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  • Georgina D'Angelo

How to Get to Big Bend National Park + Where to Stay

Updated: Feb 1

Woman hiking - How to Get to Big Bend National Park | Alpacka My Bags

Big Bend National Park is located in far West Texas, right above the Texas-Mexico border. With over a hundred miles of hiking trails, a variety of wildlife, and scenic roads to enjoy, there’s no shortage of beauty and adventure in Big Bend.


However, because it’s in the corner of West Texas, Big Bend National Park can require somewhat of a trek to get to. Don’t let this dissuade you though; this southern national park is well worth going the extra mile for. 


I’ll share with you how to get to Big Bend National Park below so you can start planning a trip to this Texas nature gem. Don’t forget to check out the best hikes in Big Bend while you’re there!



In this article...


Know Before You Go


Entrance: $30 per vehicle for 7 days; or use the America the Beautiful Pass (Annual Pass)

Established: June 12, 1944

Dog-Friendly: Campgrounds and paved roads only; no hiking trails

Accommodations: Lodge and camping, more info below

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

Size: 801,163 acres, more than 150 miles of hiking trails (read the best hikes in Big Bend)

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


TIP: If you plan on visiting other national parks in the US, like Shenandoah or Grand Teton, the America the Beautiful annual park pass is worth it. You’ll cover the cost in 2 to 3 national park visits. 


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 in the southern United States.


This area of the US comprises deserts, mountains, and river canyons. It’s a relatively dry and mountainous part of the country. The low, yet vast mountain ranges sweep over miles of desert creating a very unique and scenic area.


How to Get to Big Bend National Park


Big Bend National Park is located in rural west Texas. You can fly into a “nearby” airport and continue your journey by car, or you can make a road trip out of your visit and drive to Big Bend if you’re coming from somewhere else in the US.


Driving


If you are driving into the park you will drive through Marathon, Texas, the closest town to Big Bend National Park. It is over an hour's drive from Marathon to Panther Junction Visitor Center in the park.


Big Bend is located in the far south of the Big Bend region of Texas, so the only way to get to the park if you’re driving is from the north. 



I drove from east Texas and drove through Marathon. If you’re coming from New Mexico or Colorado, you will too. I recommend filling up on gas and snacks, etc. in Marathon at the gas station. 


There is a gas station in the park, but it’s much more expensive.


Once you’ve entered the park, don’t forget to visit the Panther Junction Visitor Center for maps, trail updates, and fun souvenirs. I couldn't miss out on adding a national park pin and sticker to my collection!


Flying


If you plan on flying to Big Bend National Park, it is quite a journey, but it’s worth it. There is not an airport near Big Bend National Park; it is situated in a very rural area, far away from any major city. 


Below are the closest airports to Big Bend National Park. You will have to rent a car once you land and drive the remainder of the way.


Airports near Big Bend National Park: 


  • Midland International Air & Space Port (MAF) | 196 miles, 3 hours

  • El Paso International Airport (ELP) | 288 miles, 4 hours and 30 minutes

  • San Antonio International Airport (SAT) | 374 miles, 5 hours and 40 minutes

  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) | 524 miles, 7 hours and 40 minutes


Flying into Dallas (DFW) is the recommended route. It is a much larger airport, so plane tickets will likely be much cheaper to fly into DFW. While this park is out of the way, don’t let it stop you from visiting. We drove 11 hours from east Texas and it was so worth it.


Cloudy day in Big Bend National Park (Chisos Mountains)

How do you enter Big Bend National Park?


Big Bend National Park has two entrances, one on the west side and one on the north end.


If you're entering from Terlingua, the west, you'll drive down the 118 until it turns into Panther Junction Road.


If you're driving from Marathon, the north, you'll enter on the 385 that turns into Main Park Road.


Both entrances are about 30 minutes from Panther Junction Visitor Center which is centrally located in the park.


Do you need a car in Big Bend National Park?


A car is required to visit Big Bend National Park. The closest towns are miles away; Marathon, Texas is over an hour away.


There are no shuttles in the park either, and being such a large park, trailheads are often far away from one another.


You will likely have to drive several hours from the airport you decide to fly into, so you will need to rent a car to get to Big Bend National Park andways.


View over the mountains in Big Bend National Park

Towns Near Big Bend National Park


The closest towns to Big Bend National Park Panther Junction Visitor Center are Terlingua and Marathon, Texas, about 40 minutes and 1.5 hours drive away, respectively.


This national park is in a very remote area, so make sure you fill up on gas and food before you enter the park.


Towns Closest to Panther Junction Visitor Center in Big Bend National Park:


Terlingua, Texas: 30 miles (40 minutes) west of Panther Junction

  • Camp Elena (glamping)

  • Lotus Tents (glamping)

  • Villa Terlingua

  • DB's Rustic Iron BBQ


Marathon, Texas: 68 miles (1 hour and 15 minutes) north of Panther Junction

  • Eve's Garden Bed & Breakfast

  • Gage Hotel

  • Brick Vault Brewery & Barbecue


There is a gas station at Panther Junction Visitor Center, and they sell basic food necessities. However, it will be much more expensive than buying these things outside of the park.


Where to Stay When Visiting Big Bend National Park


There is a lodge and four campgrounds in Big Bend National Park. Chisos Mountain Lodge is a great place to stay if you don't want to camp.


It's located in a beautiful area, the Chisos Basin, and is surrounded by mountains. The lodge is also very close to several trailheads.


The campgrounds are also great if you want the full nature experience.


Big Bend Lodging: Chisos Mountain Lodge

Chisos Mountain Lodge is a great place to stay in Big Bend National Park. You’ll have the comfort and amenities of a hotel, but the convenience of hiking trails right outside your door.


You could spend your whole time in Big Bend just exploring the Chisos Basin area and still have plenty of hiking to do and views to admire.


The Chisos Mountain Lodge offers lodge rooms as well as five cottages. There is a restaurant on-site as well, and a convenience/grocery store.


I highly recommend dining at the restaurant after a long hike even if you're not staying at the lodge.


Chisos Mountain Lodge:

  • Open Year-Round

  • Restaurant and Store On-Site

  • Hotel Style Rooms & Cottages

  • Close to Hiking


Where to Camp in Big Bend National Park

There are a total of four campgrounds in Big Bend National Park, three of which are run by the National Park Service, Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village, and Cottonwood.


These three campsites all offer drinking water and restroom facilities. However, there are no full RV hook-ups available here.


Rio Grande Village RV Park is run by Aramark, and it has 25 sites with full hookups. This is the only campground with full hook-ups in Big Bend National Park. Thankfully, it’s a good option if you prefer having the hookups.


Rooftop tent camping in Big Bend National Park

There is also backcountry camping in Big Bend National Park, which you must obtain a permit for. No matter where you end up camping, always leave your rain cover on your tent. We learned the hard way that it can downpour in Big Bend even if there is no rain forecasted.


Campgrounds in Big Bend National Park:


  • Chisos Basin Campground | Centrally located in the Chisos Mountains, has bathrooms, close to Chisos Basin Lodge and store

  • Rio Grande Village Campground | Located on the east side of the park, has bathrooms

  • Cottonwood Campground | Located on the west side of the park, has bathrooms

  • Rio Grande Village RV Park | Only campground with full hookups

  • Backcountry Camping | Permits are required for backcountry camping


We stayed at Chisos Basin Campground and loved our stay. The scenery is unbeatable as this campground is surrounded by mountains. I also loved being within walking distance of some of the best hikes in Big Bend


The central location of Chisos Basin Campground makes it easy to explore any other part of the park. Big Bend National Park is huge, so you’ll end up driving quite a bit, but Chisos Basin's location makes it a great base.


If you're camping at an established campground or plan on car camping in Big Bend National Park, prepare for your adventure with the ultimate camping essentials checklist.


Remember there are black bears in Big Bend, so all of your food will need to be stored in your campsite's bear locker or your car. If you are backcountry camping, do not forget a bear canister.


Sunset in Chisos Basin - How to Get to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park Trip Planning


This West Texas nature gem is one you don’t want to miss. Now you know how to get to Big Bend National Park, you can start planning your visit and enjoy this natural beauty with your own eyes.


While you’re there, enjoy the best hikes in Big Bend, stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge for comfort and convenience, or opt to camp under the stars (they’re so bright) for the full nature experience.


Big Bend National Park is an underrated park in the southern US. While it is somewhat difficult to get to, the trek is so worth it. The beauty of Big Bend is unique and hard to beat. You have to go see it for yourself!


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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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