Desert Hikes

hiking the desert
The Chihuahuan Desert covers about 80% of the park and surrounds the Chisos Mountains. Bare, rocky ground and sparse vegetation are hallmarks of the desert, but there is plenty of life here. Look for termite nests along plant stems, exoskeletons of millipedes, animal scat, and rodent and reptile tunnels. Bird life is plentiful, especially in the morning; look for nests hidden in yuccas and cacti. In the spring, bluebonnets, paintbrush, bi-color mustard, desert marigold, yucca, ocotillo, and cacti blossoms add color to the desert landscape.
Dugout Wells
Dugout Wells

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail

Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 0.5 mile round trip
Begin at Dugout Wells, 6 miles southeast of Panther Junction

Both natural and cultural history are evident at Dugout Wells. On this easy desert stroll you will see remnants of human settlement and typical Chihuahuan Desert habitat. A shady oasis with cottonwood trees and tables at Dugout Wells provides a good area for picnicking and bird watching.
Chimneys Arch
Chimneys Arch

Chimneys Trail

Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 4.8 miles round trip
Begin at mile 13, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

A moderate hike (due to distance) to a series of prominent volcanic dike formations. The "chimneys" have always been an important landmark, and Indian rock art marks the base of these high pinnacles. The chimneys are 2.4 miles away and easily seen from the trailhead.

The trail beyond the chimneys continues west another 4.6 miles and ends on the Old Maverick Road near Luna's jacal. This is an enjoyable 7-mile hike if you can arrange transportation on the opposite end.

View into Dog Canyon
Dog Canyon

Dog Canyon

Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 4 miles round trip
Begin at pull-off, 3.5 miles south of the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center

Dog Canyon is a pleasant, flat hike in the early morning or late afternoon hours when temperatures are moderate. The destination canyon is visible across the desert flats from the trailhead, and trail is well-marked with obvious cairns. At 1.5 miles the trail drops into a wash, and a left turn down the wash takes you through Dog Canyon about a half mile further. At the far end of the canyon, visitors should note that the horizontal rock strata have been folded vertically by the geological forces that formed the mountain ridge the canyon traverses. The narrow slot canyon to the right (south) of Dog Canyon is the Devil’s Den. A hike along the rim of Devil’s Den offers good views into the slot canyon and expansive panoramas of the surrounding desert, but it is NOT recommended that you attempt a trip through canyon without a companion and proper gear. Check at a Visitor Center for information on this route.

Lone Mountain trail
Nice views

Lone Mountain Trail

Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 2.7 Mile Loop
Begin at trailhead parking area, 1 mile north of Panther Junction

This scenic trail offers a loop around the base of Lone Mountain, the rugged remnants of an ancient volcanic intrusion. As you circumnavigate the mountain, you are rewarded with exceptional views of the Chisos, Rosillos, and Dead Horse Mountains. The trail is mostly level, and is a great choice for families.

Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock

Grapevine Hills Trail

Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 2.2 miles round trip
Begin 6 miles down Grapevine Hills improved dirt road at the parking area
The road is very rough and REQUIRES a sturdy High Clearance Vehicle. Do NOT attempt to reach this trail with a passenger car, minivan or RV.

This trail leads to a group of balanced rocks in the heart of the Grapevine Hills. Initially, the trail follows a gravel wash, then climbs steeply for the last quarter mile into the boulders. The last section requires crossing steep, rough bedrock, and negotiating a challenging landscape of boulders. Stay on the trail, and watch carefully for the directional arrows that point the way to the balanced rock. Use extreme caution, especially coming back down. No shade, watch for snakes!

Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail
Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail

Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail

Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 1 mile round trip
Begin at the end of Burro Mesa Spur Road off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

This trail leads through a gravel drainage, and ends in a narrow box canyon where water has carved a deep channel into Burro Mesa. The end of the trail is the base of a 100-foot pour-off. Usually dry, the smooth, polished pour-off attests to the power of water that floods this canyon during summer rains.

marufo vega trail view
Marufo Vega

Marufo Vega

DIfficulty: Strenuous; Distance: 12 mile round trip
Begin at the Marufo Vega trailhead near Boquillas Canyon

This strenuous but spectacular hike is not recommended for inexperienced hikers. The trail is rugged and passes through several miles of dry washes and hills before descending into Boquillas Canyon and along the Rio Grande for ~1.5 miles. There is no shade or water, temperatures can exceed 100°F, and the route is poorly defined in some places. Practice caution if attempting this trail as a day hike. Learn more.

Mariscal Rim
Mariscal Canyon

Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail

DIfficulty: Strenuous; Distance: 6.5 miles round trip
Begin at the Mariscal Rim Trailhead, along the primitive road to Talley.

This trail is as rewarding as it is remote. This hike requires a major effort just to get to the remote trailhead in the backcountry along the park's River Road. The trail crosses open desert before steadily ascending the western flanks of Mariscal Mountain, eventually leading you to a 1,400 foot limestone precipice. You can see and hear the Rio far below. Do NOT attempt this hike during the warmer months. Learn More

Mule Ears Spring
Mule Ears Spring

Mule Ears Spring Trail

Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 3.8 miles round trip
Mule Ears Overlook parking area, mile 15, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

This hike leads through the foothills of the Chisos Mountains, skirts Trap Mountain, and crosses several arroyos. Near the spring is an old rock corral. The spring itself is overgrown with shrubs, but ferns and cattails also grow there. Remember, no contaminating/bathing in backcountry springs.

Prickly Pear Blossoms
Prickly Pear Blossoms

Panther Path

Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 50 yard loop
Begin at Panther Junction Visitor Center

This easy, wheelchair accessible loop winds through a desert garden in front of the Panther Junction Visitor Center. A trail brochure and numbered stops identify many of the cacti and common plants of the Chihuahuan Desert and explain their historic, cultural, and medicinal uses.
Sam Nail Ranch
Sam Nail Ranch

Sam Nail Ranch

Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Begin at Mile 3, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

An easy, well-maintained trail leads through the old homestead of Jim and Sam Nail and Sam's wife, Nena. There are interesting historic remnants here, including part of the adobe walls of the house and two windmills, one which is still in operation. This is a beautiful desert oasis and a great spot for birding and wildlife viewing.

Tuff Canyon
Tuff Canyon

Tuff Canyon

Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 0..5 mile round trip to 3 viewing platforms.
Begin at Tuff Canyon overlook on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Tuff Canyon's provides a glimpse into the violent volcanic past of Big Bend. Three viewing platforms offer great views into a spectacular canyon carved out of welded volcanic ash (tuff).

Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff
Upper Burro Mesa Pour-off

Upper Burro Mesa Trail

Difficulty: Moderate; Distance: 3.8 miles round trip
Begin at pull-off, mile 6.6, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

This route follows a dry wash downstream to the top of the 100-foot Burro Mesa Pour-off. The trail includes some large rocks to climb down, where some rock scrambling may be necessary. Total elevation change is 500 feet/150 meters. Pay attention on the return hike to ensure that you follow the same drainages. Trail subject to flash flooding.


Last updated: March 8, 2024

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