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The Big Bend National Park Road Trip Guide

The Big Bend National Park Road Trip Guide

Wide-open spaces, awe-inspiring scenery, and ample outdoor recreation make Big Bend National Park a must-see destination for any camping enthusiast.

Today we’re sharing the ultimate road trip guide with you. In this article, we smashed all the must-see spots into a single-day itinerary (exhausting, I know)!

But, you can spread it out as much as you’d like.

Let’s dive in.

The History and Landscape of Big Bend National Park

In far West Texas, the land is expansive, and the vistas are breathtaking. The park is so remote that night skies showcase every star in the galaxy without light interference. 

For hiking, mountain biking, scenic drives, history, or exploring, there’s no place like Big Bend. The towering cliffs add drama, and the desert landscape is full of wildlife and various plants along the river.

Signs of human inhabitants in the area date back to 10,000 B.C.! Throughout the 1800s, trails led settlers back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico. The park is home to many ruins from various eras, and there’s history from many people, including Native American, Spanish, Mexican, ranching, and mining.

Geologically and archaeologically speaking, Big Bend is a vital region. Natural resources and geologic significance abound. A magical place, this area is home to more than 1,200 plant, 11 amphibian, 40 fish, 75 mammal, and 400 bird species! 

Rock hounds will appreciate the 500-million-year-old formations from various periods, as well as numerous fossils. You can explore the grandiose rocks via the park’s abundant climbing, hiking, and mountain biking trails.

The summers are scorching in Big Bend (well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), so most folks suggest visiting in the spring or fall. Winter can also be a pleasant time of year, but evenings can be cold, so you’ll want a well-contained RV. 

There’s plenty to capture your attention in Big Bend, including breathtaking views, hiking, mountain biking, scenic drives, and more. 

Morning in Big Bend

After waking up with a view of the mountains or the desert, it’s time to explore! Here’s where we think you should start. 

Drive the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

This 30-mile drive includes stops in the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon. While driving, you’ll pass some noteworthy geologic and historical attractions. The Sam Nail ranch is one of the abandoned homesteads in the Park, and you can see wildlife while sitting under the old windmill.

Blue Creek Ranch Overlook is the perfect place to observe the valley below. You can also take a short walk past the Homer Wilson Ranch buildings to begin hiking or biking the longer Blue Creek Canyon and Dodson trails here.

Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff is a picturesque name for a short hidden trail (0.5 miles) that leads to a box canyon overlook with a high, dry waterfall. Fans of flora and fauna will enjoy the wide variety of plants here. 

Mule Ears Viewpoint allows you to view the scenery from your car, including the mountain peaks of the same name. A 2-mile trail descends into the canyon if you choose to explore further.

The Ross Maxwell scenic drive lets you hit the high points in this area of Big Bend and experience history, geology, biology, and more. You can stay in your vehicle or get out and take more strenuous side trips to explore an area further.

Afternoon in Big Bend

Let’s keep exploring! Big Bend is HUGE, so there’s no shortage of activities for the afternoon. Consider these options: 

Visit the Castolon Historic District

The Castolon Historic District is a cavalry camp from the early 20th century, which later served as the La Harmonia Company’s site.

The drive boasts incredible views, wildlife sightings, historical education, and experiences of interest from every window.

Hike Santa Elena Canyon

One of the most beautiful canyons in the park, Santa Elena Canyon is a must-hike. The Rio Grande River cuts 1,500 feet into the rock, creating a dividing line between Mexico and the United States.

There’s a trail leading through the canyon with rewarding and refreshing dips into the cool water waiting around the turns. You can also float through the canyon, which is another spectacular level of adventure!

Evening in Big Bend

After a long day of exploring plentiful West Texas fresh air, it’s time to refuel! Enjoy a night of delicious food and fantastic recreation before heading to your campsite. 

Dinner at Mountain View Restaurant in Chisos Mountains Lodge

Address: 1 Basin Rural Station, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

Menu Options: With appetizers ranging from chicken wings to Texas Toothpicks (deep-fried onions and jalapenos with ranch dipping sauce), you can quickly get something to quench the hunger you built up while hiking! 

Try a jalapeno pork chop grilled with a cilantro garlic drizzle, mashed potatoes, and veggies. Fresh trout and ribeye are also popular entrees, but there are also tacos with your choice of fillings, vegetarian black bean burgers, quesadillas, or salads.

Other reasons to love it: Chisos Mountain Lodge is the only lodging in the park. If you aren’t bringing your RV, this is a great place to stay while exploring the area. There are 72 rooms ranging from motel style to stone cottages.

Go Stargazing in the Park

With full stomachs and perhaps some adult beverages on board, it’s time to put the final touches on a great day exploring Big Bend. Thanks to the area’s remote nature, there’s no better place to enjoy the night sky’s magnificence without light interference. 

With the least light pollution of any park in the lower 48 states, Big Bend is an International Dark Sky Park, and it has more than one million acres under this designation. You’ve probably never seen this many stars!

Where to Stay?

Do you have your RV? Where should you park? There are a few options in the area, but here’s where we would recommend. 

Cottonwood Campground

Address: Big Bend National Park, TX 79834

About the Park: This remote campground is a dry camping location with no hookups and no generators allowed. There are large cottonwood trees that provide shade for the 24 sites. Pit toilets, picnic tables, grills, and water are on site. Sixteen sites are reservable from November 1-April 30 at $16/night.

Why you’ll love staying here: Near the Rio Grande and very cool during the peak seasons, this park is a great place to experience Big Bend’s remoteness and grandeur without technological distractions.

A Road Trip to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is a travel destination like none other. The expansive park showcases impressive natural wonders, significant geologic and historical sights, and incredible biological diversity. It’s a must-visit for any RV traveler.

Here’s a beautiful gallery poster of Big Bend National Park found at HWY Vintage

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

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