Big Bend National Park is home to 800,000 acres of desert and mountains. The terrain is rugged and the weather is hot and volatile at times – with thunderstorms arriving in late summer. But when the sky is clear and the sun is not too hot, you can head out on the best hikes of Big Bend National Park. From Lost Mine Trail to Santa Elena Canyon, there is so much to see!
I recently had the pleasure of spending four days in this park, and hiked several trails. Some were short and sweet like Santa Elena Canyon, while others required a bit more effort – such as the Window Trail. In this article, I will be sharing my favorite hikes in Big Bend National Park!
Before I get started, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Lauren Allan Baughman and I grew up in Carmel, Indiana – just north of Indianapolis. I moved to the Austin, Texas area in 2019, and own a social media management company called Roots & Wings Co.: www.rootswingsco.com.
My blog was launched in 2017 after I came back from a trip to Greece. The Instagram account followed in 2019. My goal is to inspire people to get out of their comfort zone, see the world and find their own love for adventure. I enjoy hiking and being outdoors, so a lot of my content is focused on that.
My 4-Day Adventure at Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park had been on my list since I moved to Texas. I kept hearing amazing things about West Texas, and was very eager to explore not only the park but also Terlingua Ghost Town. Due to the pandemic, my plans to visit were delayed, but I finally ended up booking the trip this year.
You know when you have an idea of what a destination will be like in your head and then you finally experience it and it’s better than you imagined? Well, that was Big Bend National Park for me. I had never been anywhere so remote, where you could just see nature for miles and miles on end.
I spent 4 days there and enjoyed every second. The Window Trail and Lost Mine Trail were my favorite hikes due to the more challenging terrain and gorgeous views. Walking through Santa Elena Canyon, where you are in the Rio Grande and can stare into Mexico was also incredible.
Why Big Bend Should be on your Bucket List
Big Bend National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, maybe the most beautiful. The whole experience felt like I was seeing the ends of the earth. Every trail has different terrain and whether you are on a trail or driving through the park, you can see for miles in all directions.
When the sky is clear at night, you can look up at thousands of stars. The park also gave me so much mental clarity and calmness, which I think we could all use after the past year. For anyone who wants a true remote adventure, Big Bend should absolutely be on your bucket list!
6 Best Hikes in Big Bend National Park
There are dozens of fantastic hiking trails inside Big Bend National Park but with so many to choose from you might want to narrow it down to a few different options for your first visit there. Ranging in length from 1 mile to 13 miles, here are the best hikes I can recommend for Big Bend National Park.
1. The Window Trail (5.2 Miles)
The Window Trail is a 5.2 mile out and back hike with a decline on the way in and incline coming back. The view when you arrive at the window is stunning! It was very different to anything else I have ever seen.
2. Santa Elena Canyon Trail (1.5 Miles)
Santa Elena Canyon is a 1.5 mile out and back trail where you end up at the Rio Grande. There is nothing even comparable to that. It’s a great place to spend a good chunk of time relaxing and soaking it all in. When the border is open, you can kayak across the river and go into Mexico!
3. Lost Mine Trail (4.8 Miles)
Lost Mine Trail is a 4.8 mile return hike with incredible 360 degree views of the Chisos Mountains at the top. If you have just one day to spend at Big Bend then this is probably the best trail to take on. You will climb over 1,000 feet with elevation gains starting early on in the hike, so be prepared!
4. Big Bend Hot Springs Trail (1.2 Miles)
The Hot Springs Historic Trail is just over a mile long (there and back) but you will see unique rock formations and learn about the history of the area before it was part of the park. Once you reach the hot springs, the view is beautiful along the river and the springs are really relaxing. I suggest doing this first thing in the morning for the best experience, due to the heat.
5. Rio Grande Village Nature Trail (1 Mile)
Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is a quick 1-mile loop through marshy land, ending with a beautiful overlook where you can look out at Boquillas Canyon. This is one of the best trails in Big Bend National Park for wildlife lovers as you have the chance of seeing different kinds of fish and birds.
6. Emory Peak and South Rim Trail (10-13 Miles)
Emory Peak is the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains and there are a few different ways to do this hike. You can go straight from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center or take a day to do the South Rim Trail, with Emory Peak as an add-on. Unfortunately, both of these were closed when I was there but the rangers said the views were comparable to Lost Mine Trail.
Personal Highlight: Santa Elena Canyon
Walking through the Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon was one of my favorite experiences at Big Bend. It was a surreal moment that I felt so fortunate to be living out. The scenery is gorgeous – the canyon walls go up to 1,500 feet above the river. The water was pretty low, so I walked for about three quarters of a mile, completely in awe along the way!
Where to Stay when Visiting Big Bend
I would recommend staying in Terlingua when you visit Big Bend, which is just outside of the park. There are several different options from adobe homes, to yurts, to hotels. I stayed in a casita that I found on Airbnb. It was 4 miles to the park entrance and about 5 minutes to Terlingua Ghost Town, which is where you will find most of the restaurants and touristy things.
Another wonderful option is to actually stay inside the park, at places like Chisos Mountains Lodge. This is the only lodging inside Big Bend National Park, so it fills up quickly. Camping is always an option too – you can find campsites on Airbnb or camp inside the park at Cottonwood Campground, Rio Grande Village RV Campground or Chisos Basin Campground.
Need to Know Before you Go
The park is spread out. From the entrance, most trails are a 45-90 minute drive. Keep that in mind when planning your days! I suggest keeping a cooler in your vehicle with water to stay hydrated, as well as snacks.
Several different species live in the park including bears, javelinas and mountain lions. Always stay aware of your surroundings and remember that you are in their home, not the other way around. Be sure to download the AllTrails app before you arrive (there is very little cell service in the park) and pay attention to the reviews for current conditions and updates.