Big Bend National Park Travel Texas Vanlife

Full-time Vanlife Travel: Visiting Big Bend National Park In Texas

Planning a trip to Texas? Don’t miss out on one of the largest and most unique National Parks in the lower 48.

Sharing a border with Mexico and spanning the Rio Grande in the Southwest of Texas. This park offers up everything from vast Chihuahuan Desert landscapes, to the stunning Chisos Mountains and of course the river. There are several trails, canyons, and even Hot Springs on the Rio Grande. This park is massive, there are two gas stations in the park and over 200 miles of paved roads! So if you want to feel isolated in the wild, you will find that here.

Big Bend is known as a hikers paradise, with more than 150 trails that span to all four corners of the park. Wildlife? You bet; bears, javelinas, big horn sheep, snakes, lizards, birds, bears, mountain lions, the gangs all here! If paddling is your thing, hit the river and explore into the Santa Elana Canyon. If you’re into birding, you probably already know that this park is a hot spot for hundreds of species. During spring migration expect to see birders out in full force.

Let’s Take a Hike

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail
and Dugout Wells
This is a peaceful spot to learn a little history, and about some of the desert vegetation. It’s an easy and short walk around a desert oasis, and a great birding spot!

The Window

Up in the Chisos Mountains, there are tons of trails, and The Window is a highlight. 5 miles from the visitors center, the trail is well kept and manageable for even novice hikers. We started the hike at 9:00 a.m. and made it out and back with a nice break at the window by noon. We shared the trail with hikers of all ages [the eldest we met was 84 years old]. The view west from The Window will take your breath away.

Lost Mine Trail
This is one of the most recommended trails we have heard of in the park. There is super limited parking, and we have not been able to nab a spot. This trail is just shy of 5 miles and promises canyon views that are second to none.

Hot Springs Trail
Not far from the Rio Grande Village campground, is Daniel’s Ranch. Here the trailhead to a gorgeous 6-mile hike to the Hot Springs this hike takes you up into the hills and meanders above the Rio Grande. There is a bit of a climb and elevation gain early on, but the majority of this hike is level and clear trail. The payoff, of course, is the Hot Springs at the end.

Boquillas Canyon Trail
Take a little climb to a gorgeous overlook of the Rio Grande and Boquillas del Carmen. Watch for bighorn sheep, goats, horses and neighbors across the river. Follow the trail to the banks of the Rio Grande.

Things to Do

Take a drive
If exploring by foot isn’t for you, there are some incredibly scenic drives. The main roads through the park are paved. Drive up to Chisos Basin and see another side of the park. Take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and access some of the most popular trails, and unpaved drives in the park! Enjoy several scenic look out points and work your way down to Santa Elena Canyon and have a picnic lunch before checking out the historic sites like Sam Neil Ranch.

The Hot Springs
Take a dip in the 105°F healing waters on the bank of the Rio Grande. This spot was inhabited and was considered a major hub in the early 1900s. The spot is still popular today in our 2 visits to this park we have yet to see the Hot Springs without a ton of people, and a full parking lot. Our recommendation is hitting the Hot Springs early in the morning, or for sunset.

Day Trip to Mexico
Bring your passports in the Southeast corner of the park there is a border crossing to Boquillas del Carmen in Mexico. Spend a day visiting this little village hitch a ride on a donkey and enjoy a delicious meal.

Star Gaze
Big Bend is one of the BEST dark sky parks in the lower 48. Oh yes they’ve got stars. It is 10 miles from Terlingua to the west entrance of the park, and over 40 miles from Marathon to the north entrance. The surrounding small towns are far enough away and are also known for their dark skies. If possible plan your trip around a new moon, that paired with clear skies and you’re in for a treat.

Stock image

Let’s talk Camping
Did I mention this park is BIG? As such it requires some planning, but it’s worth it. There are 3 established campgrounds as well as ample backcountry spots. But know that ALL of the spots do fill up fast. Even if planning isn’t your thing, trust me reservations are a game changer. Being prepared is nice especially when cell service is almost non existant in the park.

The Rio Grande Village Campground
Reserve online to nab a spot for more than a day or two. This campground does offer some first come first serve spots, but be prepared to be there bright and early there may already be a line up. The spots are all dry camping, so no hookups for RVs. There are washrooms and potable water available. There is also an RV dump station, a gas station and general store, laundry facilities, wifi and pay showers just outside the campground. This would be the campground for our friends with big rigs. We appreciated a few things about the Rio Grande Village Campground: The shade, more space between sites as well as bigger and more level spots.

Chisos Basin Camground
Reserve your spot online.
First come first serve spots available, even though it’s up the mountain and not big rig friendly, you will need to get there bright and early and be prepared to move after a day or two.
The spots are all dry camping, so no hookups for RVs. There are washrooms and potable water available. There is a general store and visitors centre here as well for some supplies (even wine!). The road up the mountain has a size restriction, so while it is possible, it isn’t big rig friendly. The spots here are more geared to smaller rigs, vehicles and tent campers. The sites are small and often unlevel. If you need some creature comforts, there are also rooms available in the lodge, and reservations can also be made online. They also offer a restaurant for some apres hike eats, and a beer.

Cottonwood Campground
This campground is dry camping only and no reservations. There are pit toilets and potable water available. This campground was closed during our visit. There is a small general store and visitor centre at Castalon, though the visitor center is closed in the summer.

Backcountry Spaces
These are ideal if you’re able to boondock. These spots have to be booked in person. For $12 to stay up to 14 days, the price can’t be beat. You will have to choose how long you are staying when you book, you can’t really extend after the fact.

Depending on your set up this could be ideal. Last year we tried to stay at grapvine hills past balanced rock. But the 6.4-mile road in took us 2 hours out and back. Without high clearance and 4×4, we opted against camping here. We wouldn’t be able to come and go and explore the park and this was our goal. This was the only spot that was Van or RV accessible that was left when we arrived. These spots also fill up fast. I would say and it’s an ideal situation if you have a vehicle that can easily manage the rough gravel roads or at least mountain bikes to be able to come and go. If you want the gorgeous wide open space check in regularly at the visitor center for availability.

The Road To Big Bend

Visit from the North via Marathon, Texas.

This small town offers fuel, supplies, accommodations, hiking trails and dark sky opportunities. It is worth noting that gas at the Rio Grande Village in the park was actually cheaper when we were there. A small grocery store for supplies and a little stock up expect to pay slightly higher prices here. We highly recommend Marathon Motel and RV park. Full hook-up RV spaces, nice showers, and laundry facilities. This is also a Passport America park with a great discount price. They also host dark sky parties and stargazing on a clear night is top notch.

Visit from the West via Terlingua and Big Bend Ranch State Park.

There is an awesome piece of history here in the ghost town in Terlingua. Plan to stay a few days in this funky spot with a great cafe, restaurant, and some of the friendliest people. We highly recommend Big Bend Ranch State Park either on your way in or out of the National Park. This area is so vast and diverse, give yourself as much time as you can.

We have met several people who were born and raised in Texas and have never been to this park. While it is a big trip to visit Big Bend, it is well worth it.

So regardless of how much time you have, this park needs to be seen. Next time you’re planning a trip in Texas, fill your tank, stock up on food and water, make reservations and get your butt to Big Bend National Park.

We hope these suggestions help. Keeping in mind that we are restricted traveling with our dog, temperature control is always an issue and as in most national parks, dogs are not allowed on trails.

We would love to hear your experiences and tips from visiting Big Bend National Park in Texas.

Hi! We are Kira and Logan! we have been travelling fulltime in our Roadtrek Zion since November 2017!

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: