Starry Nights and Sun-Soaked Canyons at Big Bend National Park

Cross off this list of must-try adventures at Big Bend

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

In Southwest Texas near the city of Terlingua lies the majestic Big Bend National Park. It’s home to the entire Chisos mountain range, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the famous Rio Grande River. Ranking as the 15th largest national park in the US, it boasts 801,163 acres of protected land to explore and recreate on. Though the park is rather secluded, it’s what makes the trip feel like a true dive into the depths of Earth’s most pristine, natural wilderness. Align yourself with the diverse terrain and wildlife while hiking, canoeing, horseback riding, camping or stargazing on this undeniably impressive and adventurous getaway. Keep reading for a list of must-try things to do while visiting this Texan treasure.

Hike to Emory Peak

Photo: Warren Goh

The hike to Emory Peak, the highest point in Big Bend, is challenging, but well worth it. It’s a 10 mile out and back trail with a 2500 foot elevation gain, so you’ll definitely want to be prepared with an ample amount of food, water, and sturdy footwear. The final stretch of this hike does require a rock scramble to the top, but the panoramic views are unmatched. Though not a beginner’s trail, it is one that reaps a magnificent reward for those who give it a go. Sunset views at the peak are an added treat, but be sure to plan appropriately and account for the trip back down.

Canoe through Santa Elena Canyon

Photo: Sarah Vaughn

One of the best ways to explore the vast beauty of the towering canyons in this park is to be right in the middle of it, canoeing the Rio Grande River. The 1500 foot walls of the Santa Elena Canyon, made of limestone and carved over millions of years by the river, can be admired while paddling through a 20 mile stretch of the Rio Grande. While en route, you can even explore smaller coves and side canyons. It’s the ultimate expeditation! In remote areas, it might just be you, the river, the canyon walls, and the echo of each paddle stroke.

Relax in the Hot Springs

Photo: Korey Taylor

You must reward yourself with a trip to this natural geothermal spring. Situated right alongside the chilly waters of the Rio Grande River, this hot spring’s temperature is about 105 degrees fahrenheit. While soaking in this natural hot tub, you’ll be close enough to dip your hand into the cold river. Pack a swimsuit and slide on in to replicate a day at the spa, only with much better views! The dissolved mineral salts in the water are known to be healing to the body. Sit back and let nature work its magic.

Star Gaze at Dark Sky Park

Photo: National Park Service

What’s more magnificent than looking up at an ink black sky illuminated by hundreds of shining stars? Big Bend is a designated international dark sky park, which means that there are extremely low levels of light pollution to hinder views of the night sky’s constellations. In other words, it’s one of the best places possible to stargaze in the US. Minimal human occupation of the surrounding area makes preservation of this dazzling display possible. Experiencing this for yourself may bring an overwhelming sense of awe and a greater understanding of how people from the past relied on stars for navigational purposes and predicting seasonal changes. 

Sightsee on Horseback

Photo: Amy Humphries

Get in full character and become a Texas cowboy or cowgirl for the day. There’s no better way to execute this than to hop on a horse and explore the rugged terrain. Tour through canyons along the Rio Grande or old mines right outside of the park. Guided trips on horseback are available through a number of different operators like Lajitas Livery and Big Bend Stables. Be sure to call these businesses directly for more information.

Eat at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ

Photo: DB's Rustic BBQ

You can’t leave Texas without enjoying some authentic BBQ! After getting all your steps in at the park, head over to DB’s in the old mining ghost town of Terlingua for lip-smacking slow smoked brisket, ribs, chicken, and sausage. Don’t be fooled by the fact that the food is served from a shack on the side of the road. Some of the best things come from the most unexpected places. The reviews don’t lie!

Stay Overnight at the Rio Grande Campgrounds

Photo: Andrew Slaton

Though there are several great one day itineraries to do at Big Bend, the best way to explore all that the park has to offer is by staying for several days or more. Maximize outdoor time and make camp at the Rio Grande Campgrounds, surrounded by a large grove of cottonwoods and acacia trees. There’s a camp store with showers and a laundromat as well as a park visitor center nearby. The site includes running water, picnic tables, grills, and some overhead shelters. The campground is open year-round, but note that it is not first come first serve. Reservations are required. Check the website for more information about closures and changes due to Covid-19.

***Please note that there may be restrictions, closures, and changes due to the ongoing pandemic. Please be sure to visit the national park website for more information on what is currently open for use at Big Bend to keep safe and healthy during your visit.

Cover Photo: Ben Singer

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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