Big Bend National Park is packed full of adventure and wonder! It is definitely one of my favorite National Parks that not many people in the US know about. With over 800,00 acres, 150 hiking trails, exotic wildlife, dinosaur fossils, gorgeous views, and the dreamy Rio Grande River, how could it not be a favorite?
Big Bend is so grand (it takes 30 minutes just to get from the entrance to the park’s visitor center) and full of different adventures, you could easily spend a week exploring the park and still not see it all! After researching hikes on Alltrails and seeking advice from the Park Rangers, here are some must sees during a weekend trip.
Day 1: Upon entering the north entrance of the park on Highway 385, be sure to check out the dinosaur exhibit! Big Bend is known for having one of the largest dinosaur fossils ever found! You are also sure to be awed by Big Bend’s most famous fossil, the giant Pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus, which is the largest known flying creature to have ever existed!
After checking out the visitor center, head southeast on Highway 118 to the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, which is an easy 1 mile loop trail with a beautiful overlook. There’s a small wetland area with amazing birds and wildlife. It was also on this trail that my daughter and I were able to get our first peek of the Rio Grande River and Mexico!
Next, continue south and hit the Boquillas Canyon Trail, which is rated a moderate 1.3 mile trail. The beginning of the trail was the most challenging, which includes a climb up a cliff that overlooks the Rio Grande at the top. Once you get closer to the river, be sure to check out mortar holes left by ancient inhabitants. Follow the path by the river’s edge and into the majestic canyon. The temperature in the canyon can get hot so be sure to bring plenty of water.
The Big Bend Hot Springs Trail will be next on the agenda. This is a 1.4 mile loop. When we hiked, the ranger informed us that the crowds would not be as busy in the late afternoon, so try to plan around then if possible. You’ll be able to rest your tired hiking legs in the soothing hot springs.
*We brought our swimsuits and changed in the restroom. Hiking boots weren’t really needed on this trail because it was an easy walk to the springs. Some of the rocks in the hot springs pool area were slippery so be careful climbing in and out of the hot springs ruins and into the Rio Grande River. Water shoes would work perfectly!
You’ll need to then drive towards the middle of the park in order to hike the Lost Mine Trail, which is a moderately rated 4.2 mile loop. It’s recommended that you only hike the first mile, where you will see amazing views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon. You will love seeing the abundance of colorful wildflowers and cacti along the way. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to hike this trail. Hikers that we came across told us it was a much longer hike than expected.
Your last stop of the day will be to the Window Overlook. The trailhead begins near the Chisos Basin Lodge and is a short walk from the parking lot. You can also hike the full 5.2 mile Window Trail that features a waterfall. Many say that the Window Trail and the overlook captures the best sunset views in the park.
*Because of our limited time of wanting to get to the ghost town before dark, we did not have time to hike the full 5.2 mile trail nor catch the sunset. We did not feel like we missed out on much though because the view we saw at the overlook was stunning!
There is also a great camp store near the lodge that is open year-round with a variety of snacks and supplies that were reasonably priced. We purchased our Big Bend National Park token here for a souvenir! This wrapped up our day and we headed out the south exit toward Terlingua and onward to our ghost town adventure!
Terlingua Historic Ghost Town: This town feels like it is something from a sci-fi movie but it’s real. The desert terrain, mine ruins, and eerie cemetery makes this a fun way to end an adventure-filled day at Big Bend. The city is only a 10 minute drive from the park entrance. There are a few restaurants, bars, and hotels to choose from. Be sure to book ahead since this is a very small ghost town.
*We stayed at the El Dorado. This hotel had very little WiFi and only 1 or 2 tv channels, which ended up being perfect for us. We actually preferred getting away from the techie world for one night. We were able to walk everywhere from this hotel. We explored the cemetery as well as a few places that had live music. Fortunately, the only spirits we ran into that evening were ice cold at the bar.
Day 2: Begin your journey with a 12.6 mile drive on the scenic Maverick Trail. This was a fun, bumpy-terrain road with gorgeous views. If possible, get a vehicle with 4 wheel drive for this excursion (though our small Hyundai Kona rental SUV was fine). Roll down the windows and sing out your favorite tunes along the way as you pass by wildflowers and blue bonnets.
Gypsy Mama Bear tip: Keep your eyes peeled for Javelinas!
End your journey in the Big Bend at the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, a 1.5 mile hike suitable for all skill levels. The trail begins at the end of the Ross Maxwell scenic drive. This trail is known for being one of the most spectacular scenic view trails in the park and it will not disappoint! The views of the canyon while hiking along the trail paths surrounded by lush vegetation and bamboo-like grasses were spectacular.
Be sure to look closely at the grasses. You can see where wild animals make small shelters to protect themselves from the harsh desert elements.
As you walk to the end of the trail towards the river bend, it will feel like you are walking in a secret garden. You will feel the presence of the long-ago dinosaurs that once roamed these lands. These are paths only you can see because you are cut off from the real hustle-bustle world and in your special moment. If only it would last forever…
Gypsy Mama Bear Tips
- Gas stations are few and far between, so be sure to fill up your vehicle whenever you get the chance
- The canyons can get hot so make sure to hike with plenty of water
- Enjoy swimming in the Rio Grande, but be aware that it is illegal to cross over to Mexico on those trails
- You may see artwork for sale on the trails, but it is illegal to purchase. Similar items are available at the camp store near the Window Trail
- The park has very little cell service so let a friend know where you are when you get a cell signal
- Blue Bonnets were starting to bloom in March but wildflowers would be best in April
- Travel here only during cooler months. Many of the visitor centers close during the hot summer season
- I always pack snacks in my suitcase and pack in on hikes. These protein bars are perfect to have on the trail!
I am with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
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Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂
Awesome post! Keep up the great work! 🙂