Three days in Big Bend National Park

south rim trail big bend

We made it! Big Bend National Park was the itinerary-shaping destination for this Airstream journey, and it was absolutely the highlight of our trip. We were incredibly excited to return to Big Bend after spending only several hours there two years ago and not getting to do a single hike, other than walking Bugsy along a jeep road (still totally worth the visit–you can see lots of incredible vistas driving around and stopping at overlooks). As you may have seen me complain here, dogs are not welcome on trails in National Parks, except for our dear and near Shenandoah National Park.

Campground

rv campground big bend

We made reservations in advance for the full-hookups RV campground at Rio Grande Village, which we discovered upon arriving is basically a parking lot crammed full of huge trailers. Our neighbor’s TV blared loudly for hours and motorcycles roared in and out and it wasn’t the scenic National Park camping experience we had dreamed of.

cottonwood campground big bend

After setting up our site, we walked Bugsy down the street to the no-hookups Rio Grande Village campground and immediately decided we’d move there in the morning for night #2. It’s big but quiet, with lots of space between campsites, and the nature trail from the campground is a must-hike.

cottonwood campground big bend

For our last night in Big Bend we thought it would be neat to experience the other side of the enormous park, so we moved to the small and sweet Cottonwood Campground, also without hookups, and hoped our ailing Airstream batteries would hang in there and we wouldn’t freeze overnight. A herd of javelinas entertained us in the evening, and the stars that night were magical.

If you can live without hookups, we HIGHLY recommend camping at Rio Grande Village or Cottonwood rather than the RV campground. Note that the park advises against taking a trailer longer than 20′ or an RV longer than 24′ down the twisty road into Chisos Basin, the location of the other developed campground.

Hiking

Big Bend hiking can be categorized into mountain hikes, desert hikes, and river hikes. We wanted to experience each type, and would recommend all of these hikes to anyone. Our favorites are indicated below.

Mountain Hikes

window trail big bend

window trail big bend

Window Trail: a 5.6 mile round trip to a narrow canyon opening in the rocks overlooking a desert panorama. This was the first hike we did in Big Bend and it blew us away!

south rim trail boot big bend

south rim trail big bend

south rim trail big bend

South Rim: a 12.5 mile loop full of changing scenery: endless mountains, rock formations, forests. This was my favorite hike in the park.

Next time: Lost Mine Trail, including a summit of Casa Grande

Desert Hikes

Cattail Falls: about six miles round trip through the desert to a beautiful oasis. This hike is no longer on official Big Bend maps to protect the fragile ecosystem–don’t get in the water!

old ore road big bend

Old Ore Road: Dogs can go anywhere (on leash; Bugsy is posing for my photo above) cars can go in Big Bend, so to entertain poor Bugsy we took a long walk on Old Ore Road not far from Rio Grande Village. The views were pretty (although not as mesmerizing as what you get from the hiking trails), and we were early enough in the morning to beat all the vehicles kicking up dust on the bumpy dirt road.

River Hikes

sunset over rio grand big bend

Rio Grande Village Nature Trail: .75 mile loop from the campground with a spur to an overlook from which you can see a glorious sunset over the Rio Grande. It was so quick and easy and wonderful that we went back up for sunrise (less vibrant than sunset, but still beautiful) the next morning with a thermos of tea.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail: 1.7 miles round trip along Terlingua Creek into a steep canyon. This hike was J’s favorite.

Next time: cross the Rio Grande to Boquillas, Mexico; we didn’t bring our passports this trip.

One thought on “Three days in Big Bend National Park

  1. Two very good posts at Big Bend and Terlingua…. Both places are definitely NOT for the faint at heart. I really loved that view from the “Window” and loved all the hikes. There just weren’t any people around when I visited although I do recall while walking along the Rio Grande there were several folks from “the other side” walking across. Nobody seemed bothered by that but then it was 30 years ago. I assume the horse ranch and the horse rentals are no longer available.. Too bad, that was a fun ride and I’m not a fan of horses as you are.;

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