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best camping big bend national park

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:
best camping big bend national park

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).

solar camping big bend national park

Reservations

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.

best camping big bend national park

No Amenities

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.

best camping big bend national park

Leave No Trace

As with most wild camping: if you pack it in, pack it out. No exceptions!

wild camping big bend national park

wild camping big bend national park

Wildlife

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).

big bend national park wild life

big bend national park wild life

Singa on the other hand (despite our best efforts), had several reptile friends for dinner. Yuck!

big bend national park

big bend national park

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.

trailer village big bend

Have you done any backcountry RV camping at a state or national park before that we should know about? Share your stays and tips in the comments below.

Hello there! I honestly don’t know what to say, so I am going to tell you a bunch of random facts instead. I'm a fish eating vegetarian who hates spiders and loves snakes. I almost never took vacations growing up. I wanted to be Pippi Longstocking (still do). I misspell about every other word I write and still struggle with grammar. I love splurging on a good high tea (which is really hard to find these days). And whatever you do, don’t tell me I can’t do something, because then I'll HAVE to do it!

Comments (46)

  • Kris

    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.

    Happy Camping!!!

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  • RONALD WOODALL

    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

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  • 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!

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  • 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

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    • Thank you so much Carole! We loved our time in Quebec and I do hope we can come back for a visit.

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  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for all the great information. It’s a wonderful thing you do in sharing.

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  • Elizabeth

    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?

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  • 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.

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  • Pete Olson

    Um…techically, frogs are amphibians, not reptiles…not sure if that makes Singa’s culinary preferences more palatable to you guys or not

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    • Bill Bob

      That is not a frog. Look again.

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  • mary

    It is beautiful! So I shouldn’t take my tent when I go this summer?

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      • David Cook

        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

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    • YES you should take your tent!

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    • 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

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  • kat nwsm

    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.

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  • There are a few more camp sites that are accessible by RVs and even some for 4wd only. Link is here.

    http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/roadsidecamps.htm

    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.

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  • I heard there are pet restrictions in Big Bend. Especially on the trails. Is this accurate?

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    • David,
      Almost every National Park has restriction about pets on trails…typically they’re not allowed.

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      • 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. 🙂

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        • David,
          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.

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          • 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!

        • Anne Golden

          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.

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  • Louis A Waters

    What is that big box thing next to the edge of the brush?

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    • Louis,
      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.

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  • Alan Prochoroff

    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?

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    • 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.

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    • M. Williamson

      Its because of the NOISE!!

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  • Tim

    I guess Singa didn’t get the vegitarian memo.

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  • 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.

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      • 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?

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  • Thanks for the tips. This one’s definitely on our list!

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  • 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. 🙂

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    • Hey Geeks, we got the javelina’s but you got the starry night sky…so don’t be too jealous!

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  • Redds

    Poor Singa was in survival mode. lol

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    • Darn cat, we let him out for 10 minutes and he came back with this!

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      • Redds

        That’s funny My dogs get good food and still go out and eat sticks and leaves. What are you going to do.

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