Touring Big Bend National Park

Beautiful view of Big Bend National Park on a sunny day

Are you planning to ride through Texas in search of adventure? We recommend heading out to the desert and touring Big Bend National Park. The park has over 800,000 acres of natural splendor, from bone-dry cactus deserts and breathtaking mountain slopes to unique rock formations and thousands of animal species.

The Route

Getting to Big Bend National Park in the Chihuahuan Desert of southwestern Texas requires a long ride, no matter which way you cut it. And, once you reach the park, finding a welcome center may still take a while. Here are the fastest ways to get to the park, depending on your location:

  • Alpine to Study Butte: State Highway 118
  • Presidio to Study Butte: State Highway 170
  • To Marathon: State Highways 90 and 385

The Sights

If you make the journey to Big Bend National Park, the park will reward you with some spectacular sights. You can ride the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for 30 miles of majestic mountains, rivers, deserts, and much more. This is a paved route, but you can follow Old Maverick Road if you want a Texas dirt road experience.

Chisos Mountains

Big Bend is famous for its mountains and unique rock formations. The Chisos Mountains provide some postcard-worthy vistas with hiking trails going up 7,825 feet to the highest peak: Emory Peak. If you’re only planning a day trip, the South Rim Trail and Lost Mine Trail are your best options—just make sure to bring plenty of water and fill up along the way.

Santa Elena Canyon

When touring Big Bend National Park, you must see the Rio Grande. You can follow Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Santa Elena Canyon and hike down a short trail into the gorge. At the bottom, look up at the breathtaking limestone walls stretching 1,500 feet above the river.

Balanced Rock

Grapevine Hills Trail takes you on a 2.2-mile loop around a scenic part of Big Bend. You’ll start at the north end and hike into Grapevine Hills, where you’ll see massive boulders, awe-inspiring rock chimneys, and incredible rock formations. The trail’s climax takes you to Balanced Rock, a natural rock archway formed by one giant boulder wedged between two others.

Plants and Wildlife

Though not the main attractions, Big Bend is home to a vast assortment of plants and wildlife. There are 450 bird species, 75 different mammals, and 1,300 plant species. However, you’ll want to maintain a respectful distance as some of the local plants and animals could harm you if you’re not careful.

The Eats

One doesn’t normally drive to Big Bend National Park for the food. However, if you know where to look, you can find a few neat places to grab a bite and a beverage. Here are two of our favorite spots in Terlingua, the closest town to the park:

  • Espresso y Poco Mas. If you want “espresso and a little bit more” after touring Big Bend National Park, head to Espresso y Poco Mas. They serve coffee and burritos with a sweeping panorama of the Chisos Mountains.
  • Starlight Theater. As the hub of Terlingua, Starlight Theater offers a combination of classic Tex-Mex cuisine and culture. Sit on the front porch for music and a drink with the locals.

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