Backpack the Chisos Mountains
Texas › Laguna Meadows Trailhead
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.
- 10 Essentials
- Extra Water
- Camera and Tripod
- Sleeping bag and sleeping pad
- Book for relaxing
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Just completed a 15 mile loop in the Chisos and had a backcountry site on the SE rim. Keep in mind they close this section of the rim from Feb. 1 to May 31 to help the peregrine falcon population that nests here, so work around that if you're planning on including this portion of the trail. There was a lot of bear activity in the mountains but the park has amazing backcountry sites with food storage lockers at each designated camp site so there's no need to pack a bear bin. There were occasional water sources but it's better to pack in all you need so as not to take away the limited water resources from the wildlife who need it. Sunrise and sunset over the south rim was just magical!
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)
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!
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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