Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Big Bend National Park has got to be one of the most underrated National Parks out there. Located in southwest Texas, this park is a hiker's dream. It includes the entire Chisos mountain range and a large section of the Chilhuahun Desert. Here are some of the "must dos" while visiting.
First on my list is the Santa Elena Canyon. The trail to starts to the very right of this picture. But my first-time hiking it I did not see the entrance and figured the only way to go was through the river. Well, it looked shallow so I figured it wouldn’t be a problem. Come to find out with only a few steps in I was sinking in thigh-high mud. Battling with every step, I trudged through with my DLSR in one hand, phone in the other, and other expensive gear on my back. The suction from the muck was so strong I lost my Keens trying to walk. Determined not to lose my pair of water shoes I’ve had for over 10 years I reached my entire arm deep into the mud searching for them. Success! At this point I was covered in mud and so was majority of my non-water resistant equipment. Struggling to keep my balance I threw my blocks of grimy Keens on the side bank and continued the entire hike barefoot. Moral of the story—if you want to stay clean, locate the trail to the right, but if you want to have a good story pick the road, er, *river* less traveled :)
Boquillas Hot Springs (also known as Langford Hot springs) is another must see if visiting Big Bend National Park. The narrow, unfenced, and unmanned portion of the Rio Grande River, separating the US and Mexico. The only sound to be heard is the faint ripple of the river and the horses neighing in the distance. Get there early and you’ll have the entire place to yourself.
Boquillas Canyon Trail is a 20 minute drive from Boquillas Hot Springs. It’s about a 1.5 mile hike round trip. It starts off with a quick incline from the parking lot to a cliff that overlooks the Rio Grande. After that, you head down an easy-to-follow path that leads you right to the canyon. There’s a good chance you’ll come across some donkeys or horses along the way. They are not free roaming or “wild”. They are livestock that cross the river from the villages of Mexico.
The horse flies can be a bit of a nuisance so perhaps where long sleeves or bug spray.
Bring cash if you want souvenirs. Along the trail and at Boquillas Hot Springs you’ll find a collection of bright colored trinkets and decorated hiking sticks. Next to it you’ll find a jar and a handwritten note, “Please pay here. Donations are welcomed!”. The trinkets are left there by the people who live in nearby villages on the Mexican side. They want to sell their crafts to hikers but cannot stay on the American side due to fear of detainment by Border Patrol.
Wear water shoes if you feel like continuing where the trail “ends”. You can hike down the river quite a ways with the deepest part I experienced was around waist high. Mind you, this could get deeper depending on the time of the year and the amount of rainfall. Be careful of any strong currents.
Also, there are a lot of thorn bushes if you continue on where the trail "ends". I had fair share of cuts all over my legs and arms, so wear long sleeves or pants if feeling adventurous.
As always, get up and get going! Trust me, it will be worth it when you have the entire canyon to yourself.
Balanced Rock was a fun little hike! To get to the trailhead you need to drive about 6 miles on a gravel road called Grapevine Spring. No problem for a truck, SUV, or any vehicle with high ground clearance. I’m sure you could make it with a standard car but take it slow. The hike is a quick 2 mile round- trip that is flat and sandy for the majority of the way. The final quarter mile is where it starts to get fun! The trail gets steep and there are some boulders and rocky cliffs to scramble around. The trail ends at Balanced Rock which overlooks the desert and some awesome rock formation.
Last on my list of "must dos" while visiting Big Bend is backcountry camping. Unfortunately, boondocking IN the park was not possible because temperatures were around 115! The RV is not insulated enough for temps that high. Even with unlimited power – it doesn’t cool down enough with a single AC unit. Ended up at a RV park for the week called, BJs RV Park. Which was about an hour to drive to any hike in Big Bend. The temperature inside the RV held around 92 by mid day- that was with the AC on high. So, be prepared to sweat if going in June! The temps at night dipped down “cool” enough to be comfortable - took advantage of this and did some backcountry camping in the park. You must apply for a $10 permit at www.recreation.gov. You can choose to either backpack in or do roadside camping. Be sure to follow the exact directions given on the site. Ended up picking Robbers Roost campsite and arrived around 9pm, managed to pitch the tent right at sunset - just as temps started to “cool” off. Hands down the best camping experience of my life – the stars were spectacular! I have never seen so many in my life, even the saw the Milky Way!
If boondocking, I suggest going in a cooler time of the year.
There is no service in the park so be sure to download directions from Google Maps beforehand. (These are a life saver and can be used offline!)
Cell service outside of the park is sketchy as well. Verizon was non-existent, so had to switch to a AT&T sim card for the week.
If doing any sort of backcountry camping, you MUST have 4-wheel drive or a high clearance vehicle.