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5 Reasons to Visit Big Bend National Park

Fog in the Chisos Basin

There are many national parks that are easier to get to than Big Bend. It lies on the US-Mexico border about five hours southeast of El Paso. The national park covers 1,252 square miles, which makes it the 15th largest park in the United States National Park system.

The park covers a lot of ground, with its highest peak (Emory Peak) topping out above 7,800 feet and its lowest point (Rio Grande Village) lying at an elevation of 1,850 feet.

There’s a lot to see and do at Big Bend National Park, even though it’s not the easiest national park to get to! There’s camping, hiking, rafting, backpacking, birdwatching, historic sites, night sky viewing, and so much more. Here are five reasons to visit Big Bend National Park!

Desert Wildlife

Angry Roadrunner
PC Zachary Spears via Unsplash

The numbers are actually pretty staggering. There are about 650 species of vertebrates and 3,600 species of insects that live within the boundaries of Big Bend National Park.

It’s an incredibly popular birding destination for particular species that can only be found in the Chisos Mountains, such as the Lucifer hummingbird, Mexican jay, and the Colima warbler.

In addition to its rare bird species, the park is home to javelinas, black bears, gray foxes, coyotes, mountain lions, roadrunners, and a wide variety of native mammal and reptilian life. To date, there have been 75 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles, 11 species of amphibians, and 38 species of fish identified within the borders of the park.

The Outer Mountain Loop

View into the Chihuahuan Desert
PC Glen M via Flickr

If you’re interested in backpacking, there are very few trails in the state of Texas that compete with Big Bend’s Outer Mountain Loop Trail. The Outer Mountain Loop is a combination of the Pinnacles, Juniper Canyon, Dodson, Blue Creek, and Laguna Meadows trails.

Overall, it’s a 30-mile trail that will take you from the piñon, juniper, and oak woodlands of the Chisos Basin down into the heart of the Chihuahuan desert.

The most common practice is to hike the trail in a clockwise direction. If you do plan a hike on the Outer Mountain Loop, there are two locations where you should cache extra water before you start. Those locations are the Blue Creek/Homer Wilson Ranch on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and the Juniper Canyon Trailhead, which is accessible with high-clearance vehicles only.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon
PC Shelle Wood via Flickr

Santa Elena Canyon is 20 miles of breathtaking cliff faces and winding Rio Grande River. You can get there via the scenic Ross Maxwell Drive and then ford the trickling Terlingua Creek (it only flows more than ankle-deep a few times during the rainier times of the year) to catch a canyon-framed view of the mellow Rio Grande moving through the canyon.

If the river is running high, this is a great place to take a dip to cool off. A brief hiking trail will take you a small distance up the canyon. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks and other birds above you and nesting in the cliff walls. Oh, and make sure to try your best Tarzan (or Jane!) scream while you’re there. The canyon offers some superb echoes.

Big Bend River Tours

Canoe in Whitewater
PC Voyageur Outward Bound via Flickr

Big Bend River Tours is the longest-running outfitter on the Rio Grande in the Big Bend area of Texas. In addition to river trips by canoe or raft, they also offer trips through other areas of the park on foot, in vans, and even via horseback.

Their tours provide in-depth knowledge of the park’s history, the region’s geology, wildlife, and plant identification. They can also tell you about the human history of the region, which includes evidence of inhabitation by a number of southwestern tribes, including the Chisos, Jumano, Mescalero Apache, and Comanche.

In addition to day trips in the Big Bend area, they also offer multi-day expeditions. One of their combination trips will take you on the river and on horseback through a number of ancient Native American sites along the Rio Grande.

These two to four-day adventures give you opportunities to sleep under the stars on the banks of the Rio Grande and navigate the park (either by canoe, kayak, or horseback) during the day. Their guides are excellent instructors, so prior experience isn’t necessary!

Stargazing

Stars Over Mountains
PC Brandon Siu via Unsplash

Some people travel to Big Bend just to set up their telescopes, stay up late, and wonder at the mysteries of the stars and space. The stargazing in Big Bend National Park is unrivaled.

Because the park is almost 300 miles from the nearest city, there’s almost zero light pollution to cloud your view of the cosmos.

In fact, Big Bend National Park has the least light pollution of all the national parks in the lower 48 states, which is why it was awarded gold-tier certification from the International Dark Sky Association.

Gaze up at the full glory of the Milky Way and be sure to bring your star book so that you can identify some of your favorite constellations!

Visit Big Bend National Park!

In addition to the reasons we’ve given above, Big Bend is also home to hot springs, nearly 200 miles of wild and scenic river, and almost 1,300 species of plants.

The best seasons to visit Big Bend National park are spring and fall, as the summers (especially May and June) can be very hot. In the winter, temperatures are generally mild, but the park does receive a small amount of annual snowfall at higher elevations.

If you’re considering a visit to Big Bend National Park, be sure to consider accommodations at Chisos Basin, Cottonwood, or the Rio Grande Village Campground. The Rio Grande Village RV Park also contains 25 sites with hookups. After you visit Big Bend National Park, we’d love to hear from you. We hope you found this article useful and, as always, happy trails!


What are your thoughts about Big Bend National Park? Leave a comment below. 

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