There are no crowds.
Big Bend National Park is an inconvenient drive for just about everyone. It is way down south in Texas and you have to drive through miles of desert to get there. It is not exactly a tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people there. Just not as many as other parks. Plus the park is so spread that the crowds have plenty of space. There are some hikes where you do not see anybody at all.
When Kenon and I hit the road for a national park in Texas I imagined a dry, dusty, lonely land. True, this is what I saw for most of the drive from El Paso to the entrance of Big Bend. However, the more time we spent in the park, the more the desert came alive. According to Big Bend’s website, this park is home to “75 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles, and 11 species of amphibians.” While we were visiting we saw roadrunners, coyotes, lizards, birds, and wild horses. We talked to rangers who had spotted cougars and black bears. The reason for this high concentration of species is because Big Bend is made of three environments: desert, river, and mountain. This provides a lush ecosystem for animals to thrive.
The bird species
Big Bend National Park is a bird-viewing destination. The park is situated along a main migration route. Northern birds come here to escape winter and tropical birds come here in the spring to breed. Since it is a protected land, birds continue to use it because it is a safe place. Visit nps.org to get a list of the best viewing locations.
The Rio Grande
This river provides the southern border for Big Bend National Park. It is also the southern border between Texas and Mexico. The Rio Grande offers a variety of recreational activities. You can rent kayaks and canoes, line up river guides, go swimming, and rest in the hot springs.
The Hot Springs
The hot springs at Big Bend are located on the edge of the Rio Grand River. It is just one pool that is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two ways to get to the hot spring: take the Hot Spring Historic Trail that is only 1-mile round trip and leads you past old stores and hotels or the Hot Spring Canyon Trail that is 6 miles and takes you from Daniel’s Ranch to the hot spring and back. Since the spring is so hot the best time to visit is early morning because the temperature at Big Bend regularly sits above 90 by lunch time.
Crossing into Mexico
Boquillas Canyon, on the west side of the park, has a port of entry to cross into Mexico. A passport is absolutely required to cross – we did not have ours and were turned away. At Boquillas Canyon, you go to a small building that serves as the port of entry. There is a ranger at the port to offer advice and go over the governing laws. The ranger on duty when we were there was super friendly and informative. You do not have to show a passport at this point. Once you go through the port of entry, you can cross the river on foot (if the river is low) or pay for one of the ferries (just a small rowboat) to take you across for a fee of $5. You still do not have to show a passport at this point. When you return at the end of your visit, you re-cross the river, go to the port of entry, and this is where you have to show a passport. Your passport has to be scanned by customs in order for you to re-enter the country.
Once in Mexico, the nearest town is Boquillas. This is a half mile walk from the crossing, or you can hire a burro or vehicle. Find out more about the border crossing and town of Boquillas by visiting here.
There are so many hiking opportunities at Big Bend!
You can choose from hikes in the Chihuahuan Desert, like this one to Balanced Rock.
Hikes in the Chisos Mountains, like this one to Lost Mine.
And historic hikes along the Rio Grande, like this one to Sam Nail Ranch.
Find out more about the hiking options in Big Bend by visiting the website.
Big Bend National Park is mostly brown and green: Cacti and sage mix with the sandy landscape. Scattered here and there, though, are gorgeous desert flowers. Along the Rio Grande are lush trees. Overall, this creates a beautiful sight.
The historic sites
This area was originally settled by ranchers, taking advantage of irrigation opportunities from hidden springs and the Rio Grande. The ruins of many of these ranches are scattered throughout the park. The majority of these can be found along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Most of them are only short hikes, less than one mile round trip. You can build an incredible multi-day itinerary filled with visiting the historic sites alone.
If you are traveling to the dead-end corner of Texas, you are not just a typical tourist. The people in Big Bend National Park have come there to take a load off, relax, and drink in nature. Everyone we talked to was so laid-back and friendly. It is a great group of people to spend vacation with.
Big Bend National Park can be fit into a larger trip to Texas. It is so full of recreation opportunites and a variety of landscapes that it can be a vacation all in itself!