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  • Georgina D'Angelo

9 Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park

Updated: Jan 11


When you think of Texas, you might think of cow pastures, windmills, miles of flat land, and small town after small town. But did you know one of the most underrated US national parks is located in West Texas?


Big Bend National Park is an incredible natural wonder waiting to be explored. If you’re looking for a place to camp, hike, stargaze, and admire wildlife, then Big Bend National Park is the perfect place for you.


Are you ready to experience this gorgeous national park? Below I cover how to get to the park, the best time to visit, the best hikes in Big Bend National Park, the weather, and more. Keep reading to find out how to plan an epic adventure to Big Bend.


Is Big Bend National Park worth visiting? - Alpacka My Bags

In this article...



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Big Bend National Park Overview


To help you plan the best trip possible to Big Bend National Park, here are helpful tips. Learn when the best time to visit is, how to get here, where to stay, and more.


Entrance Fee: Big Bend National Park charges a $30 entrance fee per car; this is valid for 7 days. You can also use your America the Beautiful Pass here, the US national park annual pass.


Open: Year-round; visitor centers operate during normal business hours.


Size: 801,163 acres, more than 150 miles of hiking trails


Wildlife: Black bears, coyotes, tarantulas, snakes, deer, bobcat, mountain lion, javelina, and more


Dog-Friendly: The campsites and paved roads are, but no hiking trails are dog-friendly in Big Bend.


Park Established: June 12, 1944


TIP: If you plan on visiting other national parks like Grand Teton or Shenandoah, then the America the Beautiful annual park pass is worth buying!


Big Bend National Park Location


So where is Big Bend National Park? This US national park is located in far west Texas, right above the Texas-Mexico border. This area of the US comprises deserts, mountains, and river canyons.


Learn how to get to Big Bend National Park and where to stay. The camping here is incredible!


Big Bend National Park Location
Mountains for Miles in Big Bend

Weather Big Bend National Park


Big Bend National Park is in a dry, desert area. In short, summer in Big Bend is very hot, and not that suitable for hiking. Fall and spring are the best times to visit. It gets warm during the day but cools down nicely at night for the perfect hiking and camping weather.


Big Bend in winter is very cold, as it gets quite windy here. If you bring the proper attire; however, you can comfortably hike and spend time outside during the day in winter.


Summer Weather: June through August

Average High: 87°F

Average Low: 65°F


Fall Weather: September through November

It sometimes rains in Big Bend National Park in the fall, so bring a rain jacket as well. It is usually no more than a drizzle and doesn't last too long.


Average High: 79°F

Average Low: 46°F


Weather Big Bend National Park
End of September in Big Bend National Park

Winter Weather: December through February

If you’re tent camping, you will want a cold-weather sleeping bag. We recommend bringing extra blankets as well.


Average High: 64°F

Average Low: 39°F


Spring Weather: March through May

Bring a rain jacket as well if you visit Big Bend in the spring. It may rain some, but it is generally more of a sprinkle and doesn't last that long.


Average High: 83°F

Average Low: 48°F


Whatever time of year you plan on visiting Big Bend, just remember there are no tall trees, so there is no shade. Bring plenty of sun protection and water if you plan on hiking during any month.


Big Bend National Park Weather - Fall

Best Time to Go to Big Bend


The best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park is either fall or spring. These months, April through May and October through November, generally bring cooler weather and smaller crowds.


Enjoy the best hikes in Big Bend the most during spring or fall, and avoid the large crowds and uncomfortable hiking weather that summer and winter bring. It can rain unexpectedly in Big Bend in the spring and fall so a rain jacket would be useful to bring. It is generally a light rain and doesn't last very long.


Summer tends to be the busiest and the hottest time. Winter can get very cold in Big Bend, but it is still a beautiful time to visit if you bundle up.


9 Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park


There are many breathtaking Big Bend hiking trails. This national park is a mountain lover’s and desert lover’s paradise alike. The nature and wildlife in Big Bend National Park are incredible.


There are many types of cacti, tarantulas, bears, rivers, the list goes on. If you’re a nature or hiking lover, you need to visit Big Bend National Park. Always check the NPS website for current hiking conditions and trail closure alerts; i.e. sometimes Santa Elena Canyon is closed due to high water levels.


Before you hit the trails, make sure you have all the day hiking essentials so you can stay safe and have fun. Make the most of your time on the best hikes in Big Bend!


Window Trail


Length: 5.5 miles out & back, 2-3 hours average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 948 feet


Trailhead Location: Chisos Basin Campground


Difficulty: Moderate


Window Trail is my number one recommendation for hiking in Big Bend National Park. You'll see views of the Chisos Mountains and Basin, tons of pretty plants, possibly wildlife like deer, as well as the "window" view seen in the second photo below.



Lost Mine Trail


Length: 4.8 miles out & back, 3-hour average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 1,131 feet


Trailhead Location: Mile marker 5 off Chisos Basin Road


Difficulty: Moderate


This trail offers some beautiful sweeping mountain views, but it can often be cloudy and foggy. This might affect your visibility and make the trail muddy, so keep this in mind and check the weather before you head out.



Balanced Rock


Length: 2-mile out & back, 50-minute average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 246 feet


Trailhead Location: Grapevine Hills Trailhead; high clearance vehicle required


Difficulty: Easy until the last quarter mile "climb" up to the rock


Balanced rock is quite literally a giant rock balancing on two others, and it's worth the hike. The scenery on the way up and once you're at the top are gorgeous. You can see the valley from above (first picture below). This is a good trail for a picnic!



Santa Elena Canyon


Length: 1.4-mile out & back, 40-minute average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 209 feet


Trailhead Location: Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead


Difficulty: Varying conditions depending on water levels (flooding is common)


Santa Elena Canyon is one of Big Bend's most popular places. The view of the canyon is gorgeous on the hike, but it can get muddy so wear hiking boots and be prepared to possibly get a little wet.


View of Santa Elena Canyon - Best Hikes in Big Bend
View of Santa Elena Canyon - Best Hikes in Big Bend

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive


Length: 30.9-mile point-to-point paved road


Location: Starts at the intersection of Panther Junction Road and Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive


Notes: Popular for biking and driving, with various trailheads and overlooks along the way


If you're only in Big Bend for a day or two, I highly recommend hopping on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. You can easily tack on a couple of shorter hikes along the way; Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off and Sam Nail Ranch Trail are both off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.


Sotol Vista Overlook on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive - Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive - Sotol Vista Overlook

Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff


Length: 3.5-mile out & back, 1.5 hours average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 459 feet


Trailhead Location: Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff Trailhead off Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr.


Difficulty: Moderate


Even if you don't hike the entire Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail, the scenery and wildlife you'll see make it worth it. You'll walk through a canyon most of the way, and there are a few great spots to stop for views (and photos!).



Laguna Meadow Trail


Length: 7.8-mile out & back, 4 hours average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 1,755 feet


Trailhead Location: Chisos Basin Visitor Center


Difficulty: Moderate


Laguna Meadow Trail is in the Chisos Basin which is one of the prettiest parts of Big Bend National Park. You'll start near the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. This trail can get steep, there are switchbacks, so bring plenty of water (around 1 liter per hour).



Sam Nail Ranch Trail


Length: 0.3-mile loop, 10-minute average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 29 feet


Trailhead Location: Sam Nail Ranch off Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr.


Difficulty: Easy


Sam Nail Ranch is a 1900s ranching area. You can see the remains of the two-room home that Sam Nail built and lived in with his family in the early 1900s. There is also an original windmill you can see that was used to pump water from the ground. Don't forget to admire the view of the Chisos Mountains on this trail (pictured below).


Hiking Big Bend National Park - Sam Nail Ranch Trail

Mule Ear Spring Trail


Length: 3.9 miles out & back, 1 hour and 30 minutes average hiking time


Elevation Gain: 410 feet


Trailhead Location: Mule Ears Viewpoint on Mule Ears Road


Difficulty: Moderate


Two mountain peaks form what's known as the "mule ears" pictured below because they look like just that. You can stop at the pullout and enjoy the view from afar, or hike the Mule Ear Spring Trail for a closer look and a nice hike.


Mule Ear Mountain - Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park
Mule Ear Mountains

Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park FAQ:


What is the most scenic trail in Big Bend?

Big Bend National Park has no shortage of beautiful scenery. However, the two most scenic trails in Big Bend are Window Trail and Sam Nail Ranch Trail.


Window Trail is a 5.5-mile out & back that begins at Chisos Basin Campground. On this trail, you can admire the Chisos Mountains, tons of wildlife, and a very pretty view from the "window" in the mountain.


Sam Nail Ranch Trail is a 0.3-mile loop and very flat, so it's a nice, easy scenic trail. From here you'll see a wide view of the Chisos Mountains making a beautiful backdrop.



What is the best scenic route in Big Bend National Park?

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the best scenic route in Big Bend National Park. It's about 31 miles long and is popular for driving and biking. There are many trailheads and overlooks along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that you can pull off to enjoy.


Some of the best hikes are Sam Nail Ranch Trail and Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off. A few of the best overlooks on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive are Sotol Vista Overlook and Mule Ears Viewpoint.



Which part of Big Bend is best?

The Chisos Mountain Basin is a great place to base yourself when visiting Big Bend National Park. It is located in the center of the park and you can camp here or stay in the Chisos Basin Lodge.


Many of the best hikes start in or near Chisos Basin including Window Trail and Laguna Meadow Trail. The mountain basin is the most scenic part of Big Bend as well.


Sunset over a mountain in Chisos Basin Big Bend National Park
Sunset in Chisos Basin

What to Bring to Big Bend National Park


Chances are you will be hiking when you visit Big Bend, National Park. This is a desert, so having proper attire is very important and it depends on the season. However, the following are necessary items to bring regardless of the season.


If you plan on camping and hiking, here's what to bring to Big Bend National Park:


If you plan on visiting Big Bend in winter or during the cooler months, you should also pack a warm coat or heavy jacket, thermal pants, thicker socks, a beanie, and gloves if you run cold. Read more on camping in winter.


During the late spring, summer, and early fall, you will also want to bring a rain jacket and an umbrella. It tends to rain very randomly in Big Bend. There might be no rain forecasted at all, but it can still suddenly downpour. This is why you also need a rain cover for your tent!


View a full list of camping essentials and what to bring on a day hike for more details on what to bring to Big Bend National Park.


Sam Nail Ranch Trail view of the Chisos Mountains - Hikes in Big Bend National Park
Sam Nail Ranch Trail - Big Bend Trails

Big Bend National Park FAQ:


Is Big Bend National Park worth the trip?

Big Bend National Park is worth visiting if you enjoy hiking, admiring wildlife, desert landscapes, and mountain views. With miles of trails to choose from and incredible scenic views, Big Bend needs to be on your travel list.


Hit the best hikes in Big Bend National Park, drive along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, try to spot black bears, and admire the Chisos Mountains against a beautiful desert landscape.


What is the prettiest part of Big Bend National Park?

Chisos Basin is the prettiest part of Big Bend National Park. It is surrounded by the Chisos Mountains providing picturesque nature scenes all around you. This is also a great area to base yourself in during your visit to Big Bend as it is very centrally located in the park.


Can you stay in Big Bend National Park?

Yes, you can stay in Big Bend National Park while visiting and enjoy all the park has to offer. The Chisos Basin Lodge is a great option, or you can camp at one of the four campgrounds or get a permit for backcountry camping.


What is the best month to visit Big Bend National Park?

Spring and fall are the best seasons to go, but overall, October is the best month to visit Big Bend National Park. The weather is cool all day which is perfect for hiking and camping in the park. Generally, the crowds are much smaller by the end of September, so October is a quiet time to visit as well.



Chisos Mountains - Best Hikes in Big Bend
Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park

With all the details on hand, you are now ready to visit Big Bend National Park! You know where it is located, what the weather is like, where to stay, and more. Now pack your bags, bring your hiking boots, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!


The best hikes in Big Bend National Park are some of the most scenic trails in the southern US. Texas is hiding this hard-to-get-to-but-so-worth-it nature gem, it's time to hit the trails and explore it.


Find out for yourself why one of America’s most underrated national parks is so worth visiting. Reminder: it has something to do with the incredible wildlife, mountains, and hiking. Desert mountains are an incredible sight to admire!


When will you be heading to Big Bend National Park? Let us know in the comments below!


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aboutME

Hi, I'm Georgina, adventure enthusiast and creator of Alpacka My Bags. I'm here for all of your travel and adventure planning needs! 

 

I've been exploring this beautiful planet since I was a child, so I decided it was time to share my travel tips with others to enjoy. After college, I knew the "traditional career path" was not for me.

 

I needed to travel and explore what this world has to offer. It sounds cliché but you do only live once. So I made going on adventures a priority, and soon realized that I wanted to share them with others so you can enjoy them too! 

My passion is spreading the travel bug and showing others that travel is attainable and so worth it. From itineraries to camping tips to packing lists, Alpacka My Bags has you covered!

Join me, and often my partner and my dog, as we find exciting adventures and travel recommendations for you! If you've been bit by the travel bug just as I have, I hope you find my tips useful for all of your future travels.

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