Big Bend National Park is not typically considered a climbers’ destination, but it offers some scenic, challenging, and wildly varied rock climbs. Over the years, park visitors have often inquired about climbing, but there is little written. A rudimentary climber's guide is available by request at most visitor centers.
Climbing in the park is unofficially discouraged because there is little written information to disseminate, the quality of rock ranges from fair to terrifying, the weather can be extremely harsh, and the approaches can be long, waterless ordeals. Bolting of any kind, electric or hand, is strictly forbidden. Climbing in Big Bend National Park can be very rewarding, but leaving any trace of impact on this resource, over time, will surely jeopardize access.
Climb safe! A climbing helmet is an absolutely necessary part of a Big Bend climber's rack. Dehydration kills park visitors every year; you cannot bring too much water. All rock in Big Bend National Park is suspect, so belayer position and gear placement are especially critical.
Please get involved. If you climb in the park let a ranger know about it. Provide a photo or sketch if you can, and a written description of the location, route, and overall quality of the climb. Your information will be much appreciated by future climbers.
The majority of the park’s exposed vertical rock is composed of unstable igneous rock (rhyolite) and sharply fluted limestone. River canyon routes, Dog Canyon, and Mesa de Anguila routes are generally composed of limestone. Routes in the Chisos, Grapevine Hills, and Pine Canyon are generally composed of igneous rock. Don’t let this discourage you too much; there are relatively solid climbs on igneous rock. As stated by Roger Sigland in his informal guide, “On any climb expect rotten rock and few good cracks for pitons.”
Topographic maps and trail guides are available at the Panther Junction Visitor Center.
Permits are required for backcountry camping. Permits are not required for climbing, although voluntary registration at one of the visitor centers is encouraged. Some climbing areas are so remote, however, that a backcountry permit may be required to gain access to them. Please check in and out for safety reasons as well as to provide climbing information to park staff.
Most climbs in the park require traditional gear from small nuts to off width protection. Many climbs involve a significant approach so check the weather and pack accordingly. Helmets are highly recommended.
The use of portable electric drills is prohibited. Hand drilling is allowed only with written approval of the Superintendent. There are routes with bolts and even a few sport climbs in the park, but some were placed prior to any rules on the subject and some were placed illegally. Replacement of old bolts with 3/8 inch bolts is currently allowed.
Climbing, ascending, descending, or traversing an archeological or cultural resource is prohibited. Be aware of your impact and tread lightly.