Right on the Texas – Mexico Border runs the Rio Grande River and a National Park encompassing more than 800,000 acres of towering river canyons, mountain cliffs, and expansive Chihuahuan Desert.
This National Park has been on my list of paces to visit ever since I had seen pictures of the Santa Elena Canyon and the South Rim Trail views. I know the park was in my home state of Texas but also knew that this is Texas and distances within the state can be very daunting.
My first trip to this park was a coincidence since I had been looking at dates further in the future trying to find a room and accidentally stumbled unto a last minute cancellation at the Chisos Mountain Lodge. I was originally planning on visiting the park alone since it would be the middle of summer and I knew almost no one would want to go with me. Shockingly to my disbelief two of my old roommates decided to take the trek down to Southwest Texas with me!
As I mentioned earlier just because something is in the same state of Texas doesn’t mean it is close by any means. The drive from Dallas and Houston averages around 10-11 hours depending on bathroom and food breaks. Just like any other road trip I highly recommend to get your car checked out by a mechanic, tire pressures double checked and have a small roadside emergency kit in the trunk. I personally am a big believer in having a AAA membership which has come incredibly handy in the past. The main reason I also suggest AAA over a regular credit card or deslership roadside assistance is due to the amazing towing milage AAA provides.
You do have options to fly down to the park but none of the options are that great. The closest commercial airports are in El Paso and Midland/Odessa which are still over 200 miles away from the park Headquarters. There are small private airports such as the Terlingua Ranch Airport but you would definitely need to be either flying your own small plane or be booking a charter flight.
Moral of the story is be prepared to drive if you want to experience this gem of a park. This is also the main reason that Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the U.S. due to just how hard it is to get there.
The second reason I think this great National Park has such a low attendance is due to just the lack of lodging options inside and outside the park. We lucked out with being able to get a room at the Rio Grande Motel but there are only three other lodge options inside the park besides the campgrounds which can only be reserved from November to April/May and are normally booked the moment they open up.
If you do not stay in the park you also have limited options outside of the park due to just how remote the park is. Terlingua is the closest town with any kind of AirBnB and other lodging options but even those are pretty limited. Personally if your goal is to hike in the park I wouldn’t stay outside of the park due to the long distances and travel times to get to any trail head even within the park. To put it in perspective from the main park entrance from Marathon, TX it will still take you around 45-60 minutes before you hit Chisos Basin Lodge. That is crazy to me! To make sure you understand it can take you close to an hour from the moment you come into the park to the moment you hit the campground.
To this day there a few National Parks I would recommend as much as Big Bend though. The remoteness, the solitude, the challenge of getting there are all things that give it the charm that it has. Not only does it separate it from other National Parks but it makes the people who go there that much more involved in taking care of the park. Unlike most National Parks I have been too, I never noticed the lack of care for the park, there was never litter, there was just a different vibe in the air from the visitors.
A lot of National Parks while I love them just have a feeling of being Disney World with hiking thrown in. Big Bend National Park is a very unique place and one that will have a hard time coming out of my top 5 parks not only in the U.S. but the world.
Stay tuned for itineraries and hike reviews of hikes to do in the park and things to do while in the area!
Have you been to Big Bend National Park? What was your favorite hike? Any crazy story on the drive there or back?
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