Big Bend National park is a hiker�s paradise containing the largest expanse of roadless public lands in Texas. More than 150 miles of trails offer opportunities for day hikes or backpacking trips.
Elevations range from 1800 feet at the eastern end of Boquillas Canyon to 7,825 feet atop Emory Peak in the Chisos Mountains. These elevation changes produce an exceptional variety of plants, animals, and scenic vistas.
|Easy walking. Self-guiding booklet available at the trailhead. This short trail winds through a desert garden in front of the visitor center at Panther Junction. Fifteen minutes spent on this level trail will acquaint you with many cacti and other common plants that inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert.|
|Lost Mine Trail||4.8 miles
|Medium difficulty. Self-guiding booklet available at trailhead. Beginning at Panther Pass on the Basin Road, this trail serves as an excellent introduction to the plants and animals of the High Chisos Mountains. It starts at 5600' elevation and leads upward along the northern slope of Casa Grande to a promontory high on the ridge separating Pine and Juniper Canyons. If you have limited time, hike only to the Juniper Canyon Overlook, 1 mile from the trailhead, for one of the finest views in the park.|
|Castolon Historic Compound||0.25 mile||Easy walking. Self-guiding leaflet available. Most of the buildings in this historic settlement were originally built as part of a cavalry encampment during the days of Pancho Villa's border raids.|
|Santa Elena Canyon Trail||1.7 miles
|Easy walking. Interpretive signs along trail. The trail begins at the end of the Santa Elena Canyon Road, and is one of the prettiest short walks.|
Tips and Hints
Protect yourself from the sun. A hat and sunglasses are strongly recommended, as well as rain gear since weather conditions can change rapidly. Also wear long pants, and a long sleeved shirt.
Always carry water. The dry desert air quickly uses up the body's water reserves. We recommend that you carry a minimum of one gallon of water per person per day in the summer, slightly less in the winter. For half-day hikes, carry at least 2 quarts per person. Carry plenty of water and drink often, even if you don't feel thirsty.
Springs and tinajas (depressions in rock where water collects) are unreliable and may be unsafe to drink. Purify spring water before use. Springs are rare in the desert and wildlife depend on them.
Travel as the animals do, in the morning or evening, rather than during the heat of the day.
Wear appropriate clothing, good hiking boots, and a hat.
Acquire a free permit for backcountry overnight hiking
Camp at least 100 yards from any trail, cliff edge, historical structure or water supply and 500 yards from any tinaja on the Mesa de Anguila.
Don't camp in dry washes, arroys or below the highwater mark of the river
Don't build wood or ground fires. They are strickly prohibited
Stay on hiking trails. Don't take shortcuts off trails or cut switchbacks.
Don't climb unstable rock. Most rock faces in the park are fragile.
Don't collect, harm, or kill snakes or other wildlife. They are protected.
Don't take your pet into the backcountry with you, regardless of your method of travel.
PACK OUT WHAT YOU PACK IN
Watch the weather. Even distant rain can cause flash floods where you are in the park. Wear old shoes in case the Terlingua Creek crossing is muddy. If the water here is deep and swift, do not cross. Once across the creek, the trail climbs a flight of concrete steps, then slopes gradually down to the river's edge inside the canyon. This is one of the narrowest places in the 7-mile long Santa Elena Canyon.
Keep your distance from all wildlife encountered during your hike. Any wildlife can be unpredictable. Keep a distance of at least 100 yards. Remember that all park resources - fossils, plants, animals, artifacts and rocks - are to remain as you find them. Each person is entitled to the same sense of discovery you experience when traveling the park trails.
Backpackers have many opportunities throughout the park. Open (zone) camping is available in desert areas with a backcountry permit. Designated backcountry campsites in the high Chisos Mountains are available with a backcountry permit on a first-come, first-serve basis. This permit must be obtained in person up to 24 hours in advanced of your trip. Because of the unreliability of desert springs, it is virtually impossible to plan an extended backpacking trip prior to your arrival in the park.
Bear in mind how much distance you want to cover and how much time you have. Based on that information and current conditions, personnel at park visitor centers can assist you with your trip planning. You can begin to familiarize yourself with Big Bend's trails by obtaining a "Hiker's Guide, Chisos Mountains Trails" guide, and topo maps of the park. These can be purchased at visitor centers upon arrival in the park, or they can be ordered in advance of your visit from the Big Bend Natural History Association by writing or calling.
Big Bend Natural History Association
PO Box 196
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834
Parts of the backcountry are closed to backpacking:
To protect the peregrine falcon, an endangered species, the following areas of the park are closed to all use from February 01 until July 15 each year:
Whether on ten speed, touring, or all terrain "mountain" bicycle, the cyclist will find a vast desert mountain area that offers abundant opportunities for solitude, challenge, and adventure. Touring along the roadways and riding the backcountry roads on a bicycle are excellent ways to see one of the best examples of the Chihuahuan Desert and its wildlife. Mountain bikes allow you to "conquer" roads which are often inaccessible to cars or 2 wheel drive.
The best season to bicycle in the park is between October and April, when daytime temperatures are pleasant and the evenings are cool. From May through October temperatures on the desert often exceed 105º F in the shade, and there isn't much shade. Nightime temperatures in winter, from November to March, often drop to 30º F or lower.
The paved roadways in Big Bend are in good condition and usually allow plenty of visibility for vehicles. Caution should be exercised on the steep, winding curves of the Chisos Mountains and the Boquillas Canyon Road, as there is poor visibility and almost no shoulder room. Bicyclists must share the roads with motor vehicles and follow the same rules of the road, be careful. Keep your bicycle in good condition and be prepared to make emergency repairs.
You may obtain drinking water at Panther Junction, Rio Grande Village, Castolon, and in the Basin. Be sure to carry adequate supplies, as the distances between these points are considerable. Check your maps for distances before starting out. The nearby towns of Study Butte, Lajitas, Alpine, and Marathon, as well as Stillwater Ranch, also have drinking water.
Any established roadway open to motorized vehicles is also open to mountain bikes. Beyond the asphalt, over 130 miles of backcountry dirt roads are waiting to challenge the mountain biker.
On a bicycle, you can venture far into the extremely remote, infrequently patrolled areas, far from the trappings (and assistance) of civilization. Trips of one or more days must be well thought out and prepared. Backcountry springs are infrequent and unreliable in the hot summer months. Nearly all of those springs can be reached only by foot trails. Check with the ranger about current spring conditions before you leave, and pack plenty of water. The water from the Rio Grande is NOT potable. Storms can come up suddenly, especially between July and October, quickly changing both temperature and road conditions, be prepared!
Recommended items, along with personal gear and bike include:
Along with the vast, open spaces to pedal through, both touring and mountain biker will find places and opportunties to camp out under clean desert skies. Designated backcountry campsites are located along most backcountry roads. A free backcountry camping permit can be obtained at any visitor center. A camping stove is recommended for cooking, ground and wood fires are not permited in the park. No camping is permitted within 100 yards of water or archeological / historical sites. Safeguard all valuables: thefts are not uncommon. Camping, water and small grocery items are also available at the three main campgrounds at Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Basin, and Castolon.
Mountain Lions and Black Bears
About two dozen mountain lions live in Big Bend National Park. Also called panther, cougar, or puma, mountain lions are most often seen in the Chisos Mountains. Lion attacks on humans are rare, yet two have occurred since 1984. If you encounter an aggressive lion, hold your ground, wave your arms, throw stones, and shout. Never run.
You are unlikely to encounter a black bear while hiking, although a small population lives in the Chisos Mountains year around. As you hike, pay close attention to the path ahead. Survey the landscape for wildlife. Keep a clean camp and store your food properly. If you encounter a bear, give it plenty of room. Report all mountain lion and black bear sightings to a Ranger.
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