To experience some of these hikes first-hand, check out our Big Bend Hiking Trip.
Ask anyone who’s spent time in Big Bend National Park what the experience was like, and you’ll likely hear a lot of words that sound like hyperbole. “Mind-blowing,” “otherworldly” and “humbling” are a few of the terms often used to describe the 800,000-acre expanse of desert, river, and mountains that comprise one of the most bio-diverse spots in the United States. That’s because the blend of cool mountain climate, arid desert heat, and river valley gives life to more than 1,200 types of plants, 450 species of birds, 56 kinds of reptiles, and 75 different mammals, all within one proudly preserved space. The harsh beauty of the desert mingles with the majesty of mountain peaks and the lushness of the land surrounding the great bend in the Rio Grande, from which the park and its surrounding region derive their names.
Here’s an overview of ten hikes to choose from while planning a trip to Big Bend. There’s something for everyone, from simple, wheelchair-accessible nature paths to a three-day backpacking experience for hardcore outdoor enthusiasts. Take a look to see which ones spark your imagination.
1 – Window View Trail
Not to be confused with the similarly-named Window Trail hike, the Window View Trail provides a great, short, mountain hike for beginners. The paved, wheelchair-accessible trail spans just 0.3 miles, starting at the Chisos Basin Trailhead and offers impressive views of the peaks surrounding the basin. There are plenty of benches where visitors can sit and watch the sunset in the distance as it baths the mountains in a golden glow.
2 – Lost Mine Trail
This moderate mountain hike covers 4.8 miles round trip, beginning on the Basin Road and moving toward the breathtaking vistas of Juniper Canyon and Casa Grande just one mile in. A fairly steep climb encounters swaths of forest and leads to a ridge overlooking Pine Canyon and Mexico’s Sierra del Carmen.
3 – South Rim
Best attempted by experienced hikers, this strenuous hike gains 2,000 feet from beginning to end and spans 12 to 14.5 miles, depending on whether you ascend from the South Rim through the steeper Pinnacles or the more mellow Laguna Meadows Trail. Portions of the trail close when falcons are nesting, so be sure to check with the park before planning this particular trek.
4 – Panther Path
The most beginner-friendly walk through Big Bend Park is easily this 50-yard wheelchair-accessible loop, great for families and folks who want to experience the area’s abundant eye candy without physical strain. A Panther Path brochure is available at the Panther Junction Visitors’ Center, giving context to the desert flora visible along the path, much of which has cultural and medicinal significance.
5 – Chimneys Trail
A 4.8-mile round-trip hike with a moderate degree of difficulty due to its distance, this scenic hike begins, appropriately enough, at Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and leads through the sort of volcanic formations that most readily come to mind when most people think of the American southwest. The “chimneys” visible from the trail feature Indian rock art and the path offers a handful of “choose your own adventure” endings, from a simple return the way you came to a 7-mile add-on that leads farther into the expanse of hoodoos, cacti, and other desert delights.
6 – Mule Ears Spring Trail
Spanning 3.8 miles from start to finish, this moderate hike starts from Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and traces through the mountain foothills, skirting around Trap Mountain, and crossing a handful of arroyos. Pass an overgrown spring filled with cattails, ferns, and shrubs (but no visitors, as bathing is strictly prohibited) before returning to your starting point.
7 – Rio Grande Village Nature Trail
At 0.75 miles, this easy loop offers plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting, birds in particular. After 100 yards of wheelchair-accessible pathway beginning at the Rio Grande Village Campground, the trail crosses water and climbs a limestone hill, delivering expansive views of the Chisos and Del Carmen Mountains as well as the Rio Grande itself. Pro tip: embark just before sunset for incredible views of the fading day and galaxy of stars.
8 – Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Cross Terlingua Creek and ascend paved steps to a beautiful vista before dipping back down toward the water and into Santa Elena Canyon. This trail is known as a quintessential Big Bend experience. A moderate 1.7-mile hike, it’s great for beginners who want to stretch themselves just a little, with magnificent views providing a well-earned payoff.
9 – Hot Springs Historic Trail
Considerably more difficult in the summer than other times of year due to its complete lack of shade, this one-mile riverside hike is an easy one, passing a homestead, a long-abandoned resort, pictographs, and popular hot springs along the way.
10 – Outer Mountain Loop
For the serious hiker who wants to backpack through the park and stop for two nights rest along the way, the Outer Mountain Loop is a fantastic way to experience Big Bend. Backpacking permits are required for overnight camping in the park and packed/cached water must be a top priority in order to successfully complete the trip. This strenuous 30-mile trek takes three days to complete and covers everything from lush forests to stark desert landscapes, with primitive trails and steep elevation changes in one of the most remote places in the nation.
Originally written by RootsRated for Backwoods.
Featured image provided by Adam Baker