Texas is more than cowboys and ranches. While eastern Texas is flat and ranch country, the west is another story. It is a stunning landscape of canyons and mountain ranges and is home to the stunning Big Bend National Park.

Travel to the far west in Texas and the night skies are dark as coal and the stars shine brilliantly. See a land where rivers carve deep canyons through the ancient limestone and cactuses bloom in the desert. See here for a perfect 10-day Texan itinerary.

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About Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park border Mexico and hosts the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States. The park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants and more than 450 species of birds. Additionally, around 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals call it home.

  • Name: Named After A Large Bend In the Rio Grande
  • Fossils: One Can Discover Various Sea and Dinosaur Fossils In This Park (As Well as Volcanic Dikes)
  • Size: 801 Acres
  • Border: In Accordance With The Treaty Of Guadalupe Hidalgo, The Park's Border Is In The Center Of the Deepest River Channel As It Flowed In 1848
  • In Mexico: Bordering Big Bend Are The Protected Areas of Maderas Del Carmen and Cañón de Santa Elena

There are many things to see and do in this national park, but some of the musts include scenic driving, hiking, camping, and river trips.

Related: Ranked: 10 Best Nature Parks In The United States

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

This is perhaps the most interesting of the paved sightseeing routes running through the Big Bend National Park. There are plenty of short walks, interpretive pull-overs, and photo opportunities along the route. Some of the notable attractions along the route include:

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  • Old Sam Nail Ranch: Follow A Short Path To an Abandoned Old Ranch Building
  • Chimney Trailhead: A 5-Mile Round Trip Moderate Hike. See Breathing Geological Formations - or Continue on to Luna's Jacal
  • Blue Creek Ranch: A Ranch House Made Out Of Native Rock
  • Sotol Vista: Instagram Spot With One Of The Best Views In The Park
  • Castolon Historic District: See Buildings From The Early 1900s - Including A Troop Barracks, Private Residences, And An Old Store (Buy Cold Drinks And Snacks)
  • Cottonwood Campground: A Developed Campground With Running Water And Restrooms

Hiking Big Bend

One of the best ways to experience the park is by good old-fashioned hiking. Big Bend boasts over 150 miles of improved hiking trails and hikers are permitted to go off-trail. There are three example trails, for a complete list of trails see Visit Big Bend.

The Window Trail

This trail starts at the Basin Trailhead (or from Basin Campground) and cuts through open chaparral vegetation and then through the Oak Creek Canyon. It follows the canyon until it narrows to a window of only 20 feet.

  • Grade: Medium Difficult
  • Length: 5.2 Miles Round Trip

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High Chisos Complex

The High Chisos Complex includes all the Chisos Mountain trails between the Basin Trailhead and the South Rim, and Juniper and Blue Creek Canyons. These high country trails are some of the Park's most awe-inspiring trails. As they are high country, in summer they are cooler than the hotter lowlands. Do not take shortcuts as the high number of hikers here cause trail erosion.

Grapevine Hills Trail

This trail passes through areas that are the very definition of beauty. It leads to the heart of the Grapevine Hills from there it follows a sandy wash through the massive granite boulders. The Grapeville Hills is a laccolith - a mushroom-shaped underground lava flow that domed the rocks above. In the passage of time erosion worked to expose it as it is today. The rock shapes are mindbending.

  • Grade: Easy Walking
  • Length: 2.2 Miles Round Trip

Note: This Can Be Very Hot In The Summer

Related: Zion National Park: When To Visit, And Why It's Definitely Worth The Awe-Inspiring Hype

Camping

There are four campgrounds within the Big Bend National Park with the National Park Service operating three developed front-country campgrounds. A full hookup RV camping area is operated by Forever Resorts (the park concessioner).

  • Chisos Basin Campground: In The Center Of The Park (Reservations Required)
  • Rio Grande Village Campground: Near The Rio Grande - East Side Of the Park (Reservations Required)
  • Cottonwood Campground: Near The Rio Grande - West Side of the Park (Closed for Summer At The Time Of Writing)

River Trips

Another must-do in Big Bend is kayaking or rafting the Rio Grande. There are five majestic river canyons here and they are easy to navigate. One can bring one's own equipment or take a fully-equipped guided tour. Most of the outfitters provide rental equipment for people exploring the canyons on their own. Here is a list of some of the outfitters:

  • Big Bend Boating and Hiking Company
  • Big Bend River Tours
  • Desert Sports
  • Far Flung Outdoor Center
  • Wild Adventure Outfitters

For more information see Visit Big Bend. For a real rafting experience, put white water rafting on the croc-infested Nile in Uganda on your bucket list.

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