The Top 8 Adventures In Big Bend National Park

Discover the best kept secret in Texas.

By: Korey Taylor
November 11, 2015

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Big Bend National park is one of the largest, most remote, and least visited national parks in the continental U.S. Because of this, it has the least light pollution of any other national park and offers some of the most spectacular views of the night sky in the lower 48. Its ecologically diverse and rugged landscapes will grant you breathtaking views and leave you with the sense that you’ve stumbled on a well-kept secret. From the shorelines of the Rio Grande, to the peaks of the Chisos Mountainss there are adventures to canyons, waterfalls, and hot springs. No matter which adventure you choose, just know that you are exploring one of the last wild corners of the United States.

1. Backpack The Chisos Mountain

Photo: Korey Taylor

The Chisos Mountains tower over the bowl of the Chihuahuan Desert nearly 8,000 ft above sea level. The best view can be seen from the south rim after a strenuous 2,000 ft gain from the trailhead. The trail in total is a 12 mile loop and can be completed in a day but the area also offers a few primitive spots to experience camping in the high desert mountains. If you’re looking to do a hike with the most epic views this should be on the top of your list. Learn more.

2. Hike The Window Trail

Photo: Korey Taylor

The window trail leads directly to a V-shaped cut in the rim of the Chisos Mountains and offers panoramic views of the Chihuahuan Desert best experienced at sunset. With two trailhead options, you can easily make this a fun day hike to experience the wildlife and plant life along the way to the window. Learn more.

3. Hike To Cattail Falls

Photo: Andrew Slaton

Cattail falls is a drainage point for the western range of the Chisos Mountains and offers a lush oasis in an otherwise dry, arid climate. The waterfall has water year round but is best seen after a heavy spring rainfall creating the largest waterfall in the state of Texas at 80 ft. It’s important to note that this area is an extremely fragile ecosystem and can no longer be found on the Big Bend National Park Maps. If you chose to make the hike here take all the necessary precautions to preserve this beautiful place to the best of your ability- stay on trails, practice Leave No Trace, keep your travel groups small, and hikers shouldn’t swim in the pools. While it’s exciting to explore new and hidden places, it’s also our job to protect them! Learn more.

4. Hike Santa Elena Canyon

Photo: Sarah Vaughn

The majestic Santa Elena Canyon has cliff walls that rise 1,000 ft from the river and can be seen 10 miles away as the Rio Grande abruptly changes direction into a narrow gorge through the mountains. A short, but very steep path leads up the north side of the canyon to offer unmatched views of the canyon and the surrounding landscape. Learn more.

5. Hike Emory Peak

Photo: Warren Goh

Emory Peak is the highest point in the Chisos Range at 7,825 ft and offers a 360 view of the entire park from the top. The hike is a challenging 10.5 mile trip over rugged terrain and a total elevation gain of 2,425 ft. Be prepared for a strenuous but incredibly rewarding hike from the highest point in the park. Learn more.

6. Hike Boquillas Canyon

Photo: Sarah Vaughn

On the East side of the park the Rio Grande cuts through the Sierra del Carmen Mountains of Mexico to create the beautiful Boquillas Canyon. This canyon runs twice as long as the Santa Elena Canyon at 18 miles long and offers a wild and scenic adventure. The trail is only 1.4 miles round trip so there is plenty of time to explore the canyon and there’s even a sand dune to the left of the entrance of the canyon to slide down. This is the perfect adventure for visitors looking for an exciting half day adventure. Learn more.

7. Camp At Nugent Island

Photo: Andrew Slaton

While there are several established camp circles and lodges within Big Bend National Park, Nugent Mountain offers a well maintained “off the beaten path” primitive camping spot. From here, you’ll have mountain views in all directions and enough room for larger camping groups. Make sure to set an early alarm to enjoy the sunrise over the desert horizon in the morning. It’s also important to grab a permit from Panther Junction and make sure your vehicle is up to par for the rougher dirt road out there. Learn more.

8. Hike To The Boquillas Hot Springs

Photo: Korey Taylor

The Boquillas Hot Springs are the most famous of geothermal hot springs along the big bend of the Rio Grande River. The springs were originally built into a bathhouse by J.O. Langford in the 1900s and while only remnants of the building remain it’s still a perfect place to soak after a long day of hiking in Big Bend National Park. The springs are located where the Tornillo Creek enters the Rio Grande River about four miles upriver from Boquillas Canyon. Make sure to be on the lookout for ancient pictographs on the walls leading to the hot springs! Learn more.

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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.