Almost Free Camping at Big Bend National Park
We love Wild Camping (aka Boondocking) but before our trip to Big Bend, we had never heard of backcountry RV camping in a national park. So naturally we had to check it out and this is the awesomeness of what we found:
Almost Free Camping
A measly $10 permit gets you up to 14 days of camping! I call this almost free because anything under $10 a day is cheap much less for two weeks! There are at least 3 areas that are RV friendly for camping: Hannold Draw, Government Spring (we stayed here), and Croton Spring (and here). However, generator use is strictly prohibited (this is where solar comes in handy).
We weren’t able to stay at the same location for our full 5 days in the park due to other camper reservations. So we stayed 3 nights at one site and 2 nights at another but we were over the top about both locations. Permits are first come, first-served and only available in person at the park visitor center. Permits can be picked up a maximum of 24 hours prior to your camping; and yes the earlier you arrive the better and weekends can be difficult.
Most have no natural shade and there are no picnic tables, bathrooms, or shade shelters. I can’t imagine camping here during the peak of summer heat. But March is blissfully quiet, serene and comfortably cool at night! You may want to check our Boondocking Tips here if you’re new to dry camping.
Leave No Trace
As with most wild camping: if you pack it in, pack it out. No exceptions!
One things for sure, when you’re Wild Camping you never know what your neighbors are going to be like. Ours were total pigs that came and went as they pleased. They rarely stopped for photo opps and turned down our invitation for dinner (guess they didn’t know we’re vegetarian).
Singa on the other hand (despite our best efforts), had several reptile friends for dinner. Yuck!
Other Camping Options
If you want wifi and full hook-ups you could stay at the trailer village for $35 a night (if it’s 100+ degrees, ok …otherwise no thanks)! There are other RV friendly campgrounds but the standard RV amenities in this National Park come few and far between…and generators are never allowed!
A friendly Tip: If you don’t have a tow car and plan to drive your RV this park is HUGE! Expect to spend a small fortune driving from one end to the other, and if your RV is over 24′ you can’t make it to some of the most scenic hikes in the Chisos Basin due to the road restrictions.
Can you give me a coordinate or a point on the map for the place you stayed/boondocked?
The names of the camping areas are mentioned in that blog post but the map links are no longer active. At any rate, those locations may have changed because they were inside the National Park. Your best best is to check the Big Bend website to see if the areas mentioned in the post are still available for boondocking. And maybe they’ve added more, who knows?
We are full-time RVers and have spent the last 2 years in Utah. Yes, we are crazy and RV in the snow, but depending where you are in the state, the snow isn’t too bad. We chose to stay in a small town that has two parks that allow full-time slots with full hook-ups for a fair price (prices vary per spot, but run about $300 to $450 a month). We simply skirt the bottom of the trailer and use heat tape to keep the water hose from freezing.
The National Parks here have massive camping areas for dry camping and generators are fine to use. You can camp anywhere you can get to and if there is a fire ring, you can have a fire unless there is a burn ban, which is very uncommon. During the summer months, the days are nice and the nights are cool enough to sit around the campfire comfortably. We have spent the last 2 summers on the mountains in Utah and love it! Most are close enough to drive into town to restock on anything you might need. You can stay in one spot for 14 to 16 days depending where in the state you are. Once your time is up in that spot, you just have to move 25 miles away to the next spot, which is very easy to do. Then your days start over. We have about 5 to 6 spots we love staying at as they offer plenty of trees and have great fishing close by. We simply start at spot one and cycle through the others. If those have all been used, we simply start over at spot one or find a new spot. They also have places with hook-ups for a fee, should you require them. No permits required for dry camping. 100% FREE!
If you are fishing lover, then you will enjoy the lakes, ponds, creeks and rivers! My husband calls it catching and not fishing as he catching as he always catches his limit when he goes. LOL! We also go ice fishing in the winters and have plenty of fish to clean when we get home.
I enjoy traveling to out of the way parts to just pull over at night. I have a 36 ft 5th wheel. I am going to instal the GO POWER SOLAR KIT. With 4 or 5 panels on the roof. I have 4 6 volt golf cart battriesin as my battry bank I do have room to add more batteries. I travel alone and do have a generator as a back up. What would you recommend to add. As I am going full time
I was a bit confused when looking to book a spot in Big Bend near the Rio Grande Village. At the Rio Grand Village there’s a little store with quarter showers and laundry. They have free wifi and a parking lot type rv park with hookups (run by the park concessions). Some sites you can call and reserve and they leave a few open for drive-ins. My husband could not bear to stay there, so we drove just a minute down the road away from the store/parking lot to the national park run campground (you know where you fill out that envelope and put your money in a metal box when you want to renew?).
National Park campground: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/rgv_campground.htm
This is more your standard park campground where spot are a little further apart, there are lots of trees and growth). Most of the campsites you can use generators during the day. So much better! There’s a place to fill up with fresh water on your way in and dump on the way out. We stayed in January and were able to pull into a spot and stay for a few days without a reservation. Great!
Carole & Michel Rondeau
Thank you for the tip! We stayed in Governement Spring with our 25′ B+ RV at the end of November and it was just amazing, day and night!
And if you ever travel in the Eastern Townships in Québec, Canada, we will be happy to welcome you at our campground: Camping écologique de Frelighsburg
Thank you so much Carole! We loved our time in Quebec and I do hope we can come back for a visit.
Thanks for all the great information. It’s a wonderful thing you do in sharing.
You mentioned a toad. If you were to choose again would you still choose the Smart car or would you opt for something like a Jeep – and why?
You can run a generator in Rio Grande Village campground. There are a couple no generator loops in the campground but otherwise you can run them between 8am – 8 pm. We were there in March 2014 and stayed 3 days. There’s no generators allowed up in Chisos. No sure about Cottonwood.
Thanks for the tip!
Um…techically, frogs are amphibians, not reptiles…not sure if that makes Singa’s culinary preferences more palatable to you guys or not
Ha Ha, Singa is an equal opportunist when it comes to eating.
That is not a frog. Look again.
It is beautiful! So I shouldn’t take my tent when I go this summer?
Just make sure you have a little rechargeable fan to help keep you a little cooler.
Nikki, I want to start camping the Big Bend National Park. Was there last week for one day checking it out. When at primitive campsites, do the park rangers come by and check on you daily? sometimes? hit and miss? thanks Nikki
YES you should take your tent!
Mary, you should definitely take your tent. If you find a tent camping spot in the higher elevations up by the Chisos, it can be 10-20 degrees cooler than the lower elevations down by the Rio Grande.
Also, with the lack of humidity in the air, the temperature can drop drastically overnight. As much as 20 degrees. So, if its 90 degrees durinng the day in the Chisos (110 by the river) it could be 60-70 degrees overnight.
Perfect tent camping weather
Hubby and I fell in love over a geology field class in Big Bend (despite the Primitive camping). Beautiful area. Glad you could share it. Thanks for all the tips. You’ve greatly helped with our emergence into nomadicism.
There are a few more camp sites that are accessible by RVs and even some for 4wd only. Link is here.
I am looking forward to getting out and doing some boondocking. We currently are parking lot surfing at the moment, so we have all the requirements of a boondocking trip without the nice view.
I heard there are pet restrictions in Big Bend. Especially on the trails. Is this accurate?
Since we only travel with Cats, I couldn’t tell you about the parks complete pet policy. I am sure the visitors center can give you the full scoop if you call them.
Almost every National Park has restriction about pets on trails…typically they’re not allowed.
Thanks for the reply. Yeah, this is a bummer. We are traveling with a couple of dogs that are a little rough around the edges (but real cuddlebugs if you know them). We want to hit up Big Bend on the way out of Texas this July, but we may need to find a way to stow them for a week. Same issue with Burning Man. But, we love those mangy mutts. Gotta take ’em. 🙂
In National Parks you can bring your dogs, you just can’t take them on hikes. As for Burning Man…don’t even think about bringing them. We found a great cat hotel in Reno/Sparks area, so I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding a good dog place.
Thanks for the advice, and the videos. Yeah, Heather keeps saying the dogs will keep us from doing a lot of stuff, but I figure there are lots of dog-friendly opportunities out there too. I watched your video on Burning Man in preparation. Very nice. Keep it up!
For David and other dog people: Acadia National Park (on the coast of Maine) allows dogs on most if not all trails. The whole area is very dog-friendly.
Louis A Waters
What is that big box thing next to the edge of the brush?
It’s a bear box for people who need to store food or coolers during camping. In general RV’ers don’t need to use them, just tent campers.
Jason — I agree the Big Bend is one of God’s pleasant surprises. You mentioned that generator us is forbidden. I’m not doubting you, but other national parks allow generators. Did the rangers give you a reason?
They specifically told us Generators were forbidden when we picked up our pass, and as we visited the other campgrounds there were signs noting “No Generators” We didn’t ask, figured it must be due to the fragile desert climate being extremely flammable.
Its because of the NOISE!!
I guess Singa didn’t get the vegitarian memo.
nope, he is a carnivore all the way!
Love the idea of boondocking in a National park, but I am a bit confused by something in your post. You say “We weren’t able to stay at the same location for our full 5 days in the park due to other camper reservations. . . . Permits are first come, first-served and only available in person at the park visitor center.” If the permits are first-come, first-serve for these spots, where do the reservations come in? Thanks.
I know it’s a little crazy but some people want to move from spot to spot. So they may make a reservation for their first few days at one location and the rest of their days at another. Just as we were able to reserve our first 3 nights at one spot and our last 2 days at another. Does that make sense?
Maybe 🙂 The permits are necessary to be able to camp in one of these campgrounds but doesn’t necessarily get you a specific space. The space is or can be reserved once you have the permit. Have I got it?
The permits are for specific sites (site # 1,2,3..) and yes, once you have a permit, the sites can be reserved!
Thanks for the tips. This one’s definitely on our list!
Of course! It’s a good one!
We are so jealous… you guys saw javelinas! In all the years we’ve wintered in the Desert SW, that’s one of the few wildlife viewing experiences we’ve yet to enjoy. We’ve had up close and personals with lots of coyotes, hares, scorpions, tarantulas and rattlesnakes down there, but the javelina have so far eluded us. We’re going to have to make a specific effort to find them next time. We’re also desperately in need of a desert tortoise meet-up. lol
Awesome find on the campsites by the way. 🙂
Hey Geeks, we got the javelina’s but you got the starry night sky…so don’t be too jealous!
Poor Singa was in survival mode. lol
Darn cat, we let him out for 10 minutes and he came back with this!
That cat gets the best food and yet, it’s still not good enough! He is such a snob.
That’s funny My dogs get good food and still go out and eat sticks and leaves. What are you going to do.
Ha Ha Ha, the cats eat those same sticks and leaves…always makes me wonder!