When you think of National Parks to visit, somehow Big Bend National Park doesn’t usually make the top 10 or even top 25 list. I am not sure why this is. Maybe because the park is not as lush, green and vibrant with large animals running around. But it is dry and rugged and rough with adventure with lots of history and culture. It also borders the land of Mexico along the Rio Grande River for about 118 twisting miles. The park offers many things to do including scenic drives, sunsets, birding, hiking, hot springs, dark skies and more. Come on and join me on on this journey of Big Bend National Park things to do: Best Ideas for one full day of adventure!
Things To Know Before You Go To Big Bend National Park
- Big Bend is located in a remote area. So make sure you have plenty of gasoline to get there. There are only 2 gas locations inside the park.
- There is little to no cell service in the park
- Dogs are not permitted on trails, public buildings or back country
- Bring plenty of water as it gets very hot
- Pack food and snacks that are good energy foods
- Bring your passport if you want to cross into Mexico
- Pack your bathing suit and water shoes if you want to get into the hot springs and river
- Find Big Bend National Park information here: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm
Big Bend National Park is a large park and some points of interest are an hour or so away from each other. So you will naturally enjoy many scenic views driving to your destination. The Ross Maxwell Scenic drive will lead you right to the Rio Grande and Santa Elena Canyon with fantastic views of the Chihuahuan desert along the way.
Hike Santa Elena Canyon
My favorite hike and first thing to do is visit Santa Elena Canyon, a 1.6 mile fairly easy out and back hike with partial shade. This is one of Big Bends most popular and scenic views. At the beginning of the hike you have to cross the Terlingua Creek. This can be challenging just depending on the water level. We have been twice and the first time it was up to our thighs and the second time only ankle deep.
After you cross the river there are some steps to climb to get to a higher elevation and viewpoint before making a gradual descent back down to reach the river bank. The trail is shaded in some areas but at mid day it can be very hot. The walk into the canyon is beautiful. Make sure to walk all the way down to the end, as you will not be able to go any further. There are many areas to view the river along the walk. Find a spot and just take it all in.
Mexico Border Crossing
If you brought your passport then lets head to Mexico! The Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico border crossing is a unique experience offered only at Big Bend National Park. Just make sure to verify the operating hours so you know when the crossing closes and can be sure to return.
You must present a valid passport to cross if you are an adult, no exceptions. Children under 16 may present a birth certificate. For additional information contact Customs and Border Protection at 432-229-3349.
How to get there?
Head over to the Boquillas Crossing and park your car. You will pass through the Port of Entry, and then pay a fee to take a row boat over to Mexico. You can also wade across the Rio Grande River only at Boquillas Crossing and only if the water level is low. From there the town is a .5 mile walk or you can pay another fee to ride a burro, horse or a vehicle.
What to do in town?
There are 2 simple restaurants in town along with a bar and various little vendors. The people are friendly and rely on tourism from the border crossing. US currency is accepted and small bills are best to carry. So enjoy your time in the village, as It is a great place to grab a snack and drink before you head off to your next adventure.
Historic Hot Springs
After your day in Mexico its time to relax in the historic hot springs. To get to the hot springs trailhead you have to drive down a very narrow road. Trailers and dully trucks are not allowed on this road, and for good reason. Once you arrive and park your car, the hot springs are only a .25 mile walk down the river. This area has so much history, so take your time and learn about the old buildings and see what still remains.
Just down the trail, you will find the hot springs. You can see where the bathhouse once was. As the stone outline is all that remains and holds in the 105 degree water. It is what separates the warm water of the springs from the cool water of the river. So sit and relax in the hot springs or cool off and float in the river. After you enjoy the water you can continue down the hot springs trial loop or return back to the car.
Big Bend National Park is one of the darkest places at night in all of the lower 48 states. The darkness allows nature to be as is was intended without the impact of artificial light. So the nocturnal can enjoy the night, the wilderness can be wild and soul can find solitude. So find your place at night in the park and experience the night sky like you have never seen before.
Big Bend National Park Things to Do If You Have More Than One Day
This one day itinerary is full of adventure!I So take your time and do what feels best for you! There are so many options and we all travel differently. But if time permits, here are some other hikes in the park you should consider:
- Window View: less than .5 mile roundtrip. Great place for sunset view.
- Boquillas Canyon: 1.5 mile round trip. Short climb than leads down to the river
- Lost Mine: 4.8 miles round trip. Beautiful mountain and desert views
- Mule Ears Spring: 3.8 miles round trip. Desert hike to a small spring
Places to Stay When You Visit Big Bend National Park
In the Park
Rio Grande Village: Reservation only, No hook ups, Generators may be used. recreation.gov
Rio Grande Village RV: Reservations needed, Full hook ups, Privately run campground https://www.chisosmountainslodge.com/rv-park-and-campground
Outside of the Park
Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas Maverick Ranch RV Park and Why You Should Visit
Roadrunner Travelers RV Park in Terlingua https://www.roadrunnertravelers.com/
Chisos Mountain Lodge in the park https://www.chisosmountainslodge.com/
Willow House in Terlingua https://www.willowhouse.co/
Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa in Lajitas https://www.lajitasgolfresort.com/
Local Areas to Visit
Marfa (Information coming soon) and Alpine
Are you ready to Visit Big Bend National Park?
In Summary, I think Big Bend National Park offers a variety of wonderful things to see and do. It will be a great experience no matter what you choose to do. And you may even decide to come back again and again. I hope you find this guide resourceful for Big Bend National Park things to do: Best Ideas for one full day of adventure! Explore, enjoy, be safe and most of all have fun!