Big Bend National Park: Travel Guide
A Texas Treasure larger than the state of Rhode Island
Have you ever heard of the phrase, “everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, Big Bend National Park is one of many things that prove that statement out because you can literally fit a whole other state in its limits. That size is hard to picture, but it’s easy to take in once you’re there because the land surrounding the mountain ranges is desert flatland and it gives you perspective. Think about how epic the mountain ranges in Hawaii look surrounded by ocean. The Chisos Mountain Range in Big Bend (also created by volcanoes) is sort of like that, but much bigger and much, much dryer.
Unfortunately, being big doesn’t equate to easy-to-access, but it does mean fewer people. The Park is tough to get to and sort of “off the grid,” but Bill Murray recommended lovebirds like us visit places “hard to get to” so what the hell. We packed up our rental car and drove from Marfa to Alpine and down to Terlingua, the main town north of the park (Population 59), where we stayed at Ten Bits Ranch for two nights. We made the trek in June, the region’s hottest month, and it was sweltering but we enjoyed our time in solitude.
Here are some things we enjoyed most
The park’s typography is stunning and varied - it’s got desert plains, mountains ranges, and canyon rivers so it’s pretty to look at and there’s plenty to do - off-road, hike, camp, canoe, raft, fish.
The mountains, where you’ll find most hiking trails, can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the desert floor, which we really appreciated on our hike along the Window Trail (3-4 hours).
It’s historically significant - Native American and Mexican tribes, Spanish explorers, soldiers, revolutionaries, outlaws, ranchers, and farmers have all made the region their home. In the late 1880s, cinnabar mining blew up and then went bust leaving behind a “ghost town” that’s been slightly revitalized over the past 50 years and is fun to visit. We could totally envision a mirror house here.
Part of the Rio Grande River, which gives the park its name because it’s where the river takes a big bend, serves as an international boundary line for the US and Mexico.
There are thousands of different plants and animals in the park, some you can’t see anywhere else. Cactus galore.
The nearest city is over 200 miles away so the park is never crowded, not even during their version of “high season” in March (Spring Break) and November (International Chili Cook-off Competition). Locals, though few, are super friendly (what up, DB!) and distance means less light pollution so stargazing is out of this world.
A visit to Big Bend is a no-brainer if you’re in West Texas, and worth a trip even if you’re not. Trust us, the silence and solitude is sweet.
If you want to go
How to get there
From Alpine, get on 118 South and head straight down until you hit it. Nearest airports are in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, each over 200 miles from Big Bend.
Where to stay
If you have gear and an outdoorsy spirit, we recommend camping in the park.
If you’d like a bit more comfort like free wi-fi and free continental breakfasts, we highly recommend following our lead and staying at the 500-acre and well-appointed Ten Bits Cowboy Ranch, just 20 minutes north of the park. The ranch accommodates up to 12 and is themed off of a town in the Old West so you have the option of staying in a Bank (two queen beds), Gunsmith (one queen bed), School House (one queen bed), or General Store (two double beds) - rooms start at $129/night. The owners, Sis and Cowboy, are great and the property is surrounded by badass brown rock formations that make you never want to leave.
Where to eat & drink
Starlight Theatre - this restaurant/saloon was once a cinema during Terlingua’s mining hey-day but lost it’s roof when the town was abandoned in the bust (hence, “Starlight”). The venue continued to serve as a gathering place for locals over the years, and now that it’s been renovated, it’s a must visit after a day exploring the park. They have live music and some of the best food and drink you can find “West of the Pecos”. Get a burger and a sotol cocktail, a spirit made from a plant native to the area.
The Thirsty Goal Saloon - Chill western bar located in Lajitas Golf Resort
Before you go or while you’re there
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - Directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Enjoy sights of Big Bend and the story of ranch hand Pete Perkins who looks to fulfill a promise to his recently deceased best friend by burying him in his hometown in Mexico.
No Country for Old Men - Directed by the Cohen Brothers and partially filmed in Big Bend this movie won 4 Oscars including Best Motion Picture of the Year.
Big Bend Now - online home of local newspaper, The Big Bend Sentinel
Big Bend Radio - live and local on 1240 AM or 92.7 FM
Visit this Google Album for more photos.