Trails for Plant Enthusiasts

A sidewalk curves through native vegetation at Panther Junction.
Panther Path winds through native vegetation at the Panther Junction Visitors Center.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Introduction to Desert Plants
Panther Path

This short, wheelchair-accessible sidewalk is located just west of the Panther Junction Visitor Center. Along the path, small signs identify many of the plants. By completing a Panther Path activity, Junior Rangers can earn an embroidered patch. Just ask a Ranger in the Visitor Center for a Junior Ranger book.
 
Low shrubs and trees line a dry, desert wash along the Lower Burro Mesa trail.
Hackberry, persimmon, and Mexican buckeye trees line the dry wash along Lower Burro Mesa trail.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Vegetation of Dry Washes
Lower Burro Mesa Trail

Take a stroll through a desert wash for about a mile round-trip. Where there's water (even moisture deep in the soil), you'll find a different plant community. Here, desert willows bloom, Mexican persimmons are loaded with sweet, black, juicy fruit; and desert hackberries provide food for birds and butterflies. This is a good trail to look for vines as they clamber over shrubs and up into trees. A couple of precautions: this is a narrow canyon that may flashflood. Don't enter it if there's rain in the area. Also, the bears love persimmon fruit. Be alert in the late fall when the persimmons are ripe and let the bears have the right-of-way.
 
A windmill and cottonwood trees against a mountain backdrop.
A windmill and cottonwood trees mark the oasis of Dugout Wells.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Cactus Lovers Hike
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail at Dugout Wells

If you can pull yourself away from the shade and wildlife of the cottonwood oasis, walk the 1/2 mile nature trail loop. Look sharp! How many types of prickly pear can you find? Also be on the lookout for strawberry pitaya with their fluorescent pink flowers in late spring and the yellow flowers of the giant fishhook cactus. If you take your time, you'll be astonished at the diversity of cacti and succulents along this short trail.
 
Trail through grove of trees.
A trail passes under the shade of towering pecan trees.

NPS/CA Hoyt

The Desert Pantry
Sam Nail Ranch

Remnants of the old orchard and garden still remain at Sam Nail Ranch. Sit under the shade of the pecan trees and look for asparagus, peach, and fig trees. As you hike out, think about other useful and edible native plants. Could you survive here?
 
View of ponds, river, and mountains from Rio Grande Village Nature Trail.
The Rio Grande Village Nature Trail overlooks the river, beaver pond, and the mountains.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Wetlands to Desert
Rio Grande Village Nature Trail

This 0.75 mile loop trail vividly illustrates the difference that water makes in the desert. As you walk across the boardwalk, watch for cattails, reeds, bluebells, and low mats of white-flowered water-hyssop. These plants need their roots in the water. As you start to climb, you'll pass through huisache trees and tree tobacco that give way to open, desert vegetation. Watch for low-growing dog cholla, spindly stalks of ocotillo, and the stiff rosettes of Texas false agave.
 
Overview of Boquillas Canyon trail along the Rio Grande.
Limestone, sand, and the river create an interesting riparian habitat.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Along the River
Boquillas Canyon Trail

Follow the ribbon of green along the Rio Grande. At the right time of year, you'll find cane (both native and invasive), retama trees with their sprays of yellow flowers, and river banks covered with bluebells. But don't stop there. Search the sanddunes for Bigpod Bonamia, a rare member of the morning glory family. The plants shift with the seasons and there's always something interesting to find. But be careful! The Boquillas Canyon Trail can be very hot.
 
Rugged desert landscape of Mule Ears Trail.
Rugged desert landscape from Mule Ears Trail.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Desert to Springs
Mule Ears Trail

A great 4-mile round-trip hike for desert lovers (with a bit of a surprise at the end!). Watch for purple prickly pear, lechuguilla, and ocotillo. In the rainy season, bright splashes of purple mean the cenizo are in bloom. At the end of the trail is Mule Ears Spring. A tiny oasis in the desert. Maidenhair ferns cling to the walls, cattails rise from the water, and bright, red cardinal flowers bloom in the fall. Best done in the late fall or winter when temperatures make desert hiking a pleasure.
 
A madrone tree shades the Pine Canyon Trail.
Oaks and a Texas madrone shade the Pine Canyon Trail.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Of Oaks and Sumacs
Pine Canyon Trail

Pine Canyon Trail takes a bit of effort to get to. It's off the Glenn Springs road, so you'll need a high-clearance vehicle to get to the trailhead. From there, the trail winds through a sotol grassland and eventually descends into a tree-shaded canyon. Here, you'll get a taste of the oak diversity the Chisos Mountains are known for. Be on the lookout for bigtooth maples and several species of shrubby sumacs with their tart, red berries.
 
A shady spot along the Windows Trail.
The Windows Trail offers a mix of shady forest and open, foothills vegetation.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Plant Diversity
The Window Trail

The Window Trail (4.5 to 5.5 miles round-trip) is a splendid mix of open, sotol grassland vegetation and forested, canyon vegetation. Texas madrones, Mexican buckeye, and grape-scented mountain laurels are a sight (and smell) to behold in the early spring. In the open grassland, tiny white fleabane line the path and pink patches of white-eyed phlox gather in the shade of trees and shrubs. How many species of plants can you find?
 
A hiker looks at plants along the Boot Canyon Trail.
A hiker walks through the shaded Boot Canyon Trail.

NPS/CA Hoyt

Ice Age Forests
Boot Canyon/Colima Trails

Eighteen thousand years ago, the climate was wetter and cooler. The forests extended down the mountains and the high elevations hosted aspen and fir trees. You can still find remnants of that Ice Age forest, but it will take some effort and sharp eyes. For a 10-mile journey back in time, hike up the Pinnacles Trail, through a bit of Boot Canyon, and across the Colima Trail to the Laguna Meadows Trail. When you're in the high Chisos, look for fir trees (the easiest way to find them is to look for their distinctive cones), aspens on the scree slopes of Emory Peak, and Arizona cypress in the canyons.
 

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Last updated: September 21, 2020

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Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129

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