Special Use Permits

 

Guidelines for Special Park Uses

Big Bend National Park is home to many beautiful landscapes which make it a popular destination for groups, weddings, and other special events.

Certain types of activities require a special use permit. These include many types of organized gatherings, distribution of printed material and other public expressions of opinion, and other activities that are controlled or prohibited.

It is the policy of the National Park Service (NPS) to allow special uses that are not in conflict with law or policy; will not result in derogation of the values and purposes for which the park was established; do not present a threat to public safety or property and do not unduly interfere with normal park operations, resource protection, or visitor use.

The park has the authority and responsibility to evaluate applicant requests, permit, manage, and/or deny all special uses within the park. Therefore, before any permit will be granted, consideration will be given to potential park resource impacts, as well as impacts to visitor use, access to park sites, or park administration. There are cost recovery fees associated with the administration and management of special use permits for costs incurred by the park. Special park use guidelines state that “it is the policy of the NPS to charge permit fees for special uses. Permit fees should reflect the fair market value of a benefit provided the permittee. The fair market value of a special use is the value of the lands or facilities used and the NPS cost incurred in managing, facilitating, or supporting the use.”

A special park use is defined as a short-term activity that takes place in a park area, and that:

  • Provides a benefit to an individual, group, or organization rather than the public at large;
  • Requires written authorization and some degree of management control from the National Park Service (NPS) in order to protect park resources and the public interest;
  • Is not prohibited by law or regulation; Is not initiated, sponsored, or conducted by the NPS; and Is not managed under a concession contract, a recreation activity for which the NPS charges a fee, or a lease.

The National Park Service may permit a special park use only if the proposed activity will NOT:

  • cause injury, damage or impairments to park resources;
  • be contrary to the park’s purpose for which the park was established and the mission of the NPS;
  • unreasonably impair the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park;
  • interfere with visitor use, access, and programs
  • interfere with park management or administration;
  • interfere with concession operations or other public facilities;
  • present a clear and present danger to public health and safety.
 

Type of Special Use Permit

 

Click the type of Special Park Use for more information

“Groups” are any organized gathering of people, including (but not limited to) school groups, hiking groups, field trips, other special events groups need a Special Use Permit. Groups conducting multiple trips must submit an application for each separate trip.

  • The maximum group size for a Special Use Permit is limited to 50 participants in the park on one (specified) day, with a maximum of one bus per day.
  • Groups are limited to no more than 30 participants on any one trail at the same time.
  • Location of activities may be restricted, depending on group size and activity type.
  • If you plan on visiting Big Bend with a motorcoach or large bus, there are limitations on access and parking that you must plan for
    Summary of Rules for Motorcoaches and Buses.”

Trails in Big Bend have a limit on the number of people a single group may have on trails at any given time (30 PEOPLE MAX for day hiking).

  • If your group is larger than 30, you will need a special use permit.
  • You will need to split the group up and visit different trails with each sub-group. Breaking the group up and hiking in smaller sub-groups on the same trail is NOT permitted.
  • Please plan your itinerary accordingly!

All overnight camping/backpacking requires a backcountry permit

Organized backpacking groups of more than 15 people also require a special use permit. 

To protect the resources of Big Bend National Park, all overnight backpacking is limited to groups of 15 or fewer.

  • This includes the designated backpacking campsites in the Chisos Mountains, and
  • all overnight backpacking along desert trails and off-trail areas.  

In the Chisos Mountains: There are currently only two Chisos campsites that can accommodate a group this size: it may be necessary to split the group to other campsites. Groups may split into separate campsites however the 15 person size limit cannot be exceeded.
In the desert: Groups over 15 people will also need to split up and backpack into separate, non-adjacent zones.

Learn more about backpacking in Big Bend National Park

Generally filming and photography permits are required and are issued for photography, filming, and associated sound recording when they involve props, models, professional crews, and casts or set dressings.
Learn More

The Use of Drones is Prohibited

Big Bend National Park's inspiring views, quiet and natural settings are ideally suited for small, simple, and quiet wedding ceremonies.. All weddings, elopements, and vow renewals, regardless of the size of the group, require a Special Use Permit issued by the NPS. Couples must first submit a complete application that includes all pertinent details of the proposed ceremony. Upon review, the NPS  then determines whether the proposed activity will not cause derogation of the park's resources or values, unduly impact other park visitors, and aligns with the purposes for which the park was established.

Please Note: Big Bend National Park does NOT allow many things used for traditional weddings, such as chairs, tables, live flowers, amplified sound, balloons, etc. at any location.

Specific park conditions for a Big Bend wedding:

  • The application to hold a wedding ceremony must be submitted by the couple getting married, and not a third-party wedding planner or similar person.
  • Couples should check with the park concerning locations, and not rely on wedding planners or photographers for specific site information.
  • Artificial flowers only. (No dried flowers)
  • Nothing may be thrown, scattered, or released (rice, butterflies, flowers, birds, silly string, confetti, balloons, etc.) at the event site or within the Park's boundaries.
  • No chairs or tables allowed.
  • Amplified sound and equipment, including but not limited to electronic musical instruments, microphones, speaker units, etc. is prohibited. Voice communication will be at a minimum level to adequately address the immediate event audience only. Sounds shall not unreasonably distrub non-participating persons in, or in the vicinity of, the area.
  • Access to the area must be kept open to the public, and cannot be blocked or blocked off for the event
  • Drones are not allowed. Generators are not allowed.
  • Up to two hours is allowed for the event. No event will be scheduled between the hours 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM.
  • Group size may be limited by location.
  • Weddings during very busy times (Spring Break, Thanksgiving week, and the week between Christmas and New Year's may be challenging. During those times, many popular areas have limited or no parking and potential traffic control efforts may be in effect (one car in, one car out scenario). Participants are subject to all parking restrictions and limitations during their event. Crew will follow all active public closures and NPS traffic control measures.
  • For questions/help concerning Big Bend Weddings and Special Use Permits, please call 432-477-1108, or email us.

The scattering of cremated human remains (“cremains”) in Big Bend National Park should be a small private affair, held away from high visitor use areas under the following conditions:

  • Recognize and be aware of the sensitivity of this activity and perform it in a discreet and private manner.
  • Access to the area must be kept open to the public and the memorialization cannot interfere with normal visitor activity. Outdoor areas will not be closed off during memorialization and parking may not be reserved. The park will not exclude nor allow you to exclude other park visitors from the site.
  • Cremated remains must be pulverized and fully dispersed so that no obvious piles remain in any one place.
  • Ashes may not be dispersed within 100 yards of any water source, spring, archeological site, or in any developed area.
  • No container, urn, flowers, or memorial markers may be left within park boundaries.
  • The NPS does not commit to treating the area as a burial ground or cemetery. Park uses, operations and programs will be continued without regard to the presence of the cremains.
  • Request must include specific date, time and proposed location.

Big Bend National Park is a geologist's paradise, a fabulous place to study geology, paleontology, and earth history. To protect the resources of Big Bend, field geology study groups must obtain a special use permit.

Special conditions will apply depending upon the locations visited/activity of the group:

  • Absolutely no collecting. Materials collected elsewhere are to be packed away and out of view. 
  • Rock hammers remain inside vehicles.
  • No scars, marks can be made on outcrops.
  • Groups are to be dispersed when hiking off trail (max 15) to avoid creating new pathways or social trails.

When is a permit needed?

Individuals or groups planning to hold a demonstration in a park are encouraged to contact us in advance to discuss the proposed activity. The NPS may reasonably regulate certain aspects of First Amendment activities, such as the time when, the place where, and the manner in which the activity is conducted.

Designated First Amendment Sites

Big Bend has several designated sites for first amendment activities. Based on  36CFR 2.51 and 2.52 groups of 25 people or fewer may use these areas without a permit as long as they are not using stages, platforms, structures, or sound systems. These areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis, however, small groups may want to obtain a permit to ensure they have the use of the area.

Groups over 25 people and groups using stages, platforms, structures, or sound systems, or for distribution of printed matter (36 CFR 2.52) need to apply for a permit for a designated area.

 

The Application Process

Special Use Permit Application Form

Please email your completed and signed application to bibe_special_permits@nps.gov or send completed and signed application to:

Big Bend National Park
PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834


After favorable review of your application, a Special Use Permit will be prepared and e-mailed to you for your signature. Upon receipt, you will need to review, sign and return the permit to our office for final approval. After the permit is approved we will email you an authorized copy. The approved permit must be in your possession while in the park for your activity.

  • Please allow at least 30 days for the processing of a permit, or the permit may not be processed.
  • Applications are only accepted up to 1 year in advance.
  • Do not wait until the last minute to apply for your permit. No requests are expedited; no exceptions.
  • For questions concerning Special Use Permits, please call 432-477-1108, or email us.

Permit Fees

  • There is a $100.00 non-refundable application fee for processing your application for a Special Use Permit. Payment is accepted only via online payment through pay.gov (link below). This due at the same time as you submit your application.
 

Last updated: May 17, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129

Phone:

432-477-2251

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