Big Bend National Park is located at the border of Texas and Mexico, right along a bend in the Rio Grande River. It is a nature sanctuary that brings together the best of the Chisos Mountains, Rio Grande River ecosystem, and Chihuahuahan Desert. All of this magnificence together adds up to Big Bend National Park being a vast park. Choosing the right camp site is key to enjoying this mega-park because it determines how you will experience the park. Visit this map to see how the campgrounds are situated. They each have their own district, with its own attractions. Driving from one district to the next takes about an hour on the 45 mph national park roads.
When we were planning our trip to Big Bend we had a list of recommended hikes and sights we wanted to fit in. We decided to wing it when it came to camping because the information online was so conflicting. We landed at Rio Grande which is a fantastic campsite. The problem was it is on the far west side of the park. To drive anywhere else in the park took forever. We only had a limited time in the park so we had to re-plan a lot of our sight-seeing so that we did not waste too much time driving from one end of the park to the other.
The point of this guide is to help you plan your stay better. It lists what type of camping is available in each area of the park. It also lists what is around each district to help you plan your itinerary in an effective way. All of the campgrounds have some reservable sites with the rest being first-come, first-served.
1. Rio Grande Village
Camping: 100 sites, 43 reservable
RV: 25 first-come, first-served locations with full hookups. Any of the other sites can be used for RVs if you do not need a full hookups. Dump station available.
Notes: Quiet, uncrowded, plain and basic sites
Hot Springs Historic Trail. 1-mile round trip.
Boquillas Canyon Trail. 1.4-miles round trip.
Boquillas Crossing. This crossing takes you into Mexico (passport required) and to the town of Boquillas. Plan a half day to a whole day for this excursions. Boquillas has delicious dining options for lunch! Find out more at nps.org.
Star-Gazing Locations. This quiet section of the park gets very dark at night, as there is very little light pollution.
Hot Springs. Just a short drive from the campground is the hot springs. Please note, though, that this is a rough, 4 x 4 recommended drive.
Amenities: Showers, laundry, small convenience store, visitor’s center
2. Chisos Basin
Camping: 60 sites, 26 reservable
RV: No full hookups. Dump station available.
Notes: Beautiful sites, crowded
Emory Peak. 10.5 miles round trip.
Window Trail. 5.6 miles round trip.
*These hikes start just behind the convenience store in Chisos Basin.
Amenities: Mountain Lodge (hotel), convenience store, visitor’s center, restaurant, restrooms
This is also the ONLY area in the park to get Wi-Fi. Most of the park does not even receive cell reception.
3. Cottonwood in Castolon District
Camping: 24 sites, no reservations
RV: No full hookups or dump station
Notes: This is the only campground we did not visit. It is really far away from everything except the Santa Elena Canyon.
Santa Elena Canyon. 1.7-miles round trip.
Lower Burros Mesa Pour-Off Trail. 1-mile round trip.
Chimney’s Trail. 4.8-miles round trip.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. This drive has a lot of little stops along the way, with hikes ranging from half-a-mile to 10-miles. The hikes listed above are also found along this drive. This is the best drive in the park to see a lot of historic sites.
Kayaking and canoeing on the Rio Grande, along Santa Elena Canyon. You can bring your own vessel, rent, or hire a guide.
Amenities: Convenience store, visitor’s center
Are you REALLY looking to get away from everything and everybody, into more quiet spaces? Or maybe you are escaping light pollution to get a good look at those bright night skies. Big Bend National Park offers a lot of primitive camping locations in the backcountry. These are drive-up camping spots along gravel roads (4 x 4 vehicle highly recommended). There are no amenities at these locations. They are marked by a gravel parking lot and a bear container for food storage. Permits for these locations are $12, first-come first-served only, and can be purchased at any visitor’s center upon arrival at the park.
Most of these back-country sites are not accessible by RV or trailer. Ask at the visitor’s center for a list of locations that are accessible.
Notes: Quiet, isolated, beautiful
Gear of the Trip:
Rechargeable Personal Fan. Big Bend National Park gets very hot during the day. It then stays hot throughout the better part of the night. Kenon ordered this little fan from Amazon and it was the best thing we brought with us on this trip. It is lightweight so it can hang or sit just about anywhere. It is small and does not take up a lot of extra space. The batteries are rechargeable and it can be plugged into your car to recharge as you drive around for the day. The best part though? This tiny thing kicks out big air! I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable this fan could make our sleeping environment.