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The Death Toll of Big Bend National Park in 2023

Big Bend National Park is known for its breathtaking views, but recently, multiple deaths have made the headlines. Instead of its stunning vistas, safety precautions capture our attention.

They say don’t mess with Texas, and these deaths bring a sharp focus onto safety in Big Bend.

Never fear; we’ve got all the tips so you can enjoy the park without fearing for your life.

Let’s get into it!

Hiker’s Death in Big Bend National Park

In early March, a 64-year-old woman hiking through Big Bend National Park died on the Hot Springs Canyon Trail. Medical responders took a helicopter to aid the victim, but she didn’t make it.

Officials haven’t released the cause of death, but it’s thought that heat exposure played a part. Springtime brings soaring temperatures to the park, and extreme heat waves can be unpredictable.

While maps indicate natural springs, they’re unreliable, and hikers who don’t carry enough water are at risk of dehydration. Big Bend covers 800,000 acres of desert wilderness, making it easy to get disoriented.

It’s Not the First Big Bend Death in 2023

Unfortunately, this tragedy occurred less than three weeks after a 56-year-old man met the same fate. While hiking through the park with a Scout troop, he collapsed after complaining of chest pains.

Friends performed CPR until paramedics arrived with an AED machine. However, rescue efforts were unsuccessful, and he became Big Bend’s first death of 2023. 

What Is Big Bend National Park?

Big Bend National Park sits on the US/Mexico border in southwest Texas, and it’s the largest protected piece of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US. Although the desert topography prevails, the Rio Grande cuts through the area, offering many plant and animal species an oasis. 

Over millennia, the river has cut deep canyons through the land, resulting in stunning scenery. The remote location means it’s also a prized destination for stargazers. 

Pro Tip: Use our Big Bend National Park Road Trip Guide to make your adventure a success.

Big Bend National Park
There are lots of things to consider when hiking in a national park to stay safe.

What Are the Dangers of Big Bend National Park?

Texas’ climate and the park’s location present unique challenges to visitors and staff alike. So before you set out for this desert locale, familiarize yourself with some of its greatest dangers. After all, preparation is the first line of defense against death in Big Bend.

Extreme Temperatures

One of the most common causes of death in Big Bend involves extreme temperatures. It isn’t just soaring heat that catches people off guard. Depending on your elevation, temperatures can vary by twenty degrees. So visitors expecting 100-degree weather might find themselves underdressed. 

In winter, it’s nearly impossible to predict the temperature. It could be below freezing or a comfortable 80 degrees. It’s critical to prepare for any weather.

Flash Floods

Big Bend only receives about 12 inches of rainfall every year. The ground in desert lands is typically hydrophobic, so water rushes over the land instead of seeping into the soil when it rains. 

Because of this phenomenon, flash floods are a severe threat. Thunderstorms tend to move in quickly and unexpectedly. The park has closed its campsites several times due to major flooding. 

Wildlife Encounters

Weather isn’t the only threat to visitors. Big Bend is home to hundreds of animal species, some of which can be a cause of death for the unprepared. Mountain lions, bobcats, bears, and rattlesnakes live within the park’s boundaries. 

Of course, animal attacks are rare, and these wild creatures usually want to stay far away from humans. Just store food properly, make plenty of noise, and watch your step. 

Remote Location

When visitors experience an accident or medical emergency, it’ll probably take a while for help to arrive. The park is massive and rugged, so it can be difficult for rescuers to reach injured or ill visitors. 

Sadly, some have learned this lesson the hard way. If you have any doubts about your ability to withstand the elements, consider avoiding the most remote sections of the park. 

Border Safety

Big Bend’s location presents safety concerns to staff and visitors alike.

Multiple border checkpoints are near the park, with one border crossing within its boundaries. You can enter Mexico and return home without a problem if you have your passport.

Although Hollywood has depicted borderlands as lawless no-mans-land, this isn’t the park’s reality. 

Pro Tip: Find out What Is The Closest City to Big Bend National Park to decide where to explore and spend the night at during your visit to Big Bend.

View of Big Bend National Park
Stay hydrated, keep to the trails, and plan well before heading to a national park for a hike.

How to Stay Safe at Big Bend

While the remote location and extreme weather conditions of Big Bend present some dangers, there are plenty of safety precautions you can take. 

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration may pose the most significant risk of all in the park. Some say that if you start to feel thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated, which goes double for Big Bend visitors. 

Hikers should drink at least a gallon of water each day but pack more just to be safe. Sunscreen and protective clothing can help you avoid dangerous sun exposure, but drinking plenty of water is the only way to prevent dehydration.

Stay on Designated Trails

Trails in Big Bend vary from well-maintained to highly rugged. It’s easy to get disoriented and lost in the wilderness, and because of the park’s size, it’s hard for rangers to find visitors who’ve lost their way.

Avoid exploring off of well-marked trails and always travel with a map. Keep a portable charger with you in case you need to call for help. 

Plan Your Activities

Planning a trip is always exciting. Researching trails, activities, and notable sites is all part of the fun. But be sure to take your physical abilities into account. If you’ve never hiked through the desert, don’t start with remote trails. 

Even though the weather can be unpredictable, check the forecast and dress in layers, so you’re ready for anything.

Don’t Be the Next Death at Big Bend

Big Bend National Park is home to some of Texas’ more beautiful landscapes, but it’s important to take safety precautions while you’re there. There’s no reason to avoid it. While any natural area poses some risk, Big Bend is no more dangerous than other national parks.

Drink plenty of water, dress for the elements, and plan accordingly, and you should be just fine.

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