5 ways to experience Big Bend National Park in Texas

Mountains, desert, and water.

When visiting Big Bend National Park, you might wonder how to tackle such a varied topography.  Fortunately, there are many ways to see and experience this region; combining several gives the visitor a better feel for the immensity and remoteness of the land.

Located where the Rio Grande River makes a U-turn along the Texas-Mexico border, Big Bend inspires repeated visits for travelers who love its serene beauty.  Because it is more than 100 miles from the nearest freeway or shopping mall, people tend to stay for several days. It’s one of those places you can go back to again and again, and it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time.

Here is an overview for exploring Big Bend’s rugged landscape. Each mode of travel gives visitors incomparable views of this lightly visited national treasure.

Hiking in Big Bend National Park

Hiking in Big Bend National Park

Hiking. At the Chisos Mountain Lodge, a comfortable walk leads you to The Window, a natural opening in the Chisos Mountain Range that affords a panorama of the valley and stunning landscape beyond. Many other well-defined trails range from easy to moderately difficult, making them suitable for family hiking.  The Lost Mine Trail covers 4.8 miles round trip and offers one of the finest views in the park at Juniper Canyon Overlook.  The vast wilderness areas provide an abundance of old roads and trails, primitive hikes guaranteed to challenge the toughest hiker or backpacker.

Horseback riding. A visit to the Old West wouldn’t be complete without saddling up and riding into canyons, across mesas, up mountains, or through ruins of an old quicksilver mine.  With excursions ranging from one hour to all day or more, area stables give visitors a taste of cowboy legend.  Views are spectacular, no matter how far or long you ride.Horseback riding along the ridges of Big Bend

Jeep touring. Learn more uses for cacti than you ever thought possible.  Interpretive tours offer insight into the abundant plant life and geology of the area.  Colorful wildflowers cover vast open territories in spring, while old mining sites and 80-million-year-old fossils can be seen year round as jeeps navigate mountain and desert roads you might not want to traverse in your own vehicle.  Expert guides share historical lore and botanical knowledge that increases appreciation for the varied topography in the park.

Raft in the canyons of Big BendRafting. Truly a highlight of any visit to Big Bend, a raft or canoe trip on the Rio Grande can take you through gorgeous canyons where purple mountains and awesome lava formations almost make you forget there’s a desert nearby.  Although you can paddle on your own, a guided overnight camping excursion is really fun.  Swapping stories by the campfire is a perfect ending to floating leisurely downstream enjoying the silence and scenery of this remote land.  Santa Elena Canyon is well known for amazing light shows on its rock walls, but five other canyons offer additional perspectives on the power of water to carve the land.

Biking. Well-conditioned mountain bikers tackle trails on wheels rather than on foot, but be aware that rocky and often hilly terrain can make covering the trails a good day’s work–whether you use pedal power or rev up a motorcycle. The park publishes two road guides, one to paved and improved dirt roads and one for backcountry dirt roads, challenging paths which lead bikers to views of Big Bend that most visitors never see.

No matter how you choose to explore Big Bend, chances are you’ll return—lured by the scenery and serenity of the location.With only 300,000 people visiting Big Bend annually, it is one of the least crowded national parks.  You can tour this national park and others free of charge during National Park Week, April 16-24, and wildflowers should be blooming then in Big Bend.

Photos by Larry Burmeier

Going on Adventures

Austin Adventure Travel

Beverly Burmeier