A guide to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend travel tipsThis time two weeks ago I was hiking beside the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park in west Texas. Sitting in my Houston living room waiting for yet another thunderstorm to start it seems like it was much longer ago.

For me, hiking — and getting outside in general — is the perfect getaway. There’s nothing like the massive mountains to make you and your problems feel small and insignificant — and I mean that in the best possible way.

Big Bend National Park was the perfect place to do just that. Located roughly eight hours from Houston, it really felt like it was the end of the world. (Texas is huge, y’all.) And while I love the mountains of the Pacific Northwest (where we traveled to last summer), there is something special about southwest Texas’ rugged beauty.

It’s definitely worth the drive. (Not that I drove, but I can say confidently, it’s worth sitting in the car.) Here’s a few tips from the three days I spent there.

Book your campsite or lodge

-Big Bend is incredibly popular. I don’t recommend just showing up if you plan on staying overnight. We booked our campsite back in February for a trip in early April. There are three campsites to choose from as well as the Chisos Mountain Lodge and cottages. I stayed in the Chisos Basin camp site, which is located close to many of the mountain trails and has a gorgeous view.  Each campsite has a bathroom (hooray) and the Rio Grande Village has showers (fancy). The lodge offers great views and a has a pretty good little restaurant and bar inside.

Dress appropriately (aka don’t forget the sunscreen and SPF protective clothing)

-Big Bend is in the desert mountains, so think cool at night and warm in the sun with low humidity. Of course it depends on what time of year you go, but in April it was lows in the low 50s, highs in the low 90s. A few of my favorite items that I brought included Patagonia shorts, this The North Face shirt, this Brooks shirt, my trail runners, water shoes and a Camelbak daypack for hiking. Since the West Texas sun is pretty unforgiving and I’m pretty pail, I focused on bringing UV ray protective clothing. I also recommend bringing some hats and/or a headband.

A few packing recommendations

I’m not going to tell you what you need to go camping. I’m by no means an expert on the subject and there are probably many other blogs that can give you a better a picture of that. So I recommend sunscreen! And since I didn’t shower for three days, I became a pretty big fan of dry shampoo.

Big Bend National Park

The trails

We hiked the following trails:

The South Rim: A lot of reviews I read called this the quintessential Texas trail or the quintessential Big Bend trail. Most reviews called it strenuous, but I would say it’s more moderate. The Pinnacles are the hardest part.  This 13-ish mile trail (depending on where you start from) offers the best views of the mountains and a great look at a lot of the wildlife living in the area.

The Window: This is another of Big Bend’s most popular hikes. It’s an easy trail, about 3.6 miles round trip, through the rocks until you reach the Window, one of Big Bend’s greatest attractions.

Boquillas Canyon: This short and easy hike travels along side the Rio Grande and offers great views. As we hiked this trail, a man sang to us in Spanish from across the river. It was weird.

Hot Spring: You can hike this or just drive and take a short walk to the river. We opted for the latter, although be warned, the road to get to the hot spring is less than ideal.

We didn’t check out Terlingua or really any of the desert hikes. We’ll save that for next time.

That’s about all I’ve got. Leave a comment if you have any questions or other Big Bend tips. I’m dying to go back!

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