Hike to the Upper Guale Mesa in Big Bend Ranch State Park

Texas Rancherias West Trailhead

Added by Andrew Miller

This scenic day hike in Big Bend National Park offers incredible 360 degree views. This region is one of the top 5 darkest in the country makes for unbeatable star gazing. There is also a 19 mile loop option (3 day 2 night). Afterward, enjoy good vibes and better food at High Sierra Bar & Grill just down the road in Terlingua make for an excellent post hike recovery.

Big Bend Ranch State Park is certainly one of Texas most beautiful "hidden" gems. Boasting over 300,000 acres of wild, rugged high desert terrain, this park is an explorers paradise. Bordering the Rio Grande, the line between the US and Mexico quickly blurs by through mesas and desert peaks.

Start out by visiting the Barton Warnock Visitor Center to pay entrance fees, get camping reservations and a backcountry permit. You'll need the backcountry permit if you want to camp atop the mesa, which I highly recommend. Drive west along the rio grande to the Rancherias West Trailhead parking lot (just off the road). Your hike will begin by heading east a few tenths of a mile through a dry and brushy creek bed. Enjoy the flatness and level surfaces while they last. Around mile 1.5, you'll reach a split in the trail. Follow the signs for Rancherias Loop Trail to the north west. From here, you'll begin the 2000 feet of elevation gain as you make your way to the Lower Guale Mesa first. Mile 3.5 is a great place to break/eat lunch depending on what time you begin. Shortly after, you'll hike along an old water line nearly 45 degrees straight up (the crux of this hike) This 1 mile portion of the trail is incredibly un-maintained and overgrown. Take your time and remember to look at the view behind you, the view is about to get even better. After this incline, you've reached the Upper Guale Mesa. From here, I recommend bushwhacking through the ocotillo and prickly pear, find a patch of rock overhanging the ridge and watch the sunset. The breeze here is great and will do wonders in cooling you off from the unrelenting desert sun. This is one of the most incredible views in the state. Soak it in, there's nothing like it.

Key Coordinates:
  • End point on top of the mesa: N 29°21.919’ W 104°02.629’ at 4,031ft

Pack List

  • At least a gallon of water per person (March-October)
  • Well worn in hiking boots
  • Trekking poles
  • Garman GPS (trail is unmarked, no mile markers)
  • SPOT emergency rescue device (seriously consider this)
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Hat & sun glasses
  • Day pack
  • Tripod for astrophotography
  • Binoculars for long distance views (thank me later for this one)
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Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Year Round

Trail Type:



7 Miles




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9 months ago

Great views!

Well worth the trip. Big Bend is a hidden gem in SW Texas and the night time view is one of the best I've ever seen. Visit in the summer months for an unbelievable view of the Milky Way.

9 months ago

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