• Sierra del Carmen

    Big Bend

    National Park Texas

Your Safety

Sunset
Sunset Drive in Big Bend National Park
NPS Photo/Mark Schuler
 
Big Bend truly is wild country. In fact, many people visit Big Bend precisely because it is remote and rugged. But remember, as you enjoy the splendor of this great wilderness area, make safety a priority. By giving forethought to your actions you can have a safe, exciting, and rewarding vacation in Big Bend National Park. Spend a moment reviewing these common safety concerns:
 
Driving
Most visitor injuries and accidental deaths in Big Bend result from car accidents. While driving is a popular way to see the park, it can also be dangerous, particularly if you are tired or are going too fast. Drive within the speed limit, 45 mph maximum in the park, and watch for javelina, deer, and rabbits grazing along road shoulders, especially at night. Remember, too, that you share the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. Some park roads, such as the road into the Chisos Mountains Basin, are steep and winding and require extra caution. The Basin Road is not recommended for RVs over 24 feet or trailers over 20 feet. Always select a designated driver before drinking alcoholic beverages.
 
Fire
Fire danger is always an important safety consideration in Big Bend. Wood or ground fires are not permitted in the park, and you must exercise caution in the use of gas stoves, charcoal grills, and cigarettes. Restrictions may apply to the use of these heat sources during drought conditions. Check with a ranger for the latest information about fire safety in the park.
 
Heat
Desert heat can be very dangerous. Carry plenty of water (at least one gallon per person, per day) and wear a hat, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, and sun screen when hiking. Springs are unreliable and often dry up for a portion of the year, despite what maps indicate. Avoid hiking during mid-day in summer; travel as wild animals do, in the early morning or late evening hours rather than during the heat of the day.
 

Hiking
Exploring this desert and mountain country on foot requires both mental and physical preparation. Trails vary from well maintained in the Chisos Mountains to primitive and barely visible in the desert. Plan hikes within your ability. Take along a map and compass and know how to use them. Follow these practical considerations to ensure a safe hiking experience:

  • Flash floods may occur following thunderstorms so avoid narrow canyons or dry washes.
  • Stay low and avoid ridges during thunderstorms.
  • Carry a flashlight and a first aid kit. Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return.
  • If you get hurt or lost, stay in one place to conserve water and energy. Signal for help; three blasts on a whistle is a well-recognized distress call. In remote areas, a large "X" marked on the ground by any means visible from the air will signify that help is needed. Carry a signal mirror.
  • Remember to obtain a backcountry use permit before heading out overnight.
 
Swimming
Hot weather makes the muddy Rio Grande look very inviting, but swimming is not recommended. Water-borne micro-organisms and other waste materials can occur in the river and cause serious illness. The river can be hazardous, even in calm-looking water. Strong undercurrents, deep holes, and shallow areas with sharp rocks and large tree limbs are common and make the Rio Grande unsafe for swimming. If you do choose to swim, wear a life jacket and avoid alcohol.
 

Wildlife
Black bears, javelinas, skunks, coyotes, and raccoons frequent Big Bend's campgrounds. Although they sometimes appear tame, all of the animals in the park are wild, and could pose a threat to your health and safety if you attempt to approach or feed them. Never feed any of Big Bend's wildlife. To prevent animals from becoming habituated to people, store all food, coolers, cooking utensils, and toiletries in a hard-sided vehicle, preferably in the trunk of your car. Food storage lockers are available for hikers and campers in the Chisos Mountains. Dispose of garbage properly. At the Chisos Basin Campground, throw away garbage in the special bear-proof dumpsters and trash cans provided. Remember to report sightings of bears and lions to a ranger.

Big Bend is mountain lion country, especially the Chisos Mountains. While lion attacks are rare, several have occurred in the last decade. Should you encounter an aggressive mountain lion, hold your ground, wave your arms, throw stones, and shout. Never run. Keep groups together and consider hiking elsewhere with young children if you come across a special mountain lion warning sign posted at a trailhead.

Venomous snakes, scorpions, spiders, and centipedes are all active during the warmer months. Inspect your shoes and sleeping bags or bedding before use and always carry a flashlight at night. While snake bites are rare, they usually occur below the knee or elbow. Pay attention to where you walk and place your hands. Consider wearing high boots or protective leggings while hiking.

Did You Know?

Near the top of Emory Peak

At 7,832 feet (2,387 meters) in elevation, Emory peak is the highest point in the Chisos Mountains, and Big Bend National Park.