Outer Mountain Loop Route
NPS Photo/Cookie Ballou
Begin by caching water near the Homer Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch. This scenic overlook is located at mile 8.1 along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Hike down the trail and cache your water in the convenient storage box. Ensure your name and date are written on your bottles. Caching water will make the difference between a dangerous experience and a fun backcountry excursion.
After caching water, head to the Chisos Basin Trailhead to begin the hike.From the Chisos Basin Trailhead (elevation 5,400'), hike up the Pinnacles Trail 3.5 miles to the Pinnacles Summit (elevation 7,000'), then follow the Boot Canyon Trail. After one mile you will pass Boot Spring (usually dry). Along the canyon bottom you may see stagnant pools of water left by recent rains (if any). In another 0.3 miles you'll arrive at the junction of the Boot Canyon and Juniper Canyon trails. Follow the Juniper Canyon Trail where you will soon leave shade and descend steeply (3,000') for 6.2 miles to the desert below. After 2.6 miles you will arrive at Upper Juniper Spring (usually dry). Past the spring the trail drops into desert grasslands where there are many nice places to camp. Backpackers must camp at least 0.5 mile from the end of the Juniper Canyon Trail and the Juniper Canyon Road.
NPS Photo/Reine Wonite
The Dodson Trail is the hottest and most exposed section of the entire trek. Don't let the relatively short distance fool you. While hiking the Dodson Trail, it is important to keep an eye out for the rock cairns that mark the route. Most people, who have trouble on the Outer Mountain Loop, run into problems on this section due to lack of shade, heat radiating from the barren rocks, and the climbing and descending from drainage to drainage. You will be climbing (and descending) 2,000' along the way, but views are spectacular, and the solitude is always mesmerizing.
Follow the trail from the Juniper Canyon trailhead through Juniper Draw. After 3.6 miles you will reach the ruins of the Dodson Ranch and nearby Dodson Spring (usually dry). One mile further, the trail crosses the Fresno Creek drainage. This is the only location along the Dodson Trail where there may be water (don't count on it). If water is here, it must be treated before drinking. Please, do not contaminate this vital and ephemeral water source used by wildlife.
In another 0.5 mile, is the junction of the Dodson and Elephant Tusk trails. If you have the time, a 1-mile side excursion here leads into the Fresno Drainage below Tortuga Mountain (another ephemeral water source).
From the Elephant Tusk junction, the Dodson Trail climbs another 1.5 miles to a high pass then descends into the Smoky Creek Drainage. Look carefully for rock cairns that mark the trail through Smoky Creek. Be sure to watch for the junction where the trail leaves the wash, or you may find yourself hiking down the Smoky Creek Trail.Three miles further is the remnants of the Homer Wilson (Blue Creek) Ranch. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is only 0.25 mile away from this point. After rehydrating (from you water cache), continue up Blue Creek Canyon for at least 0.5 mile and begin searching for a campsite (remember, you must be at least 0.5 mile from the road, and out of sight of the road).
NPS Photo/Reine Wonite
The last day of your trek begins with the ascent up Blue Creek Canyon. The Blue Creek Trail climbs steadily 2,500' for 5.5 miles into the High Chisos woodlands. The beginning of the trail passes in and out of several sandy washes so watch for rock cairns marking the way.
After two miles you will enter the "red rocks" area. Heavily eroded pinnacles of pink volcanic tuff look like a miniature Bryce Canyon. Soon you will reach the shady pinyon-oak woodland. Along the steep switchbacks are beautiful views. The evidence of the human-caused 1989 Blue Creek Fire is visible throughout the upper reaches of the broad canyon. Three miles past the red rocks, you will pass both Blue Creek designated backpack sites, and immediately after, the Laguna Meadow Trail and flat ground.The Laguna Meadow Trail winds around the western flanks of Emory Peak and offers nice views of the highest point in Big Bend National Park. After one mile, you will arrive at the Laguna Meadow Trail summit. The Chisos Basin will lies below and the rooftops of the Chisos Mountains Lodge will be visible. The remaining 3.5 miles of the hike is a gradual descent to the Chisos Basin.
Did You Know?
Russell E. Dickenson, eleventh Director of the National Park Service (May, 1980-March, 1985) served as Chief Ranger at Big Bend National Park in 1955-56. He later recalled that "Big Bend was a compression of ten years of experience into one." More...