Article Overview: Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
Looking for the best things to do in Big Bend National Park? You’re in good hands. Big Bend is one of my favorite absolute favorite national parks full of stunning sites and great activities.
Located in the southwestern corner of Texas, spanning over 800,000 acres of breathtaking landscapes, Big Bend National Park is a national park of singular beauty. From the rugged peaks of the Chisos Mountains to the sweeping vistas of the Chihuahuan Desert, this park has a really fascinating variety of terrain.
Whether you’re into hiking, rock climbing, or just soaking up the beauty of nature, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in Big Bend National Park.
One of my personal favorite things about Big Bend National Park is the sense of isolation and serenity that you can find here. Big Bend is a place where you can really get away from it all and connect with nature in a way that’s hard to find in more crowded, touristy destinations.
Plus, with over 150 miles of hiking trails to choose from, you’re sure to find a route that suits your skill level and interests. Just make sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, because it can get pretty hot out there!
Ready to dive in? Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Things to Do at Big Bend National Park
- Interesting Facts About Big Bend National Park
- Things to Know Before Visiting Big Bend National Park
- Where to Stay in Big Bend National Park
- Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Top 20 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Top 15 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Top 10 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Top 5 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Big Bend National Park Itinerary
- Map of the Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Summary of the Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Helpful Related Links
Interesting Facts About Big Bend National Park
Size: Big Bend National Parks park covers an area of approximately 801,163 acres (324,219 hectares).
Elevation: The park’s elevation ranges from about 1,800 feet (550 meters) above sea level in the Chisos Basin to about 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) at Emory Peak, the highest point in the park.
Visitation: Big Bend was the 37th most visited national park in America in 2022 receiving 581,220 visitors.
Fossils: Big Bend National Park is home to the longest fossilized dinosaur trackway in the world, which was discovered in the park in the late 1960s.
Things to Know Before Visiting Big Bend National Park
$30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass(which you can purchase here) which gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which we never leave the house without because it plays nice with our dear friend, earth 🙂
Cell Service is spotty at best in Big Bend so download your maps and plan accordingly.
Fuel up at Panther Station before you enter the park (even if you’re at like 3/4 of a tank) because the park is large and you do not want to run out of gas in the desert.
Big Bend Guide Book
This is the guide book we found most helpful for visiting the park.
The Best Map
We like this map best for Big Bend.
Drink it. Lots of it. Don’t forget it in the car.
Best Time to Visit Big Bend
Big Bend National Park is in the early spring when temperatures are manageable, the desert is in bloom, and visitation is down.
Where to Stay in Big Bend National Park
Here’s our favorite place to stay near Big Bend National Park!
Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
Top 20 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
20. Camping in Big Bend National Park
Starting off our list of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park with staying the night might be a bit presumptuous, but hear me out.
Given the park’s remote location, camping is almost a must at Big Bend, and given the beautiful natural surroundings it’s hard to turn these sites down.
There are 3 kinds of camping opportunities at Big Bend: Developed (Front Country) Camping, Primitive Camping, and Backcountry Camping.
There are four developed campgrounds at Big Bend National Park including three run by the NPS and one run by a private concessionaire.
- Chisos Basin Campground (56 sites) – located in the center of the park in the Chisos Mountains
- Rio Grande Village Campground (93 sites) – located near the Rio Grande on the east side of the park
- Cottonwood Campground (22 sites) – located near the Rio Grande on the west side of the park
- Rio Grande Village RV Park – located next to the Rio Grande Village Store and operated by Aramark
Those interested in a more secluded experience should check out one of the 64 primitive campsites along backcountry roads. Despite their remoteness, these sites fill up most nights of the year.
The most popular 34 sites can be reserved online in advance while the others must be reserved at one of the visitors centers.
With hundreds of miles of trails Big Bend National Park one of the most popular things to do in Big Bend for the more adventurous soul is backpacking into the backcountry. The Chisos Mountains region is the most popular area for backcountry camping in Big Bend.
Check out the NPS site for more details on camping at Big Bend National Park.
19. Fossil Discovery Trail
If you’re looking for a great activity with kids then add the Fossil Discovery Trail to your list of things to do at big Bend National Park.
The trail is a self-guided interpretive trail that takes you on a journey through the park’s geologic and paleontological history. It’s about one mile in length and takes about an hour to complete.
As you hike the trail, you can see a variety of fossils, including those of dinosaurs, reptiles, and early mammals.
There were also a number of interactive exhibits along the way, including a replica of a paleontologist’s field site, where I learned about the process of fossil excavation and identification.
The Fossil Discovery Trail is located in the park’s Chihuahuan Desert area, and it’s a great way to learn about the ancient flora and fauna that once lived in this region.
Birdwatching is one of my personal favorite things to do in Big Bend National Park. With more than 450 species of birds recorded within the park’s boundaries, Big Bend is a birdwatchers paradise.
The park’s diverse habitats, including desert, mountain, and riparian areas, provide a home for a wide variety of bird species.
Some of the more commonly seen birds in the park include roadrunners, Gambel’s quail, cactus wrens, and vireos. The park is also home to many species of migratory birds, including warblers, tanagers, buntings, and more, which can be seen during the spring and fall migrations.
The Audobon Society keeps a current list of birds you can see at Big Bend National Park in case your interested.
The best time for birdwatching in Big Bend National Park is typically during the cooler months of the year, from October to April. During this time, the weather is milder and the birds are more active, making it easier to spot them.
There are several areas of the park that are particularly good for birdwatching, including the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail and the Chisos Basin Trail.
The park’s visitor centers and ranger stations can also provide information on the best places to go birdwatching and what species you might be able to see.
Be sure to bring along a pair of binoculars and a field guide to help you identify the different species you see. It’s also important to remember to be respectful of the birds and their habitats while you’re out in the park. This means staying on designated trails, avoiding disturbing nesting areas, and not feeding the birds.
17. Homer Wilson Ranch
History buffs can add the Homer Wilson Ranch to their list of things to do in Big Bend National Park. Homer Wilson Ranch was established in the early 1900s by Homer Wilson, a cattle rancher who operated the ranch for over 50 years.
At 28,000 acres at its height, it was one of the largest ranches of the early 1900s. Today, the ranch is a popular destination for visitors to the park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The ranch is a beautiful and secluded spot that offers a glimpse into the history of ranching in the region. The ranch includes a number of historic buildings, including a main ranch house, barns, corrals, and outbuildings.
Big Bend National Park is known for its dark skies, making it a great place to stargaze. The park’s location in remote southwestern Texas, far from the light pollution of cities, allows for excellent visibility of the stars and other celestial objects.
In fact, the night skies are so dark at Big Bend that the park has been designated an international dark sky park.
There are a number of great spots to stargaze within the park, including the Chisos Basin and the Rio Grande Village area.
The Chisos Basin, located in the park’s mountain range, is a particularly good spot for stargazing, as the higher elevation and clear skies offer excellent views of the Milky Way and other celestial objects.
If you’d like to join a ranger-led stargazing program during your visit to Big Bend National Park, you can check the park’s calendar of events for upcoming programs. These programs typically take place in the evenings and may include a presentation on celestial objects, as well as the opportunity to view the stars through telescopes.
In addition to ranger-led programs, you can also stargaze on your own during your visit to the park. Just be sure to follow the park’s Leave No Trace guidelines and use a red-filtered flashlight to preserve your night vision.
Top 15 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
15. Sotol Vista Overlook
This is a great one for folks looking to add and easy yet rewarding item to their list of things to do in Big Bend National Park.
From Sotol Vista, you can see the western side of the park stretching out in front of you. In the distance, you can see Santa Elena Canyon as a small opening in the mesa.
If you’re visiting Sotol Vista, it’s a must-see stop no matter what time of day you go, but it’s particularly beautiful at sunrise or sunset. Because it’s far from any artificial light, it’s also a great place to stargaze.
To get to Sotol Vista, you’ll take a paved loop road. There are ten pull-in parking spaces, three RV/trailer spots, and two disabled parking spots available to accommodate most vehicles.
A vault toilet is also available, which is a welcome amenity on the long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
14. South Rim Trail
Avid hikers add the South Rim Trail to your list of things to do in Big Bend National Park. The South Rim Trail is one of the park’s most popular hiking trails offering stunning views of the Chisos Mountains and beyond.
The trail is considered a moderate to strenuous hike, with a total length of approximately 13 miles. It begins at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and follows the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains.
Along the way, you’ll encounter a variety of terrain, including rocky trails, steep inclines, and sandy washouts. The elevation gain is significant, with the trail climbing 2,000 feet from an elevation of around 5,800 feet to over 7,000 feet at its highest point.
One of the highlights of the South Rim Trail is the stunning panoramic views it offers of the Chisos Mountains and the surrounding landscape. Look out for black bears which are frequently spotted along the trail.
13. Langford Hot Springs
Looking to cool down on a hot day or warm up on a cold day at the park? Add the Langford Hot Springs to your list of things to do in Big Bend National Park.
While the original bathhouse built by J.O. Langford is long gone, the hot springs themselves remain along with a stone structure that keeps the hot water contained making for perfect soaking conditions.
The water that comes up out of the hot springs is about 105ºF and chocked full of dissolved mineral salts that lots of folks believe to have some therapeutic properties.
Getting to the hot springs requires a short .5 mile hike from the parking area down to the Rio Grande.
12. Tuff Canyon
If you’re looking for a short easy hike then consider adding Tuff Canyon to your list of things to do in Big Bend National Park. Tuff Canyon is a small canyon located in the Chisos Mountains known for its geology, as it is formed from a type of rock called tuff.
Tuff is a soft, porous rock that is formed when ash and other volcanic materials are compacted over time. The walls of Tuff Canyon are made up of layers of tuff, which gives the canyon its unique appearance.
There’s a short trail, about 1.5 miles long, that leads you through the canyon called Tuff Canyon Trail. You’ll also find several overlooks from the top side of the canyon where you can peer down into it.
11. Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff Hike
I know folks who would rank this hike as #1 on their list of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park. The scenery and interactivity on this trail is that cool (for some).
The Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff is a moderately strenuous out-and-back hike that follows a dry wash through the Chihuahuan Desert. The trail begins at the base of the Burro Mesa Pour-off, a spectacular rock formation that rises high above the surrounding landscape.
As you hike the trail keep your eyes peeled for rock climbers along the walls. You may also come across various desert plants and animals, such as cactus, yucca, agave, and possibly even desert bighorn sheep, which are well-known in the park.
The trail is about 5 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of about 500 feet, and takes roughly 2.5 hours to complete. Be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection, as the trail can be exposed to the sun for long stretches.
Top 10 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
10. Juniper Canyon Trail
Juniper Canyon Trail is a popular hiking trail, approximately 10 miles long, that takes hikers through a variety of different landscapes, including wooded forests, rocky outcrops, and desert scrub.
The trail is one of the more difficult things to do in Big Bend National Park but offers one of the most interesting changes in terrain.
The trail begins at the Homer Wilson Ranch and follows a rugged, rocky path through the Chisos Mountains. Juniper Canyon Trail culminates at a rocky overlook known as Juniper Ridge, which offers panoramic views of the park.
9. Boquillas Canyon
Boquillas Canyon is a beautiful and historic canyon, approximately 10 miles long, and home to a wide variety of plant and animal life.
It’s a popular destination for hikers and sightseers that makes for one of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park.
One of the main attractions of Boquillas Canyon is the Boquillas Canyon Trail, a popular hiking trail that follows the canyon for approximately 5 miles.
The trail offers stunning views of the canyon and the surrounding landscape, and takes hikers through a variety of different habitats, including riparian woodlands, rocky outcrops, and desert scrub. Along the way, you’ll see a wide variety of plant and animal life, including birds, reptiles, and mammals.
Boquillas Canyon is also home to the Boquillas Crossing, a border crossing that allows visitors to cross into Mexico and visit the small village of Boquillas del Carmen. This is a unique opportunity to experience Mexican culture and visit a place that is off the beaten path
8. Balanced Rock Hike
If you’re looking for easy things to do at Big Bend National Park, add the Balanced Rock to your list. The hike to Balanced Rock is a short, 0.5-mile round trip that is rated as easy in difficulty.
The hike begins at the Balanced Rock parking area and follows a well-marked trail through the desert. Along the way, you’ll pass through a variety of different landscapes, including rocky outcrops, scrubby bushes, and cactus-studded fields.
The trail culminates at Balanced Rock, a large boulder that appears to be precariously balanced on a small rock pedestal.
7. Canoe Down the Rio Grande
Canoeing is a popular activity at Big Bend National Park, with the Rio Grande serving as the park’s main waterway. The Rio Grande flows through the park for 118 miles, offering a variety of paddling opportunities for all skill levels.
There are several put-in and take-out points along the Rio Grande within the park, including the Rio Grande Village, the Boquillas Canyon, and the Santa Elena Canyon. Each of these areas offers a different paddling experience, with varying degrees of difficulty and scenery.
Canoeing the Rio Grande is a great way to explore the park’s natural beauty and see some of its more remote areas. Along the way, you may spot a variety of wildlife, including birds, reptiles, and mammals.
If you’re interested in canoeing at Big Bend National Park, it’s a good idea to come prepared. Be sure to bring plenty of water, sun protection, and a first aid kit. It’s also a good idea to bring a map of the park and to let someone know your itinerary before setting out.
6. Lost Mine Trail
Lost Mine Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Big Bend National Park taking hikers through the Chisos Mountains and offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape along the way.
The hike is is approximately 5.5 miles long and is rated as moderate in difficulty. Beginning at Pine Canyon Trailhead, it follows a steep, rocky path up to the top of the Chisos Mountains.
Lost Mine Trail culminates at a rocky overlook known as the Lost Mine Peak, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The hike is especially beautiful in the spring and fall when the temperatures are cooler and the wildflowers are in bloom. It’s a challenging but rewarding hike that offers a unique opportunity to experience the beauty of the Chisos Mountains up close.
We saw bears the last time we were on this trail so be on the lookout!
Top 5 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
5. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the most scenic road in Big Bend National Park and offers folks with limited mobility a chance to see the epic beauty of the park. The drive follows a 46-mile route through the Chisos Mountains and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Along the way, you’ll pass by several notable points of interest, including the Santa Elena Canyon, the Mule Ears Viewpoint, and the Burro Mesa Pour-off.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is named after Ross A. Maxwell, a geologist who played a key role in the establishment of Big Bend National Park. Maxwell served as the park’s first superintendent and was instrumental in preserving the unique geology and natural beauty of the area.
The drive is a popular destination for tourists visiting Big Bend National Park, and is especially beautiful in the spring and fall when temperatures are cooler and the wildflowers are in bloom.
Add this one to your list of things to do in Big Bend National Park if you’ve got folks with mobility issues in your party or feel like taking the scenic tour of the park.
4. Explore the Chisos Mountains
Visiting the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park is something that everyone should add to their list of things to do in Big Bend National Park.
From here you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world (or at least Texas as its 5th highest peak, Emory Peak, stands at 7,825 feet above sea level!).
Located in the heart of the park, the Chisos Mountains are a rugged and majestic range that towers over the surrounding desert landscape.
There are a number of ways to explore the Chisos Mountains, including hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing. The park has a network of trails that wind through the mountains, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes.
No matter what your skill level, there’s a trail that’s perfect for you. Just be sure to watch out for any mountain goats trying to steal your lunch – rumor has it they have a particular fondness for granola bars.
One of the highlights of visiting the Chisos Mountains is the opportunity to see some of the park’s unique flora and fauna. The mountains are home to a variety of plants and animals, including desert bighorn sheep, black bears, and rare birds.
Keep an eye out for these and other wildlife as you explore the area. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a mountain lion or two – though hopefully from a safe distance!
In addition to the natural beauty of the Chisos Mountains, there are also a number of historic sites and structures to explore. The park has a number of historic buildings, including the Chisos Mountains Lodge and the Boot Spring Cabin, which offer a glimpse into the area’s past.
3. Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
If you’re looking for an easy intro trail with lots of birds and great views, add the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail to your list of things to do at Big Bend National Park.
The Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is a short, self-guided interpretive trail located in the park’s Rio Grande Village area, and is a great way to learn about the park’s natural history and geology. It also has some of the most photographic vistas in my opinion.
The Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is approximately one mile in length and takes about an hour to complete.
Along the way, visitors can see a variety of plants and animals, including cacti, yucca, and birds. The trail also features a number of interpretive signs that provide information about the park’s natural history and geology.
One of the highlights of the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is the opportunity to see the Rio Grande up close. The Rio Grande is the park’s main waterway, and serves as a critical habitat for a variety of plants and animals.
Along the trail, visitors can see the river and learn about its role in the park’s ecosystem.
2. Sunset Through the Window
The Window is probably the most popular scenic spot located in Big Bend National Park. It gets its name from the large natural rock arch that frames the view of the surrounding landscape, creating the appearance of a “window” looking out onto the desert below.
To get to the Window, requires hiking a moderate 2.5-mile round-trip trail that leads to the overlook. The trail passes through a variety of landscapes, including oak woodlands, desert scrub, and rocky canyons.
Along the way, I spotted a variety of flora and fauna, including birds, mammals, and reptiles.
When I finally reached the Window, I was rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The views are absolutely breathtaking, with the Chisos Basin and the distant mountains of Mexico visible in the distance. The Window is a great spot for photography, with beautiful views at sunrise and sunset.
1. Santa Elena Canyon
Rounding out our list of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park is the famous Santa Elena Canyon.
Santa Elena Canyon is the most popular destination in Big Bend National Park, known for its stunning beauty, with towering cliffs and walls that rise over 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande.
One of the things that makes Santa Elena Canyon special is its geology. The canyon is formed by the Rio Grande, which has carved a deep channel through the surrounding landscape over millions of years.
The resulting cliffs and walls are composed of layers of sedimentary rock, ranging in age from 65 million to 1.8 million years old.
In addition to its geology, Santa Elena Canyon is also home to a variety of flora and fauna. The canyon is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, and is home to a number of desert plants and animals, including cacti, yucca, and rattlesnakes.
The canyon is also a popular spot for birdwatching, with a variety of birds, including eagles, falcons, and vultures, calling the area home.
Another thing that makes Santa Elena Canyon special is its accessibility. The canyon is located within the park, and is easily reached via a paved road. A number of trails lead into the canyon, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the area on foot.
Big Bend National Park Itinerary
2 Day Big Bend National Park Itinerary
Day 1 – Big Bend National Park Itinerary
- Arrive at the park and stop by the visitor center to pick up maps and get any necessary permits.
- Start the day with a short hike on the Chisos Basin Trail. This moderate 3.8-mile round-trip hike offers stunning views of the Chisos Mountains and the surrounding desert landscape.
- After the hike, grab a quick lunch at the Chisos Basin Lodge before setting out on a scenic drive through the park. Some popular options include the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and the Old Maverick Road. Along the way, be sure to stop at any interesting points of interest or overlooks that catch your eye.
- In the afternoon, take a short hike to the Santa Elena Canyon. This moderate 1.7-mile round-trip hike leads to a stunning canyon carved by the Rio Grande.
- End the day with a sunset hike on the Window View Trail. This short 0.5-mile round-trip hike offers breathtaking views of the Chisos Basin and the surrounding mountains.
Day 2 – Big Bend National Park Itinerary
- Start the day with a hike to the South Rim. This strenuous 8.4-mile round-trip hike offers panoramic views of the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rio Grande.
- After the hike, grab a quick lunch at the Chisos Basin Lodge before setting out on a guided boat tour of the Rio Grande. This is a great way to see the park from a different perspective and learn more about the area’s natural and cultural history.
- In the afternoon, take a short hike to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook. This easy 0.5-mile round-trip hike offers stunning views of the Rio Grande and the surrounding canyon.
- End the day with a sunset hike on the Lost Mine Trail. This moderate 4.8-mile round-trip hike offers breathtaking views of the Chisos Mountains and the surrounding desert landscape.
Map of the Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
Summary of the Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
- Santa Elena Canyon
- The Window Trail
- Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
- Chisos Mountains
- Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
- Lost Mine Trail
- Balanced Rock Hike
- Boquillas Canyon
- Juniper Canyon Trail
- Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff Hike
- Tuff Canyon
- Langford Hot Springs
- South Rim Loop
- Sotol Vista Overlook
- Homer Wilson Ranch
- Fossil Discovery
Pin Things to Do Big Bend National Park
Helpful Related Links
Big Bend Facts: 12 Amazing Facts About Big Bend National Park
Texas National Parks: 16 Magnificent Texas National Parks to Explore
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Facts: 10 Fascinating Facts About Guadalupe Mountains National Park
San Antonio National Parks: 8 Amazing National Parks Near San Antonio
National Parks Near Dallas: 5 Great National Parks Near Dallas
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Joe Olivieri says
Emory Peak at 7,825′ is NOT the highest peak in Texas!
8,751′ Guadalupe Peak
8,631′ Bush Mountain
8,615′ Shumard Peak
8,379′ Mount Livermore
Emory Peak is ranked 5th in Texas
Will Pattiz says
Great catch! Thanks for pointing that out. Typo has been corrected!