[UPDATE! We returned to Big Bend in 2018 and stayed in the park for a few days, so got a much fuller Big Bend experience. Read about our magical visit here! And then we did it again in 2019! And again in 2021!]
Big Bend National Park is enormous and magnificent and full of hiking trails on which you cannot take your dog. Leaving Bugsy behind in the Airstream was not an option as we’d be gone for most of the day, so we did a dog-friendly tour of Big Bend, which involved a ton of driving, with stops at overlooks, and one measly hike. Even with our exploration restricted, we loved the park.
Dogs are allowed in Big Bend anywhere your car is allowed: roads and campgrounds. However, there are some rough, sparsely traveled roads that make great dog hikes. We took Bugsy out for several miles along Grapevine Hills Road and learned she’s not really a desert dog, at least the lower elevation deserts (she’s loving northern AZ). She also got out at overlooks with us and joined us for a picnic lunch, so hopefully it wasn’t too boring a day for her.
The Grapevine Hill Road hike was lovely and quiet, but bring water for your pooch. Hiking on Old Maverick would have been less enjoyable, with much more traffic going faster and kicking up loads of dust.
Our route (map here): Enter the park at Persimmon Gap; drive to Panther Junction (stopping at overlooks) and stop into the Park HQ for advice; drive halfway down Grapevine Hills Road for our dog-friendly hike to the end of the road; drive to Chisos Basin (stopping at overlooks) and grab food and beers (!!) at the Visitor Center; take turns running the short Window View Trail (while the other stayed with Bugsy); drive back up Chisos Basin Road and around to the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (stopping at overlooks); have a picnic lunch in the truck bed at Sotol Vista; drive along the Rio Grande to Santa Elena Canyon; head toward the exit on the terribly washboarded and slow-going Old Maverick Road (not a very fun drive, but a good shortcut to exit the park); exit the park at Terlingua and drive the fantastically scenic highway along the Rio Grande and Big Bend Ranch State Park to Presidio. At Presidio, we turned north for our second attempt at appreciating Marfa.
Yes, it was a ton of driving, and it would have been wonderful to spend more time hiking, but we loved what we were able to see and do and would highly recommend a trip to Big Bend to anyone. Hopefully someday the National Parks will loosen their restrictions on dogs. Why not offer a selection of trails that are dog-friendly, and the people who don’t like dogs can choose different hikes? If the concern is that dogs will destroy the ecosystem, well, look at what some humans do to nature. Yesterday at Petrified Forest National Park, my dog was perfectly behaved on her leash walking along a trail, while some idiot humans were off-trail, climbing on the ancient, priceless fossils. So there’s my two cents, National Parks Service. Dogs > humans.