First-time visitors to Big Bend National Park often arrive without a detailed itinerary in mind, and are surprised by the vast size of the park and the many opportunities it offers. Use these suggested itineraries to help make the most out of your trip.
Big Bend is too big to see in a single day, but a great one-day trip to the park might include a trip down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and a visit to the Chisos Basin.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive will give you fantastic views of the Chihuahuan Desert landscape and will lead you to the Rio Grande. There are scenic overlooks and exhibits along the way, and the short walks to Sam Nail Ranch and Homer Wilson Ranch and a visit to the Castolon Historic District will give you a glimpse into Big Bend’s past.
A highlight of the trip is the short walk into Santa Elena Canyon—one of Big Bend’s most scenic spots. Drive 8 miles west from Castolon to the end of the road. You may return to the main road by returning on the Ross Maxwell Drive or on the Old Maverick Road, a 13-mile gravel road linking the Ross Maxwell Drive to the Maverick Entrance. Be sure to check on road conditions first.
In the Chisos Mountains, walk the 0.3-mile Window View Trail to get a feel for the mountain scenery. If time allows you might consider hiking the Window Trail or Lost Mine Trail for a closer look at Big Bend's mountain landscapes. The Fossil Discovery Exhibit located 8 miles north of Panther Junction is another park highlight that could easily fit into a one-day visit.
With three days to spend in the park, you can explore the major roads more thoroughly and still have time for hiking. You will also have plenty of time to stop at visitor centers and the Fossil Discovery Exhibit to learn more about the park.
To learn some of the "stories behind the scenery," consider joining a park ranger for a fun, informative, and free guided hike or interpretive program. Check the posted schedule for program offerings.
In the Chisos Basin area, consider hiking the Window Trail (6 miles round trip) or the Lost Mine Trail (5 miles round trip). Visit the day hikes page for more information about other trails you might enjoy hiking during a three-day visit. Try to experience Big Bend's wilderness as much as possible.
In addition to the Chisos Basin and Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (suggested for a one-day itinerary), you can drive to Rio Grande Village, perhaps stopping at Dugout Wells along the way to look for birds or walk the short Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail.
The Rio Grande Village Visitor Center offers exhibits about the river. Nearby you can also walk the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, which begins in the campground near site #18. The bluff overlooking the Rio Grande at the end of the nature trail is a particularly beautiful spot at sunset.
The Boquillas Canyon road will take you to Boquillas Canyon. At the end of the road is the Boquillas Canyon Trail, which takes you into the entrance of this spectacular canyon.
If you have a valid passport, a short visit to the nearby small Mexican village of Boquillas del Carmen is always a memorable experience.
With a week or more to spend in Big Bend, endless possibilities are open to you. You'll have plenty of time to explore the roads mentioned in the previous sections, and ill also have time to hike or drive some of the "unimproved" dirt roads. For these, you'll need a high-clearance vehicle (and possibly four-wheel drive). Check at a visitor center for current road conditions. The River Road, Glenn Springs Road, Old Ore Road, and Old Maverick Road are some of the more popular backcountry routes. A visit to Ernst Tinaja near the south end of Old Ore Road is a Big Bend highlight.
If you don't have high clearance or four-wheel drive, improved dirt roads such as Dagger Flat and Grapevine Hills will get you "off the beaten path." Hike the Chimneys Trail, Mule Ears Trail, or Grapevine Hills Trail for a closer look at the desert environment.
If you'd like to explore the Chisos Mountains, trails to Boot Canyon, Emory Peak and the South Rim offer good views of the park and take you into a forested mountain environment which seems far removed from the desert. There are also plenty of opportunities for overnight backpacking along these trails (a backcountry use permit is required).
Last updated: December 13, 2018