Hear about travel to Big Bend National Park and Southwestern Texas as the Amateur Traveler talks to Jason and Janie Hull about their recent trip to this remote region.
Jason says, “If you like dark skies, wide-open places, uncrowded parks, and a lot of artistic value this should be high on your list.”
Janie adds, “And hiking”.
Big Bend National park sits along the border with Mexico in the southwest of Texas. It is about 250 miles from El Paso and about 8 hours from Dallas and 6 hours from Austin. This is a place where you would be better off having a high clearance vehicle, off-line maps, water, and provisions as it can be a way to the next water, gas, or restaurant.
Jason recommends that you spend the first 3 days in the Big Bend National Park and the Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are 3 main parts to the national park. They suggest looking for a place to stay near Terlingua. If you want to camp in the park you may need to book in advance. March or early April is a good time to go to catch the desert in bloom, although the Elephant Mountain Wildlife area does not open until May.
Start in Panther Island Visitor Center to get oriented. It is near the middle of the park. See if there is a ranger hike. There are three major areas to the park.
The Rio Grande Village is right by the Rio Grande. Bring your passport if you want to cross into Mexico and have some tacos. Mexico may open up some caves in the area to tourists. Grapevine Hills has a hike to Balance Rock. The Hot Springs historic area has a soaking pool. You can do a float trip on the Rio Grande in the area. There are also a number of places for rock climbing.
The second area is the Santa Elena Canyon. The Chimney Trail leads to petroglyphs. There is also a hike to Mules Ears which shows ancient volcanic activity. The hike to the Saint Elena Canyon is 1.5 miles round trip. You can play in the river but don’t cross over into Mexico there unless you want fines. You couldn’t get anywhere anyway as it is sheer cliffs. The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail will introduce you to native plants.
On day 3 they recommend you finish your trip in the park in the Chisos Basin. This area has a much higher elevation. You will see pine trees and maples. You might see bears and mountain lions in this area. Get up early and do the Lost Mine Trail which has limited parking. On that trail, which is moderately strenuous, you will see areas that are not accessible by car. Then do the Window’s Trail. If you are an avid hiker you could do the longer South Rim Trail or climb Emery Peak which is the tallest mountain in the park.
On day 4 they recommend driving through Big Bend Ranch State Park. Jason and Janie say this was the prettiest drive on the trip. At the presidio end of the park, there is a historic fort. The movie Giant was filmed in Marfa which is your next destination. Marfa is an artistic town. Stop at the El Paisano Hotel which has an exhibit on the movie Giant. Then head north to Fort Davis. Check out the Fort Davis National Historic Site. Make a reservation to visit McDonald Observatory.
Stay in Fort Davis on day 5 and visit Davis Mountains State Park which has a lot of hiking. Go to Balmorhea State Park and bring your swim gear to swim in the natural pool there. Eat at the Reata Restaurant.
Stay in Alpine on day 6. Visit the Alpine Visitor Center and get the mural map, the windshield tour map, and the walking map. Hike up to “The Desk” which is as the name would suggest a desk on the top of a local hill. Visit the Museum of the Big Bend. Do the Mural Tour of town to see 37+ murals in the town.
Pack your hiking shoes, bring your passport and a water bottle, and head to the border with Mexico in southern Texas to see the Big Bend area for rugged western beauty and landscapes.
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A Seven Day Itinerary and Budget for Big Bend National Park, Alpine, and Marfa, Texas
Big Bend National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
Elephant Mountain WMA
Visitor Centers – Big Bend National Park
Rio Grande Village Campground
Floating Boquillas Canyon
Balanced Rock Hike: A Short but Sweet Hike in Big Bend National Park Earth Trekkers
Soak in the Hot Spring
Santa Elena Canyon
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail
Chisos Basin Campground
Lost Mine Trail
Chisos Mountains Lodge
The Window Trail
Emory Peak Trail
Just Ahead App – Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Visit Marfa, Texas
Fort Leaton State Historic Site — Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Fort Davis National Historic Site
First African American graduate of West Point
Davis Mountains State Park
Balmorhea State Park
(13) Starlight Theatre Facebook
Alpine, Texas Visitor Information
The Desk (Alpine)
Museum of the Big Bend (Alpine)
Attractions Alpine, Texas
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