The South Rim Trail at Big Bend National Park straddles the line between a backpacking hike and a day hike, at 12.4 miles it can easily take the better part of your entire day if not an overnight trip.
Our preferred starting point and the one most people will end up using is the Chisos Basin Trailhead just a few steps away from the Chisos Mountain Lodge parking lot. Since we where staying at the Rio Grande Motel it made the most sense to start at this trailhead for our day long journey.
My first word of warning for this hike is to make sure you are in adequate physical shape if you are planning on tackling the entire trail in one day. While it is only around 12.4 miles the terrain and elevation gains will certainly be a big challenge for anyone.
My second word of warning for this trail will be to make sure you are carrying enough water and food to get you through the entire loop. There are no water sources the entire loop so if you are hiking in the summer months you MUST make sure to carry more water than you think you will need. My first time on this trail I ended up carrying close to 12 liters of water and I don’t regret it one bit. Regarding food, making sure you do not only have bars and gels but also a sandwich or something you can sit down with and truly enjoy your time on the rim.
I highly recommend to start hitting the trail as early as possible to make sure you can get done at a decent hour. Along with starting early I would recommend to stay inside the park and somewhere near Chisos Basin due to just how draining this hike is and pairing that with a long drive back to Marfa, Alpine, Terlingua or Marathon just sounds awful.
Once you leave the Chisos Basin Mountain Lodge parking lot you will first encounter a metal sign posting the trailhead and direction for the trails starting from this location. You will also see a map showing the trails in the area and a few warnings for Mountain Lions and what to do.
The first part of the trail is largely in contrast to what the rest of the terrain will look like so use this first mile or so to get loose and warmed up for the fun stuff. There are a few trails that lead off from this area but there are plenty of signs and directional arrows so just keep following the signs for South Rim Trail and you should be good.
The fun stuff beings once you start entering the switchback area where you will gain most of your elevation on this hike. This was a pretty brutal and in my opinion the hardest part of the entire hike.
We decided to skip the Emory Peak detour due to time constraints and worrying it could be too much to tackle in one day. I will say in retrospect I wish we had gone up Emory Peak since I think we could have completed it all in time.
The trail is really well maintained for the most part and we never felt lost or confused in what direction we where supposed to take. The trail is mostly packed dirt, sand and some areas with loose rocks. I do recommend hiking poles to make sure you are stable since some areas do have a lot of steps up and down which scream rolled ankles if you aren’t ready.
The main reason most people do this hike is for the amazing view on the South Rim and what I highly recommend to do is to grab your lunch in this spot!
Overall the entire hike was worth every ounce of pain and sweat, the views are just breathtaking.
If you have the opportunity to do the South Rim Trail, take it, you will not regret visiting one of my favorite National Parks and one of the most secluded ones I have ever been too. Throughout an entire day of hiking we saw less than 10 people until we got back to the Chisos Basin Mountain Lodge.
We luckily had no issue with Mountain Lions or Bears but I have heard about people running into them out in the trails. For the most part I wouldn’t worry too much about this and just check in with the Park Rangers so they can run you through what to do incase you run into one.
Once you are done with the hike and back at the trailhead by the Mountain Lodge parking lot, congratulate yourself and get ready to take it easy. I know for a fact we where exhausted when we got back and planned for a very chill and relaxed day for the next morning.
Let me know if you have completed the South Rim Trail! Or if you are planning on going! Big Bend is a must see and one dear to my heart that I cannot recommend enough!
Now get out there and keep adventuring!
Have you been to Big Bend National Park? Any favorite stops? Any must do!? Leave it in the comments 🙂
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