Big Bend National Park in the southwestern part of the state of Texas is a unique scenic combination of desert, mountains and the mighty Rio Grande. From the lowest point at the Rio Grande (at around 540 m) to the highest peaks in the Chisos Mountains (at almost 2,440 m), the park is home to huge canyons, extensive desert areas and forests. This area was simply baptized “El Despoblado” – “The Uninhabited Land” by the first Spanish explorers.
Today’s name Big Bend refers to the “great loop” of the Rio Grande in Southwest Texas. The river here looks like a long, arc-shaped ribbon, which incessantly “eats” through the desert and mountain ranges. Most of the water actually comes from the Rio Conchos, which flows a little above into the Rio Grande and probably already dug the deep gorges in the park area as a primeval river. Today, 172 km of the Rio Grande represents the southern border of the park area.
Most of Big Bend National Park (about 97%) is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, which extends deep into Mexico. At almost 8,000 years old, the Chihuahua Desert is a very “young” desert. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, rain falls almost exclusively during the summer months. Then life awakens and numerous colorful flowers from the agave cacti and the Century plants enchant the landscape. The best time to stay is in winter. While the rest of the country is covered in snow, temperatures here are pleasant at 27 degrees.
Another area of the park falls on the Chisos Mountains region. The mountains, formed by volcanic movements, are popular with rock collectors and mineralogists. Fossils are often found in the limestone and sandstone rock formations. Nature lovers can choose from hiking trails with a total length of over 200 km.
Location and Size
According to Travelationary, Big Bend National Park is located in the southwestern part of the state of Texas. The towns of Presido, Alpine and Marathon are between 112 and 160 km from the park. Austin, the capital of Texas, is approximately 760 km away. The distances between the places are sometimes very large. A visit to the park should therefore be planned well in advance. It is advisable to take sufficient food, water and petrol with you. The total area of the park is 3,237 km².
Numerous highways (Hwy 118, FM 170, US 90, US385) lead to Big Bend National Park. Flight and bus connections as well as rental cars are available to you from/to Austin or Dallas, for example. There is no public transportation to or within the park.
The most scenic route is from Dallas on I-20 southwest to Abilene, then on US 277 south to San Angelo and US 67 to Fort Stockton, taking US 67 before Ft. Stockton merges with I-10. On the eastern border of Ft. Stockton, watch out for the US 385 exit to Big Bend National Park. Then follow US 385 South for the next 90 km (55 miles). Make a slight right on Hwy 90 West and go straight one mile, finally onto US 385 South. The park entrance is 50 km (30 miles) and the park headquarters is 63 km (39 miles) from the park entrance.
The town of Marathon – one mile east of US 90 – is the last resort for gas, groceries and drinking water. The speed limit in the park is 45 miles/hour. Watch out for deer crossings.
Distance: 860 km/ 533 miles Driving time: 8.5 hours
Opening Hours and Seasons
Big Bend National Park is open year-round. However, each visitor center has its own opening hours.
Panther Junction Visitor Centers
: Open daily from 9am to 5pm. Open only briefly on Christmas Day.
The Panther Junction Visitor Center is located at Park Headquarters, which is the ideal place to start your visit. Permits for backcountry and river tours are issued here. Interactive exhibits provide an overview of the park’s geology, natural and cultural history. An orientation film about the park is shown on request in the visitor center cinema.
Chisos Basin: Open daily from 08:30 to 16:00, closed for lunch. Open only briefly on Christmas Day.
Castolon: Open from November to April from 10am to 4pm, closed for lunch.
Persimmon Cap:Open daily from 09:00 to 16:00, closed for lunch.
Rio Grande Village: Open from November to April from 08:30 to 16:00, closed for lunch.
Visiting the Park
November through April is the peak season for Big Bend National Park. The park is often full — especially around Thanksgiving week, the holiday season, and spring break (mid-March). During this time, the demand for camping and lodging far outstrips the number of campgrounds and rooms available within the park. Advance reservations for camping and accommodation are highly recommended and good advance planning with possible alternatives is required.
Park admission is valid for all visitors for up to 7 days. Entry for a private car, van, SUV or RV is $30 per car with a maximum of 15 occupants. The fee is USD 15 for individuals entering the park on foot or by bike and USD 25 for motorcycles.
Park Shuttle Service
No shuttle service is offered. There is no public transport within the park. Own vehicle is required to explore Big Bend National Park.
There are 4 campgrounds within the park (Cottonwood, Chisos Basin, Rio Grande Village RV & Rio Grande Village) with more than 200 sites. Especially in the high season (November – April) it is advisable to reserve campsites in advance at www.recreation.gov .
Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas, so the weather is often influenced by the Pacific Ocean, while most of Texas is influenced by the Gulf of Mexico. The weather conditions can therefore be significantly different than in other parts of the state.
From February to May. Around mid-February, it often gets pleasantly warm during the day, while it can be very cool at night, especially in the mountains and river valleys. From March it gets warmer and warmer, but it can be very windy and sometimes rainy. Rainwear is therefore essential.
From May to September. Spring and summer are generally warm and pleasant for sightseeing. Summer conditions can occur most of the year.
May and June are dry. Usually June is the hottest month of the year.
July usually begins hot and muggy, in the afternoon frequent thunderclouds and short showers bring cooling. It can get relatively cool in August. The rainiest time is from mid-June to October with sometimes heavy, local thunderstorms and flooding.
late September to mid-December. It can be warm until October, but the nights cool down. Many consider fall to be the best time to visit Big Bend. Temperatures are comfortable and generally less windy than in the spring months.
late November to February. Winters are generally dry and mild. A normal winter day is clear with daily highs around 18°C and night-time temperatures between -1°C and 4°C. Spring-like conditions can also occur in the winter months.
|Average temperatures in Big Bend National Park in °C|
Good gear, clothing appropriate to the season and sound planning are essential to ensure a safe and enjoyable stay.
Start your visit to Big Bend National Park with a stop at one of the visitor centers, where you can get information about the park and buy postcards and books. Big Bend National Park offers beautiful hiking and horseback riding trails, river boat trips, and bird and flower viewing opportunities.
- Use the drive to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center to experience the transition from arid desert landscape to alpine mountains. Over 500 meters in altitude are overcome on this beautiful, winding route.
- Hike the 500 m long “Window View Trail” with beautiful views. A good starting point to experience the sunset.
Rio Grande Village
- Take the drive to the Rio Grande Village area to enjoy the magnificent views of the Sierra del Carmen mountain range. Along the way you will pass the oasis of Dugout Wells and hot springs.
- Walk from the Visitor Center to Daniel’s Ranch – a good spot for bird watching.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
- A drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive brings you closer to the geological breadth of Big Bend National Park and offers numerous scenic views. Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook and Tuff Canyon are notable stops along the way.
- Observe special geological features on the 1.6 km hike along the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail.