Backpack the Chisos Mountains

13.9 miles 2400 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Nick Lake

Backpacking the Chisos Mountains offers unmatched views of Big Bend National Park and the US border with Mexico. The trail is predominately exposed cliff and narrow canyon hiking.

Most people don’t know that there are 8,000-foot peaks in Texas, but in the exceptionally remote southwest corner of the Lone Star State, Big Bend National Park’s Chisos Mountains soar high over the Chihuahuan Desert. The South Rim of the mountain bowl features a few backcountry sites that allow backpackers to delve into the magical world of the high desert mountains, while escaping the brutal heat of the lower desert.

Beginning at the trailhead beside the Chisos Mountain Lodge, follow the well-developed Laguna Meadows Trail. The path switches back along the western flanks of Texas’ highest mountain, Emory Peak, before leveling out around 7,200 ft. Keep an eye out for Mountain Lions, Mexican Black Bear, Mexican Jays, Tarantulas, Rattlesnakes and Javelinas (wild pigs) in the moderate brush and forest along the trail.

To get the best views, head for the any of the South Rim backcountry sites (SW1-SW4, SE1-SE4). Set up camp and store your food in the bear boxes before relaxing for the afternoon along the cliffs 2,000 feet above the desert below. Enjoy vistas including the Santa Elena Canyon, where the Rio Grande cuts a narrow slot in the sheer cliffs that divide the US and Mexico’s Parque Nacional Cañon Santa Elena, Donkey Ears, and the sunset over the desert.

On Day two, continue around the South Rim at sunrise to enjoy dramatic cliff views from the South Rim and Northeast Rim Trails before they merge with Boot Canyon Trail and enter a narrow, forested canyon along its namesake creek. Boot Pinnacle, an outcropping of rock that looks like an upside-down cowboy boot, perches above the canyon. If you’re feeling energetic, take the 1-mile side trail up to the summit of Emory Peak, or else finish the loop back at the Lodge.

On your way out of the park, stop in the rehabilitated ghost town Terlingua and check to see if the legendary La Kiva is open. If so grab some BBQ and a beer to celebrate West Texas style, or go hard with their signature drink, the Mind Eraser.

Suggested listening while driving through and around the park: This Will Destroy You's self-titled album.

Things to Keep in Mind:
  • Wildlife in the Chisos Basin is abundant, but can be dangerous. Be sure to store food properly to keep bears away and make sure smaller children stay close to you to prevent cougar attacks—a few have occurred in the basin in recent years. Watch the trail carefully for rattlesnakes and other venomous plants and animals
  • Desert heat even at high altitude can reach dangerous levels. Bring extra water, a hat and sunscreen to avoid heat-related issues. Next to no water is available along the trail
  • Backcountry permits are required to camp along the South Rim. They can be obtained at Rio Grande Village or Panther Junction Visitors Centers
  • A few backcountry privies are scattered throughout the campsites on the Rim
  • During the spring, sections of the Southeast and Northeast Rim Trail can be closed for Peregrine Falcon nesting.
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Backpacking
Hiking
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Food Nearby
Scenic
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Reviews

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First Backpacking Trip

My buddy and I backpacked this trail while including Emory Peak in mid May. Took us about a day and 5 hours to finish it. It was not too bad, but the hardest part was carrying all your water. There is no water on the trail. At first, your pack will kill you, but will get lighter as you consume more water. I brought 2.5 gallons. I ended with half a gallon. Going on, the trail itself starts off hard as you start gaining elevation, but eases a bit. The view from the South Rim is amazing. One thing is that you most likely will be there by yourself, so the secludedness is cool. As for out campsite, we took BC4. I would recommend BC1 or BC2 if you plan to camp in this area. BC4 is kind of small and maybe .25 or so miles away from the trail. BC1 is right off the trail.

Great place to have some solo time

Big Bend is a great national park with a lot of different activities. I got in relatively late so I camped at one of the campsites on the Laguna Meadows Trail. I did not see more than a handful of people walking back to the lodge while I was walking uphill. If you need some solo time, the Chisos mountains overnight is the right thing to do. I saw lots of wildlife, but nothing too dangerous (deer is not exactly in my list of dangerous animals XD ). The next morning I completed the loop, and man!, that view from the top is amazing!!! You can also climb Emory peak if you want to do some rock climbing very close to the top. I totally recommend doing this trip if you happen to be around the area (It is ~5 hrs drive from El Paso)

Explorer

🥇Top Contributor

almost 4 years ago

Hidden Gem

Big Bend is definitely one of the hidden gems of the national park system. Designated camp sites are walk in reservations and are first come first serve. I recommend breaking this into an overnight trip, but you can definitely do it all in one day if you are short on time. Check the weather forecast and try to plan for a cloudless new moon to see a ridiculous amount of stars.

Great night sky

Backpacked the Chisos with some great friends a few years back, camped along the Southeast rim, can't recall the specific site anymore but the views at night were utterly gorgeous. It felt like you could reach up, and touch the Milky way. One of my favorite parks, and thankfully its quite under-visited which means you'll have much more of the place to yourself!

Explorer

🥇Top Contributor

about 5 years ago

By far one of the most scenic views I've done in Texas. Big Bend is an incredible park and this hike to the South Rim of the Chisos is one of the best in the park. I did the whole hike in one day, but I recommend splitting it up and back country camping in the mountains if you have time.

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