Backcountry Preparation and Safety

View beyond the Window
Enjoy the wide open spaces of Big Bend.

NPS / T. VandenBerg


For Your Safety

Knowledge and preparation can increase your comfort level and reduce your chances of injury. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.

  • Pick up the park brochure which includes a detailed map of the park. In addition, it is recommended that you carry a topographical map and a compass, and know how to use them. Many trails, especially those in the desert areas of the park, are poorly-defined and can be difficult to follow.
  • Designate a trip leader and follow the schedule on your backcountry permit. Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Give yourself enough time to reach your destination well before dark, and always have a flashlight and other light source in case of emergency.
  • Camp 100 yards from dry washes or stream beds. Flash floods may occur without warning, even if you do not see rain.
  • Do not attempt cross-country travel without an experienced leader.
  • Technical climbing is dangerous. Most rock in the park is unstable. (see Rock Climbing Regulations).


There are no reliable water sources in the backcountry. To insure you have enough water for drinking and cooking, please carry one gallon per person per day (water weighs approximately 8 lbs. per gallon). Water faucets are located at every visitor center. Carry additional water for your vehicle.


Equipment Considerations

  • Bring a backpacking stove if you plan to cook; ground fires or wood fires are not permitted anywhere in the park.

  • Consider bringing a sturdy, lightweight tent for protection against the weather elements, particularly wind and precipitation.

  • Sturdy hiking boots are highly recommended; trails are steep, rugged, and rocky.

  • Be aware of the current weather forecast and bring/wear appropriate clothing. To protect yourself from glaring desert sun (year-round) bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Consider a packable shade umbrella for protection from the intense heat.

  • Carry a first aid kit that includes tweezers for cactus spines, Band-aids and adhesive pads for blisters, compresses for severe cuts, and a triangle bandage which can be put to many uses.

  • Carry a good, dependable flashlight.


Protect Yourself from the Sun

Too much sun can be dangerous; take heat safety seriously. For more information visit the sun safety page.


Be Alert for Venemous Snakes and Insects

Watch where you place your hands and feet, carry a flashlight at night, and shake out your shoes and clothes before putting them on. Remember, snakes and insects are protected in the park. Please do not harm or harass them.


Wildlife Encounters

Mountain lions and black bears are a natural part of the environment; be prepared for the possibility of an encounter. Keep small children close at all times. Don't let them run ahead on trails. If you feel threatened by a lion or bear, do not run. Instead, look large and yell, scream, wave your arms, and throw rocks or sticks if necessary. Pick up small children. Report lion and bear sightings in detail to a ranger.


Secure Your Food

Do not feed any wildlife. Keep your food in a hard-sided vehicle or food storage locker. Ice chests are not animal-proof. Visit the backcountry food storage page for more information.


Lock Your Vehicle and Safeguard Your Valuables

Theft of property from unoccupied vehicles and campsites can be a problem in remote areas of the park.


Avoid Swimming or Wading in the Rio Grande

Sudden dropoffs and unpredictable currents make the river potentially hazardous.


Report Any Illegal Activity to a Ranger

Drug smuggling and illegal border crossings occasionally occur within the Big Bend region. If you encounter or see anything that appears illegal, suspicious, or out of place, please do not approach or intervene. Note the location, time, direction of travel, and report to a park ranger or call 911 as soon as possible.

Last updated: October 22, 2020

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

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



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