Exploring Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park in Texas isn’t one of those places that instantly took my breath away, in fact it took a few days of exploration to grow on me. After a week of adventures I can’t say it’s my all time favorite national park, but I can say its well worth exploring and definitely worth another visit.
There are rock formations of all shapes and sizes, multiple climates to explore (mountains, desert…) and the sunsets are spectacular (pollution does have an upside). Not to mention that the park is HUGE! It’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island! 1,252 Square miles of Chihuahuan desert is a lot to explore and if you’re limited on time (5 days isn’t enough), you need to know where best to spend it… something we didn’t get the best advice on.
There are a handful of hikes that we felt were rewarding and worth the journey while others left us feeling like it was nothing more than a lovely stroll or worse, a heat exhaustion inducing punishment for being a tourist.
I am all about a little pain with my gain, but no gain just leaves me in pain. We visited the 2nd week in March and while the highs were never over 85 degrees in the warmest part of the park, after 2-4 hours of hiking in direct sun it started to feel more like 105 degrees. I couldn’t imagine hiking here in the summer!
Before you start thinking I am a complete whine and have no appreciation for the parks beauty, let’s move on.
There is something about ruins that always makes us wish we could time travel. So a short hike up the hill to the Dorgan House Ruins is easy and a good place to imagine what big bend was like back in the day.
Window trail was a nice interesting hike out. The actual window view offered a unique perspective and the swirling smooth rocks had the makings of a great waterslide. I found myself silently wishing for a monsoon just so I could see nature in action. Sadly, not a cloud in sight.
Tuff Canyon Loop Trail is another easy stroll. There’s no destination to reach, just a nice canyon trail with shady nooks perfect to sit and relax.
Lost Mine trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park and with good reason. The views are spectacular and there is something to gaze at in almost every direction. Rocks go from round boulders to jagged towers. It’s in the Chisos Mountain region of the park and we think the most striking and comfortable (temperature wise).
Balanced Rock was a mostly easy and pleasant hike. I say mostly easy because the description said easy yet the last 1/8th mile would be considered moderate to difficult with big rocks and steps. Fine for us but anyone with knee problems would be cursing. The hike reminded us of the Alabama Hills with its boulders surrounding us from all directions. And the balanced rock is a happy ending (pun intended if you see what I see).
Now, back to whining…
The Boquillas canyon trail is lovely (I can imagine even lovelier in April) with its green grass swaying in the wind and the Rio Grande flowing alongside. A delightful afternoon stroll…but that’s it. Which would have been fine, had I not been set up with this statement on the hike description, “ending at a massive sand slide”. It was a small sand pile at best…not that I am any sand slide expert but it was far from “massive”.
The chimneys trail was a sweltering hike out that felt longer than the 2.4 miles listed (could have something to do with the 2-4 oclock hour and no trees) and should probably be done in the early AM. The hike out looks promising and I thought we would end up at some chimneyesque rock formations and the big payoff would be “the arch” as it stated in the trail guide. Perhaps our skewed version of arches is at the fault of Utah and it’s plethora of grand scaled ones. But alas this is what we got. I felt a little swindled after such a long, hot hike.
All in all driving away from the park, it feels like another spec of the world discovered and as Texas natives we’re a little ashamed its taken this long to visit Big Bend, but never the less, we came, we saw, we perspired and now on to the next adventure.
CJ & Brent
Just read this blog as we are planning a trip to Big Bend, and other west delights late Feb/early March 2018. Always looking for insights on RV camp areas and best sites/trails to conquer. Your comments on Big Bend have been duly noted. Great tips on boon docking like extreme flashlight and fog horn. Already considered bear spray as well as snake/spider bite solutions. Your pictures are stunning. Thanks for sharing.
Meg & Norton
We were in Big Bend, and stayed in the Rio Grande Village… for just one night. After an unsatisfying stay in their parking lot with full hookups, we moved over to the regular campgrounds and dry camped. It was in early May but it was already heating up! Temps were well over 100 in the daytime but it cooled comfortably at night. It was worth it, we were at least able to enjoy the shade and the lush greenery (as well as the javelina, bunny rabbits and curious road runners) during the day.
I am about to cross the states from MA to CA thru TX driving an RV converted 1993 transit bus
Would like to know what tools do you use more often, I mean apps, websites or so to park, stay, mechanical help with the bus, travel, etc, etc.
Let me know if you have a section for this on your website as I didn’t find it 🙂
I’ve always wanted to see Guadalupe Mountains National Park. If I ever do, I guess I’ll need to add Big Bend to my travel itinerary.
yep, Big Bend is pretty epic…once it grows on you 🙂
I can’t believe we missed this gem! We were so close so many times.
Beautiful photographs. I will have to get there soon.
you’ll want to wait till late fall cause it’s HOT!
Went April 2010. Stayed at the Rio Grande Village Campground the first night. We were in a tiny Aliner, full hook up area is like a parking lot and the bathrooms close around 7 or 8. So the next 3 nights we stayed in Terlingua at a resort like RV park. It was great, I rode my Segway around the 18 hole golf course which is all rough and sand traps except the greens. It was the most fun I ever had on the Segway. If you haven’t seen Terlingua, I recommend it. It is very unique. Went in the park 3 days and I’m sure I didn’t see nearly half. The trail that goes along the river up through the canyon was beautiful with loads of blooming cactus and wild flowers. Oh yeah, there is a movie set about 10 miles from Terlingua along the Rio. It was falling apart somewhat but looks very real in my pictures. Big Bend has to be the least busiest NP that can be driven to in the lower 48. Probably because only Death Valley gets hotter.
We had a fun trip to Big Bend last Thanksgiving and saw some amazing sites but didm’t have a toad so were limited to where we could ride our bike to from Rio Grande Village Campground. A high point was an amazing view as we entered that area and the clouds had settled into the canyon with the sun still highlighting the tops of the Santa Elana mountains late in the early evening. Breathtaking.
Plan to go back this Thanksgiving and would love to learn more about what you discovered about boondocking in the park. We will have a tow vehicle this year as well so will be able to cover a lot more ground.
Really appreciate the great photography and always informative and entertaining posts.
One of our next posts will be detailing the campground in Big Bend…so many great and FREE options!
That place looks amazing! Definitely going to put that park on our list!
We were there in mid March this year and really liked it. We camped in Rio Grande Village. Boquillas Canyon was great and we made it over the river to Boquillas del Carmen. It was cold, rainy, and sleeting up in the Chisos so we had to skip that. We’re planning to go back next March. We really liked west Texas. It spare, but that’s what makes it appealing.
We visited Big Bend about three years ago. We were glad we did but we were not immediately mesmerized by it. We thought it had some beautiful areas though.
One of my favorite places in Texas. But you are right – timing is everything. It can be a great November through January trip with very nice weather. If there’s been rain through the fall and winter, there can be spectacular wildflowers, including giant bluebonnets. I’ve floated several of the canyons in rafts and canoes (canoes are better). Recently went on two trips with some buddies. We hired a geology grad student from Sul Ross State University to guide us to some special locations (we are rock nerds.) Then last time we camped in Big Bend Ranch State Park, just outside the national park, doing star gazing and rock pondering in The Solitario. None of this is as spectacular as Zion or Yosemite or Yellowstone. But the idea that you are in such a remote place is a special attraction. That’s not for everyone. But great for away-from-the-madding-crowd individuals.
Can’t wait to share our camping spots with you inside Big Bend…this was by far the best part about visiting such a remote park!
Beautiful photos! You have a true talent Jason!
Thanks Dad…the sad part is there’s 100 more photos that are equally as good, we just didn’t want the post to be 20 pages long!
Great pictures! We were there about the same time. The overcast sky kind of hampered our trip to Santa Elaina. We were there at sunrise, but no sun showed up.
We liked nearby Big Bend State park just as well. Perhaps during a future Winter trip we’ll get another chance at good sunrise shots.
We saw your rig at Grapevine Hills.
Yea Ron, we were sad there weren’t many stars out due to the haze…but we still came away with some killer photos. We’ll be posting about our camping experience soon, the 2 spots we found to park it were just amazing!
Loved reading this Nikki! Thanks for sharing. I went there multiple times as a child, but we didn’t explore most of these trails. Now I want to go back and see all the beauty we missed! I love reading about all your adventures:)
YES…Go back, but wait for the winter 🙂 So many photo opps, you will be drunk on photos when you return.
We’re so glad to hear that you liked Big Bend, as it holds special meaning for us. Until last year, we had visited every single National Park in the west (many of them multiple times) except one, which had eluded us for over a decade. That’s right…. last year Big Bend became our very last western park, and we were so moved by its beauty.
We were lucky to be there on a new moon, with several cloudless nights. Being one of the very darkest places in the US, the stargazing is phenomenal.
Thanks for rubbing it in Geeks…new moon, no haze and all that jazz! We need to go back as we missed so much in the park and the surrounding area.
I spent the 3rd week of March at Big Bend and was quite unexpectedly spellbound by the place! The most amazing day started with a 90-mile pre-dawn drive across the park to watch the full moon set right down into the middle of Santa Elena canyon, followed by morning and afternoon hikes, and capped off with a soak in the natural hot springs along the Rio Grande beneath a gazillion stars and watching the full moon rise and show itself again!
Really never expected to find so much in such a remote place, but I hope to see more of it again someday! Here’s one of the half-dozen or so blogposts I did–
Oh man, we never saw stars as it was too hazy…that’s the beauty of planning a return trip. Thanks for sharing.
Ah, such beautiful photography. I can never capture on film what I see with my eyes. I love black and white, but it takes both to do this park justice. You did miss a golden opportunity. Your second shot is Santa Elena Canyon, and if you had been there around 4 (or 5, depending on the season, I guess) you could have walked a little down stream of where you took your shot for a spectacular sight. I have a gorgeous shot of the sun just trying to appear in the canyon. Stark to the left, and washed out to the right. Give me a camera and I can make Nikki look plain, so if I can take a beautiful shot, you know it was a, “Oh, you shoulda been there” kind of view. Wish I knew how to post pictures. I’ve never met you two, but you are fast becoming my favorite couple. Thanks for letting us share your voyages.
As you said it all depends on season…we waited at the window for the sun to creep down and fall into place…but it just wasn’t the right time of year. Oh well, still beautiful!
I went to Big Bend National Park and enjoyed our stay there. I took lots of pictures and yours look 100% better than mine. So what camera do you use, I have been thinking about replacing mine.
Kathy, a craftsman (er, person) never blames her tools. Then again, the right tool for the right job is a Godsend.
Hey Kathy you can find my gear in the new store: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/store
or you can read about it in this post: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/hd-video-secrets
The EOS m is a great little travel camera if you want something a little better than the average point and shoot.
We just left Alpine today.We spent one day in the state park.The auto trail was beautiful.We spent the rest of our week enjoying Alpine, Fort Davis,and surrounding area. Some great restaurants and people in this area. Now we are passing through El Paso headed for Tucson.
We have posts coming on Alpine and Marfa Texas…both great places to visit when enjoying the deserts of TX. If you haven’t seen our posts on Tucson I recomend you reading one or two, there are some awesome places there:
Wow! Beautiful photos!!