Big Bend National Park
Christina, a HomeAway staffer, shows us stunning vistas and breathtaking views in Big Bend National Park
Gorgeous canyon views at Big Bend National Park
Lush mountains, vast deserts, geothermal hot springs, and the darkest skies in America – Big Bend National Park has it all. Located on the border between Texas and Mexico, the park contains a varied ecosphere which speaks to the area’s rich geological history. Big Bend’s stunning topography is comprised primarily of the vast Chihuahuan Desert, punctuated by majestic limestone canyons and winding rivers. Near the center of the park lies the Chisos Mountain range, the green jewel of the desert. Hike to the top of the Emory Peak and be rewarded for your efforts with endless views of the United States and Mexico.
Big Bend National Park truly is a treasure. But with 801,163 acres worth of land, where does a person even start? Luckily, HomeAway staffer Christina Song is on hand to offer an expert’s perspective on the best hiking and sights to be found in the wild and wonderful place that is Big Bend National Park.
Hiking experiences in Big Bend are as varied as the landscapes contained within the park. Not surprising considering that the park is larger than Rhode Island! With hikes ranging from 13 mile mountain circuits to 0.25 mile wheelchair accessible trails, there’s truly a hike for all ages and athletic abilities. Below I’ve detailed some of my favorites.
South Rim Hiking Trail
Climb to the summit of Emory’s Peak on the South Rim hiking trail for breathtaking panoramic views of the Chihuahuan desert below. Pack granola, sliced fruit, crackers, and cheese for a high- altitude lunch you’ll never forget. After you’re done, be sure to soak tired muscles at the Boquillas Hot Springs Ruins, located in the park next to the Rio Grande River. Take in the view as a spectacular desert sunset fades into a night sky clustered with thousands of brilliant stars Pro tip: Start your hike early in the morning so that you don’t get stuck hiking down the mountain in the dark!
A high altitude lunch at Emory’s Peak
Ernst Tinaja is a short day hike with huge canyon views. The loop only takes about 30 minutes to complete, but it’s a great place to linger with a picnic lunch and a camera. (And a six pack if you’re my boyfriend and his mom)! The small pool at the end of the trail is a destination for thirsty desert animals to seek refreshment, so have your camera ready for jackrabbits, javelinas, and various types of birds. Pro tip: The Ernst Tinaja pool is a watering hole only. Be kind to the wildlife and take your swimming somewhere else!
The Window Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park – and for good reason. This 6 mile loop begins with a descent into a dry, brushy valley and ends hundreds of feet in the air at a natural rock formation which forms a “window” view into the Chisos Mountain range. Like many hikes in Big Bend, the journey is almost as amazing as the destination. The trail leading to the window winds through desert brush, green forests, and stunning limestone formations. Pro tip: Be sure to wear shoes with great tread on them. Portions of the trail contain large amounts of gravel.
If you love immersing yourself in nature, backcountry camping is the way to go. Call Big Bend’s offices ahead of time to obtain backcountry parking permits and reserve campgrounds in the peak season (the spring months and many major holidays). In the slow season, you should have your pick of sites. If you’re looking for a less rustic camping experience, the park also operates three developed frontcountry campgrounds with running water and other amenities in addition to an RV Campground with full hookups.
Limestone formation on the Ernst Tinaja Trail
Prefer coming home to soft beds and running water after a long day of hiking? Try one of 80+ vacation rentals located proximally to Big Bend. Vacation rentals in this area of Texas offer a diverse range of accommodations, but some of my favorites feature modern Southwestern décor and stunning porch views worthy of any magazine. Pro tip: Book a rental with a fully equipped kitchen to whip up hearty breakfasts and sumptuous suppers. Your friends and family will thank you!
Attractions & Activities
Ernst Tinaja Trail
Big Bend National Park is famous for its birdwatching and fishing and internationally recognized for its stargazing. Plan to see constellations you may not be able to see in large cities – Big Bend’s incredibly dark skies and lack of light pollution provide an ideal backdrop for viewing the stars in all of their dazzling glory. For an even closer look, head out to the McDonald Observatory in nearby Fort Davis, TX. The observatory’s 362 inch Hobby- Eberly telescope will make even the furthest solar systems seem like they’re close enough to touch.
Canyon rafting trips on the Rio Grande River are another popular way to explore Big Bend and can be arranged through outfitters operating just outside of the park. Horseback rides can also be arranged through outside vendors
Outside of Big Bend, several nearby Texas towns provide great opportunities for daytripping and relaxing. Terlingua, TX is an authentic ghost town full of dusty old mining shafts, adobe ruins, and a fully operational saloon. Visit on the first Saturday of November for the world-famous Terlingua Chili Cookoff.
Craving a bit of culture? Check out Marfa, TX for modern art and design against the backdrop of a tiny Texan town. Visit the Chinati Foundation to see American artist Donald Judd’s larger- than- life sculptures arrayed against a West Texan landscape beautiful enough to be a work of art itself. Pro tip: Most of the restaurants close during the week, so visit on the weekend to get a full flavor of the town, including the Pizza Foundation – a place where design, good times, and hearth-baked pizza crust meet in a renovated gas station. Or try local favorite (and Beyonce’s favorite!) Mediterranean trailer Food Shark for scrumptious salads and wraps.