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The Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park

The hikes in Big Bend National Park vary greatly because this amazing 800+k acre park has mountains, canyons, rivers, and typical sandy desert landscapes. I so fell in love with this park because of its variety of landscapes and its pure natural beauty. Getting out and hiking is one of the greatest pleasures of exploring national parks in general, but this park is especially wonderful because you can see and experience so much in one park. Here are my favorite hikes in Big Bend National Park in order from shortest to longest.


QUICK TIPS FOR HIKING IN BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK

⋙ Big Bend is home to many varieties of animals and you should always be aware of your surroundings and how to react if you encounter them. Be bear aware because black bears are in the area, don’t let kids run ahead near dawn or dusk, as mountain lions are in the region as well!
⋙ Dress in light layers. The temperature can vary by up to 20 degrees from the desert floor to the top of some of the mountains.
⋙ If you’re hiking in the mountains, check the weather so you’re not stuck at the top during lightning strikes. Also, watch out for flash floods.
⋙ Bring plenty of water for your hike – the NPS recommends 1 gallon per person per day.
⋙ Protect your skin: sunscreen, hat, light long sleeved tees to protect your arms.
⋙ Stay safe on trails! I would recommend World Nomad’s Travel Insurance coverage, because you never know when travel can go wrong.

TUFF CANYON


TRAIL LENGTH: 0.75 miles – loop trail
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Easy
HIGHLIGHTS: There are three overlooks and access to the bottom of Tuff Canyon.

Tuff Canyon is a very easy loop trail that lets you look down into Tuff Canyon from three separate overlooks. Then, you can continue down the trail down into the canyon. One of the things I really like about this canyon is the color of it. The whitish color of the rock comes from the fact that it’s made up of welded volcanic ash known as tuff. So, it’s very aptly named. Inaptly, though, tuff isn’t a tough rock. Because it’s made of compressed ash, it erodes much more quickly than other rock. This is a great hike for all ages and fitness levels.

BOQUILLAS CANYON


TRAIL LENGTH: 1.4 miles total – out + back trail
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Moderate
HIGHLIGHTS: Boquillas Canyon is right along the Rio Grande. In addition to steep canyon walls, you can see across the river into the area near Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

This short trail is very beautiful and unique to some of the other canyon hikes for a couple of different reasons. First of all, there’s a wonderful section with trees growing that are a beautiful contrast to the steep canyon walls. It’s probably the easiest of the river hikes because there’s only one small portion that’s fairly strenuous and it’s the very end of the trail. The trail starts with a decline and therefore ends in an incline. The thing I loved most about this trail was interacting with the locals across the river in Mexico. It was so fun to wave across the river to people just living their lives as the hollered, “Hola, amigos!” and we waved back shouting, “Hola!” right back!

TRAIL TIP: You will find many handcrafted items on the trail with notes and coffee cans around them. They’re left there by Mexican citizens from Boquillas del Carmen. If these items are of interest to you, do not purchase them on the trail. Instead, legally cross the river into Boquillas del Carmen, and buy the goods directly from crafters. Buying them on the trail encourages illegal crossings and that could lead to incarceration, fines or deportation, where they’re taken far from their home in Boquillas. DON’T: Encourage this illegal activity. DO: Go have an amazing day in Bouqillas del Carmen.

SANTA ELANA CANYON

TRAIL LENGTH: 1.7 miles total – out + back trail
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Moderate
HIGHLIGHTS: Sheer Canyon cliffs along the Rio Grande. Plus, the views coming back out of the mountains are just over-the-top beautiful!

Santa Elena Canyon is my favorite of the shorter river hikes that we did. My favorite part of this hike are the views coming out. You get a tiny bit of elevation so you get a stunning overlook of the Rio Grand and the gorgeous mountain range in the background. It’s truly remarkable. The canyon walls are just so massive and so beautiful and the width of the river was so small in this area. It really puts into perspective what separates the US from Mexico and how small that line of privilege is and the pore luck of being born in US vs. Mexico. It’s just so interesting. Honestly, that’s one of the things I love most about travel. Even something as simple as a hike can change your perspective.
 

CATTAIL FALLS


TRAIL LENGTH: 3 miles total – out + back trail
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Moderate
HIGHLIGHTS: In addition to some mountain views, you’re rewarded with a waterfall (weather permitting) at the end. It’s a beautiful hike even without the waterfall at the end.

This is actually an unmarked trail that isn’t on the maps or marked from the roads. However, when we were asking a ranger about hikes he recommended this hike. He explained that this is because people were destroying this habitat by getting into the pool at the base of the waterfall. So, if you do this hike be mindful of the environment, and stay out of the springs of Big Bend, unless it’s clearly marked that you can take a dip. This is a wet water fall, so if there hasn’t been a lot of rain, the water won’t be flowing. Regardless, it’s a stunning hike.

GETTING HERE: Turn on an unmarked, dirt road just down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive near Sam Neil Ranch, but on the opposite side (which is on the NPS map). A high clearance vehicle is recommended, but 4wheel drive isn’t necessary. Take the unmarked road just over a mile to the trailhead parking area. From the parking area you follow the road beyond the gate about half a mile to the trailhead. From the trailhead it’s 1.5 miles to Cattail falls.

CHIMNEYS TRAIL

TRAIL LENGTH: 4.8 miles total – out + back
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Moderate
HIGHLIGHTS: You’ll see all kinds of cacti along the way to some stunning rock formations. When you get to these formations, keep an eye out for petroglyphs and grinding holes left from Native Americans.

This is one of my very favorite trails because it combines two things I love very much amazing rock formations and archaeological remains. Although this hike is flat, it does wear you out because there’s no shade until you get out to the rock formations. Be sure to keep an eye out for the many varieties of cacti you can find along the path. The rock formations at the end are the highlight and be sure to find the petroglyphs and grinding holes that were left here many, many years ago.  

LOST MINE TRAIL

TRAIL LENGTH: 4.8 miles total – out + back trail
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Moderate
HIGHLIGHTS: Truly spectacular mountain views!

I’m a mountain-lover through and through. So, getting to climb up to the top of this mountain was definitely a highlight. The trail is pretty much up, up, up then down, down, down. However, I saw people of all ages tackling this beautiful trail, so don’t let it intimidate you. When you’re up at the top, can be quite windy and significantly cooler than it is at the trailhead. This trail is pretty straightforward: amazing mountain views!
 

HOT SPRINGS CANYON

TRAIL LENGTH: 6 miles total – out + back trail
TRAIL DIFFICULTY: Moderate
HIGHLIGHTS: This is a stunning hike that takes you to the top of Hot Springs Canyon with amazing overlooks and the natural hot spring on this trail.

Hot Springs Canyon has the most to it and has some really stunning views as well. This is the longest of the hikes in Big Bend National Park that I loved. You can start at either Daniel’s Ranch or the Hot Springs. We started at Hot Springs so we could take a dip at the end – of course, we forgot our swimsuits, but I stuck my feet in for a bit. This is one of the locations that you can get in the water. Langford Hot Spring has some seating and stays at a consistent 105 degrees F. Stay safe, don’t get overheated and enjoy! The hike doesn’t have much shade, so be sure to be prepared with sunscreen and water. This stunning hike has views of multiple mountain ranges and down into the canyon. It’s amazingly beautiful.

MORE BIG BEND ADVENTURES

VISIT BOQUILLAS DEL CARMEN, MEXICO: I briefly mentioned this above, but I can’t recommend this enough. If you’re in Big Bend National Park for more than one day, I highly recommend crossing the river and exploring this small town in Mexico. It was a highlight of our trip and a beautiful cultural experience. Read more about our Boquillas adventure here.
RAFTING THE RIO GRANDE: There are a couple different places to get out on the river. You can do this own your own or with a tour company. If you’re inexperienced, I highly recommend doing this with a guide.

STAYING IN + AROUND BIG BEND

Staying in and around Big Bend can be difficult to do spontaneously because it is just that remote. However, there are options. Just be sure to book well in advance!

STAYING WITHIN THE PARK – Within the park there are lodges, cabins and campsites. While these are convenient, they can book up quickly, and the website isn’t very straightforward. It takes some maneuvering to figure out when there is availability other than trial and error.
TERLINGUA RANCH LODGE – This is where we stayed when we visited. Within the park was already booked when we decided to go a mount out. This was a nice place to stay because they have a little general store, a small restaurant and basic, but cozy rooms. You can also bring your RV/camper here or even tent camp!

LOOKING FOR GREAT OUTDOOR GEAR? HERE’S THE GEAR I LOVE!

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