Did you know?
Big Bend National Park was authorized by Congress in 1935 to preserve and protect a representative area of the Chihuahuan Desert along the Rio Grande for the beneﬁt and enjoyment of present and future generations. The park includes rich biological and geological diversity, cultural history, recreational resources, and outstanding opportunities for bi-national protection of our shared natural and cultural heritage.
The Big Bend area of Texas derives its name from its location on the bend of the Rio Grande. The river creates a natural border that separates the United States from Mexico.
The Park is 801,163 acres or 1,252 square miles (with 196 miles of river and 201 miles of hiking trails), making it the 15th largest in the national park system.
Flora and Fauna
- 1,295 species of plants
- 75 species of mammals
- 450-plus species of birds
- 3,600 species of insects
- 56 species of reptiles
- 11 species of amphibians
- 38 species of fish
Know before you go:
- Big Bend’s busy season is generally November through April, and the park camping, and lodging is often full to capacity during the three-day holiday weekends, Thanksgiving week, the Christmas holiday season, and spring break (mid-March). Advance reservations for camping and lodging are highly recommended. To maximize your visit, plan way ahead and have a flexible itinerary during the park’s busiest times.
- Big Bend has mild winters and hot summers. The weather is generally sunny but come prepared for changing conditions.
- Cell service is spotty. There is free, public WiFi is available at the Panther Junction Visitor Center, The Chisos Mountains Lodge, and the Rio Grande Village Store.
- The Rio Grande serves as the international boundary between the United States and Mexico. A passport is required for entry into Mexico.
- Having a pet with you will limit some of your activities and explorations in the park. In addition, desert temperatures and predators are a serious threat to your pet’s well-being.
A magical place to explore massive canyons, vast desert, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river. A painted desert that changes colors as the sun settles. A place so dark at night providing the perfect backdrop to see those big and bright stars! From an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend is one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States.
For the Kids
There are several easy hikes in the park for kids including the Window View and the Basin Loop trails in the Chisos Basin. For older children, the Lost Mine Trail provides a good challenge and is an excellent day hike. Other recommended hikes include the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail at Dugout Wells, the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail (with a boardwalk across a beaver pond), and the Boquillas Canyon Trail (with a sand dune by the river).
View fossils and exhibits about dinosaurs at the Panther Junction Visitor Center and visit the Chisos Basin Visitor Center learn about bears and see the mountain lion exhibit.
The park offers a variety of ranger-led programs. These include guided hikes, evening slide programs, bird walks, and guided explorations of various park features.
Become a Junior Ranger!
To make the most of your visit, complete a Junior Ranger Activity Book to earn a badge or patch!
Where to Stay:
Chisos Mountains Lodge
In the heart of Big Bend National Park, you’ll find the Chisos Mountains Lodge nestled in the basin of the majestic Chisos Mountains. As the only lodging in the park, there are rooms and cottages, a gift shop and a dining room. Guests are treated to stunning scenery and serenity, as well as a vast undisturbed wilderness, all within a quick walking distance to services offered and easy access to many of the park’s world famous hiking trails.
- The National Parks Services operates three developed front country campgrounds that provide drinking water and restroom facilities. Majority of these sites are first come, first serve.
- The Chisos Basin Campground at 5,400 feet in elevation is surrounded by tall rocky cliffs and conveniently located near popular trails.
- The Cottonwood Campground at 2,169 feet in elevation is a quiet, shady desert oasis located between the Castalon Historic District and the Santa Elena Canyon.
- The Rio Grande Village Campground sits in a large grove of cottonwoods and is adjacent to the Rio Grande.
- Rio Grande Village RV Campground is the fourth campground in the park with 25 sites with full hook-ups operated by Forever Resorts. For reservations, call 1-877-386-4383.
Take a hike through Big Bend National Park
Take Old Maverick Road on the way to Santa Elena Canyon. A bumpy off-road drive provides a 12.6-mile shortcut from the west entrance of Big Bend Park to Santa Elena Canyon. The gravely, jarring off-road drive had us laughing and questioning our decision while navigating through the washouts. Other than just a shortcut, there is a lot of history found along the road. There are several old ranches including Luna’s Jacal, the small home built by Gilberto Luna, a Mexican pioneer farmer in the area of Texas that would become Big Bend National Park. The jacal, an indigenous Tejano dwelling suited to the desert environment, was built about 1890.
Santa Elena Canyon Trail
A 1.5 mile-trail for all skill levels. Although a short trail, it is known as one of the grandest spectacles in the park. After crossing Terlingua Creek, which is a great place to splash in the water and cool off, the trail climbs several short switchbacks and then gradually descends along the banks of the Rio Grande. Hikers are surrounded by lush vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone that are only appreciated when seen up close . The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river.
Emory Peak Trail
This 8.5-mile trail is rated “difficult” as it takes you to the highest peak in the park (7,832 feet), with the last 25 feet requiring a scramble up a sheer rock wall. If you can make it to the top, your reward is an amazing panoramic view! This trail is great for the older kids who need more of a challenge and can earn much deserved bragging rights. There are plenty of places to stop, rest and enjoy the abundance of beautiful wildflowers, and wildlife.
EXPLORING TERLINGUA – Texas’ Ghost Town
What to do:
Big Bend Stables
Check out the landscape on horseback. If you’re a first-timer, they offer one-hour rides geared towards beginners and children, as a safe and gentle introduction to the world of horseback riding. (kids must be at least 6 years old)
Offerings include tours through the last working quicksilver mine, rides up to Ocotillo Mesa for picture-perfect views of the Chisos Mountains, and back down to the perfect viewing spot of the Indian Head pictographs. There’s even a half day Chihuahua Desert Ride that includes lunch! Our favorite was the Desert Sunset Ride (pay attention to sunset times).
After a long day of hiking, it was nice to saddle up and let the horses guide us through the panoramic views in the Painted Desert, as the colors begin to change from the setting sun. The friendly and knowledgeable guides share history and point out local flora and fauna along the tour.
Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon
Originally constructed in the 1930’s as the Chisos Movie Theater, it sat vacant after the Quicksilver Capital of the World became a ghost town in the 1940s. In 1991, it was revived to become Starlight, and remains the most popular eatery in town.
The restaurant opens at 5 pm, and it’s highly recommended to get there early or be ready for a long wait on the porch! However, it’s a great place to enjoy the view of the mountains at sunset, hangout with the locals and meet some friendly dogs! Don’t forget to bring a light jacket as the desert temperatures will plummet while you wait for dinner. There’s live music on most nights. Dinner is only served until 10 pm but there’s a full bar open until midnight. The cantina and patio are open most nights (weather permitting).
Once inside, you’ll find rustic, hand-painted tables and custom chairs, and an adventurous menu including venison/wild boar sausage, tequila marinated quail and chicken fried antelope strips. If you’re really hungry, try the Diego Burger – one pound of beef, four slices of bacon, three slices of cheese, two fried eggs, grilled onions, pickled jalapenos, pickles and fries.
Where to stay:
Big Bend Resort & Adventures in Terlingua, TX
Located just three miles from Big Bend National Park, the resort offers a variety of accommodations including a motel, RV Park with full hookups as well as a campground for tent camping. Traveling with kids? You’ll be happy to know there is a laundromat, gift shop, small store, café and gas station.