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A First Timer’s Guide to Visiting Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is such a unique and beautiful place to camp! The sweeping views of it’s diverse landscape will have you constantly pulling off the road for photos. Even better are the beautiful sunsets and star filled night skies. You’ll also see a variety of wildlife and have so many adventurous activities to choose from! If you’re planning on visiting Big Bend National Park for the first time, we hope our guide helps you have an unforgettable experience like we did.

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a first-timer's guide to visiting Big Bend National Park

WHERE TO CAMP

We highly recommend staying in multiple locations within the park. Big Bend is large and you have to drive a lot if you want to see everything. We were lucky to divide our nights between two of the three developed campgrounds.

RIO GRAND VILLAGE CAMPGROUND

The first place we camped was Rio Grand Village and was great because it is the only place in Big Bend where you can run your generator for specific hours during the day. We have dogs so it was important for us to know we could leave them in the RV with power and air conditioning. This campground is the closest to the hot springs and to the Boquillas Crossing so it’s also very convenient for those activities.

CHISOS BASIN CAMPGROUND

We spent two nights at the Chisos Basin Campground. This campground has to be one of the most scenic campgrounds that we have ever been to! There are no hookups and you are not allowed to run your generator (according to the ranger), but this is the most convenient campground for visiting this section of the park. We really enjoyed the Window and Lost Mine Trails, both of which were super easy to get to. Be aware, RVs over 24 feet or trailers over 20 feet are not recommended due to the narrow, winding road to the Basin and the small campsites in this campground.

RV under the night sky with stars in Chisos basin campground Big Bend National park

STUDY BUTTE RV PARK

Study Butte RV park is the closest RV park outside of Big Bend National Park. The park is fairly basic, but it does offer full hook-ups. The location is great, though. We found it extremely convenient for visiting Terlingua, Lajitas, and the west side of the National Park (Santa Elena Cayon). There is a fully stocked grocery store across the street and the cell service is pretty good which were welcome sites after spending five nights in the park!

WHAT TO DO: 5 UNFORGETTABLE THINGS YOU SHOULDN’T MISS!

1. BOQUILLAS CROSSING

At the Boquillas Crossing, you can cross the Rio Grande to visit the small Mexican town of Boquillas. This was a perfect way to spend an afternoon and we really enjoyed our experience. First, you go to the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. Once you pass through, you walk towards the Rio Grande River where you cross via boat or by walking across (we walked). Once across, you will have the option of renting a donkey, paying for a ride in a pickup truck or walking the 1/2 mile to the town. We opted to ride the donkey on the way there and walked on the return.

Once you arrive in Boquillas, there are souvenir shops, a couple restaurants, and a B&B.  We ate and drank margaritas at Boquillas Resturant and it was really good (strong margaritas 🙂). If you plan to do this activity, be sure to check all of the details and information here so you know the hours, requirements, etc.

2. HOT SPRINGS AT SUNRISE

Sunrise is the perfect time for a soak in the hot springs because the days are hot and at sunset, the springs can get pretty crowded. We arrived at the trail parking lot while it was still dark out to give ourselves plenty of time to hike the trail and be at the hot springs when the sun was coming up.

It was such an enjoyable experience and there were only a few other people there, but the springs started filling up quickly as we were leaving by 8:00am! The hot springs are perched on the edge of the Rio Grande. The sound of the river makes soaking in these springs even more enjoyable!

3. LOST MINE TRAIL

The Lost Mine Trail is one of the most popular trails in Big Bend. Those that hike this trail are rewarded with spectacular views throughout, but especially when you reach the top. This trail is a bit strenuous, but it’s totally worth it!

Woman sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking stunning mountain views in Big Bend National park Texas

4. THE WINDOW TRAIL

The Window Trail is a fun hike that leads you to a narrow pouroff, which overlooks the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. This pouroff is the “Window” and is very narrow, but the views are incredible. The trail is pretty easy, although it’s entirely downhill on the way to the Window and entirely uphill on the way back.

We chose to do this hike so that we would arrive at the Window at sunset. This was beautiful but meant that we hiked back in the dark. We didn’t encounter any problems, but there was definitely evidence of coyotes or mountain lions on the trail, which made us very nervous. Whenever you choose to do the hike, it will be very enjoyable, but be prepared that you may encounter wildlife.

5. ROSS MAXWELL SCENIC DRIVE TO THE SANTA ELENA CANYON TRAIL

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive has been named one of the best drives in Texas. This 40ish mile stretch takes you through the area’s most scenic landscapes and ends at the breathtaking Santa Elena Canyon. The canyon was incredible and we loved hiking the short trail which takes you up the canyon and leads you down to the water of the Rio Grande. Once we arrived, we felt like we had found a little oasis. We sat and admired the beauty of the river and the canyon walls. It was also cool to walk about halfway across the river and be in Mexico!

TIPS FOR VISITING

1. Bring your passport.

You obviously can’t enter Mexico without your passport, but there are also several border patrol stops leaving the area where it’s helpful to present your passport as well.

2. Plan to be out of service.

The entire park is a dead zone for cell phone signal. You can get free WiFi at the visitors centers, but it’s not fast or reliable. Plan to be unplugged your entire visit.

3. Gas up your car/RV at every chance you get.

It will depend on which direction you’re driving in from, but we found that gas stations are hard to come by as you travel towards the park. We nearly ran out of gas because once we passed Del Rio, we didn’t find another gas station for 120 miles!! You’ll also be doing a lot of driving in the park, since it’s so big. The visitors centers have gas, but one day they were out of service so don’t rely on those stations.

4. Beware of wildlife!

We came in contact with a lot of wildlife during our trip. While driving at dusk, you’ll have to be very cautious. There are deer, javalinas, road runners, rabbits and coyotes all along the sides of the roads! We were constantly worried we would hit an animal crossing the road. Also, be smart and safe on the trails while hiking. While we hiked in the dark two different times, we were pretty lucky not to encounter a mountain lion, coyote, or bear. Be sure to keep your trash and food locked up at all times at your campsite.

5. Don’t bring your dog/s, if possible

Dogs are allowed in campgrounds, but aren’t allowed on most of the trails in the park, so if you have the choice, we’d recommend leaving your dog/s at home. We travel full-time with our dogs so they are always with us, but it was a challenge balancing their needs and our adventure time. Since generators are only allowed in certain areas of the park and during certain times, we couldn’t always have the air conditioning on for the dogs in the RV while we were out exploring. Luckily, we were visiting during the spring and the temperatures were cooler. But, in the summer months, the temperatures can be dangerous for dogs!

RV driving through big bend national park

We hope our guide prepares you to have a safe and memorable trip to Big Bend National Park. Regardless of how you choose to spend your time in the park, we’re certain you will love it as much as we did. Be sure to share your own adventures and tips for visiting Big Bend in the comments below!

 

 

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Dave
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Dave

Just a little story and maybe a warning about Bib Bend. I was camping there on a motorcycle trip a few years ago. I got to the campground about 3:00 in the afternoon. As I was setting up my tent I a deer and 2 fawns came strolling through the campground about 30 or so feet from where I was. I didn’t think too much about it except for thinking that they had lost their fear of man because they aren’t hunted in the park. The moseyed up a two track toward the ranger station. A few minutes later I… Read more »

Daniel McKenzie
Admin

Hey Dave, thanks for sharing your story! We went on a late evening hike and were definitely worried about mountain lions. I saw a coyote just a couple hundred yards from our campground as well. It’s an incredible area, but you certainly need to remember that there is plenty of nature and wildlife out there that can be dangerous. Best to do whatever you can to be prepared!

Julie Gant
Guest

Great info! I’m Pinning it in our future destinations board. Thanks!

Daniel McKenzie
Admin

Thank you! Hope you love it as much as we did!