Lightly traveled roads and varied terrain make Big Bend a premier bicycling location. Over 100 miles of paved roads, and 160 miles of backcountry dirt roads provide challenges for riders of all types and abilities. Bicyclists must be extremely cautious and well-prepared, but bicycling allows outstanding panoramic views, unobstructed by a windshield. It also allows the bicyclist to see and hear some of the smaller wonders of Big Bend from a more intimate viewpoint.
Share the Road
Bicyclists must share the roads with vehicles and obey all traffic laws. Traffic is sparse in summer and highest during March and early April and on holiday weekends during the winter. Use extreme caution, especially on paved roads. In order to protect the fragile desert environment, off-road or single-track cycling is not allowed in the park. All bicycles must remain on paved and dirt roads.
Weather is often pleasant year-round and rewarding trips are possible most days of the year. Cycling from May to September is more of a challenge due to high temperatures; plan to take it easy when temperatures soar.
Road guides and more information
All Big Bend roads are open to cyclists. A good map is essential. Maps and road guides are available at the Big Bend Natural History Association Book Store.
Many of the rides in Big Bend National Park are easier with a shuttle. A few suggestions follow. Check with a ranger for more information.
If you have a shuttle available:
Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village
Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 20 miles, paved; Time:1.5-2.5 hours
Although there are some hills, the ride is mostly downhill as the elevation drops 1900 feet. Be wary of large motorhomes and trailers traveling this road, especially in late winter and spring. For variation, ride to Hot Springs on the 2-mile unpaved spur road, 16 miles from Panther Junction. Your shuttle can meet you at either Rio Grande Village or Hot Springs. The ride has outstanding views of the Sierra del Carmen and the Rio Grande in the distance.
Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village via the Glenn Spring Road
Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 10 miles paved, 25 miles unpaved; Time: 4-6 hours
Ride six miles toward Rio Grande Village on the paved road, then turn right onto the Glenn Springs Road. Follow it for 15 miles as it skirts the Chisos Mountains and leads to a flowing spring before joining the River Road. Turn left and follow the river road for 9.6 miles to its junction with the paved road. Turn right and ride on the paved road for four miles to Rio Grande Village.
Panther Junction to Castolon via the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Difficulty: Strenuous; Distance: 35 miles, paved; Time 3-6 hours
This ride traverses some of the most scenic terrain in the park. It skirts the Chisos Mountains and passes interesting geologic features and historic sites. Although the elevation loss between Panther Junction and Castolon is 1580 feet, the terrain is challenging with many steep hills.
Old Ore Road
Difficulty: Strenuous; Distance: 26 miles, unpaved; Time: 4-6 hours
This premier ride is best taken from north to south for an easier ride and great views of the Chisos Mountains. The road is rough and rocky and the terrain is challenging. Park on the edge of the Dagger Flat Auto Trail at the north end of the Old Ore Road.
Old Maverick Road
Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 13 miles, unpaved; Time: 1.5-2 hours one-way
Start from the parking lot near the Maverick Entrance Station. This route is easiest from north to south. There are many good views along the route, which ends at Santa Elena Canyon. Seasoned riders can return to Maverick for a strenuous 26-mile trip.
If you do not have a shuttle available:
Panther Junction to the Chisos Basin
Difficulty: Strenous; Distance: 20 miles, paved; Time 2-4 hours roundtrip
Ride three miles west of Panther Junction to the Basin Junction, three miles of gradual uphill. At the Basin Junction, turn left and ride seven miles to the Chisos Basin. This road is very steep, with 15% grades. The elevation gain is 1650 feet. Watch for traffic and be ready to pull off the road if necessary. This ride is an aerobic challenge even for those in excellent physical condition. The ride down is exhilarating. Watch for animals and obstacles on the road and make sure you don’t break the 45 mile per hour speed limit!
Grapevine Hills Road
Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 15 miles, unpaved; Time: 2-3 hours roundtrip
Park at the junction of the paved road and the Grapevine Hills Road for this ride past interesting rock formations. For variety, hike the two-mile roundtrip Grapevine Hills Trail en route. Return the same way.
Paint Gap Road
Difficulty:Moderate; Distance: 15 miles, unpaved; Time: 2-3 hours roundtrip
Park at the junction of the paved road and the Paint Gap Road. The road has a variety of substrates including sand and rocks, and is especially rough near the end. Return the same way.
Dagger Flat Auto Trail
Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 18 miles, unpaved; Time: 2-3 hours rountrip
Park near the junction of the paved road and the Dagger Flat Auto Trail. This route is fairly flat, with a gentle uphill on the way out. Watch for sand along the way—you can get bogged down. There are many interesting plants, and bicyclists can take advantage of the auto tour guide booklet. Return the same way.