have a general store and visitor center nearby for anything you may need!

Rio Grande Village Campground is located right next to the Rio Grande River which makes swimming, kayaking, and boating easily accessible. A camp store with showers and a laundromat are close by this campground.

Rio Grande Village RV Campground is the only campground in Big Bend that is for RVs only. There are 25 sites with full hookups (water, electrical, and sewer connections).

Basecamp Terlingua is glampground famous for its bubble tents that is an experience like no other! Glamp at one of their casitas, lotus tents, tipis, or bubble tents under the stars for a magical night under the stars.

Buzzard’s Roost Tipis is located close to Big Bend and sits across the street from the old Terlingua ghost town. They have three fully furnished Sioux-style tipis so this is a great option for those wanting solitude. 

Big Bend Glamping is a glamping experience located right outside of Big Bend National Park. Big Bend Glamping offers stays in tipis, canvas tents, trailers, hammocks, and more unique campsites. This site does not have running water or electricity, so this is truly an off-the-grid experience!

Chisos Mountain Lodge is the only hotel within Big Bend National Park which makes it easy to access trails. 

Willow House is comprised of 12 luxury casitas with stunning views of the Chisos Mountain Range. Their private rooms are coupled with a communal kitchen, dining area, and fire pit so it is a great place to go if you are looking to make some friends on your vacation.

Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa is a resort with the top golf course in Texas, ziplining, clay shooting, horseback riding, and a spa. They also offer charter flights to the resort from Dallas and Houston.

Where to Eat in Big Bend

There is no shortage of delicious food and quirky restaurants near Big Bend whether you decide to stay stateside or venture into Mexico. Most of the restaurants in the nearby town of Terlingua have an old western feel, so you are not only getting great food but an atmosphere that is one-of-a-kind as well. All of these restaurants near Big Bend National Park are a must-try when visiting!

Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant and Patio is the only restaurant located inside of Big Bend National Park and they offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner (currently closed but in-house guests can place orders at the front desk).

Boquillas Cafe is the place to go if you want to have an adventure across the Mexican border. After you drive to the Boquillas border and take a canoe ride on the Boquillas International Ferry, you can either walk, take a burro, or hitch a ride into town for the 3/4 mile journey. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the food is authentic Mexican cuisine. This is not recommended if you are traveling with children and don’t forget your passport! 

Starlight Theatre Restaurant & Saloon is located in the town of Terlingua just outside of Big Bend. This spot serves up incredible food coupled with a bar and live music performances. There is typically a long wait, but it is well worth it! While you wait, you can check out the shop next door, Terlingua Trading Company, for some cool gifts to bring back home.

DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ is the place to go if you want some good ‘ole Texas bbq near Big Bend. The brisket and ribs are insanely good and will have you wanting to stop by again and again on your trip. The owner of this barbecue restaurant is known to strike up conversations with his guests, so be on the lookout for DB himself!

Bad Rabbit Cafe is the spot to go if you want to get a taste of the local food and music scene. Live music can be enjoyed here on the weekends as you enjoy made-from-scratch meals. By the end of the night, locals and visitors intermingle which is such a cool experience when traveling!

Espresso Y Poco Mas has the most amazing breakfast burritos to fuel your body before a long day of hiking in Big Bend. Enjoy coffee and breakfast with a view of the Chisos Mountains at this restaurant.

Hikes range from easy to difficult, so there is something for everyone whether you’re a pro on a multi-day backpacking trip or just want to take a walk amongst the magic of the desert. The beauty of this park is that you can hike near the river, the mountains or the desert! These are the best hikes in Big Bend National Park.

Window View Trail
Chisos Basin
Grapevine Hills Trail
Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Tuff Canyon Trail
Lower Burro Mesa
Hot Springs Trail
Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
Boquillas Canyon Trail
Panther Path
Ernst Tinaja Hiking Trail (becomes more difficult if you go towards Rock Scrambling)

Lost Mine Trail
Mule Ears Spring Trail
Chimneys Trail

Emory Peak
South Rim Trail
Outer Mountain Loop

Hiking isn’t the only way to adventure through Big Bend! Disconnect from your phone and reconnect with nature. Experience the park from the comfort of your car on one of the many scenic drives, kayak the Rio Grande, or mountain bike on the backcountry. If you love outdoorsy activities, this gorgeous park has a wealth of things to do in Big Bend!

Kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, and rafting are all such unforgettable ways to experience the Rio Grande as you float through Santa Elena Canyon. Even though this activity is good for beginners, consider taking a guided trip which can range anywhere from two hours to ten days if you are looking to camp along the river. Recreational equipment can be rented outside of the park or you can bring your own! A list of local stores to rent from can be found here.

Horseback riding in Big Bend is a unique way to explore the park! Check out horseback riding trips from Big Bend Stables, Lajitas Stables, and the Equestrian Center at Lajitas Resort and Spa.

Biking is a popular activity whether you want to take a scenic highway route or go mountain biking on one of the 100+ miles of mountain bike trails in Big Bend. Check out Desert Sports for guided mountain bike tours and rentals.

Vehicle tours are a great way to explore both the paved and backcountry roads in Big Bend whether you want to luxuriate in a fancy SUV or take the more adventurous route with an ATV. You can find a list of companies that offer vehicle tours here.

Air tours will fly you over the national park for a spectacular view of Big Bend that you simply can’t get on the ground. Rio Aviation provides guests with a tour of the most scenic spots from the sky and you can also customize flights. This is a super romantic activity to do with your significant other!

Birding in Big Bend is extremely popular since there are over 450 species to be spotted. A list of birds that live in the park and hot spots can be found here

Park Bookstore is full of books to help you memorialize your trip and all profits benefit the park.

 

Hot Springs Road is a 2-mile gravel road that leads to the Hot Springs Historic District. This is the perfect drive for seeing the ruins and this road takes you to a spot where you only have to hike half a mile to the hot springs.

Chisos Basin Road is a beautiful 6-mile drive that transports you from desert to mountains where you are the most likely to spot wildlife such as bears and mountain lions.

Grapevine Hills Road is a 6-mile route that leads to the Grapevine Hills Trail. After a 1.1 mile hike, you will be greeted by the gorgeous sight of Balanced Rock.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a stunning 30-mile drive full of scenic stopping points like Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, and Tuff Canyon.

River Road is 51 miles of primitive dirt road. This is perfect for backcountry camping, but high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles are necessary to navigate it.

Whether you go on a day trip or a multi-day adventure at Big Bend National Park, it is an unforgettable experience to be transported into a place with grandiose canyons, mountains, and rock formations! I will never get tired of visiting this park because there are so many activities and things to see that allow you to feel the magic of the land.

Let us know if there is any other helpful information that you want us to include in this guide! Be sure to tag us in all of your Big Bend photos using @stufftodoinaustin and use our hashtag #stufftodoinaustin so we can follow along on your road trip adventures!

Mina Garagozlo

Mina Garagozlo

Mina is a City Manager for UNATION and author of the Stuff to Do in Austin City Guide. For more insight on the best events and things to do in the Austin area, download the UNATION app and follow @StufftoDoinAustin on InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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