Big Bend National Park is an amazing and under-rated spot that should be on every nature-lovers bucket list! From the flowing waters of the Rio Grande, the dry desert landscape, and the Chisos Mountains – this national park truly has it all! Check out my 3-day Big Bend itinerary and start planning your trip!
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Big Bend Itinerary: Trip Overview
- Days: 3
- Nights: 4
- PTO Days Needed: 2-3
- Cost: $
SEE ALSO: The Ultimate 3-Day Yellowstone Itinerary
- Grapevine Hills Trail (Balanced Rock)
- Boquillas Hot Spring
- Chisos Mountain Lodge
- Lost Mine Trail
- Rio Grande Kayak Tour
- Emory Peak Trail
- Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
- Santa Elena Canyon
Before I dive into my Big Bend itinerary, let’s go over some relevant info & trip logistics:
How to Get to Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is definitely not conveniently-located – it’s a bit of a journey to get there! Big Bend is located in Southwest Texas, on the border of Texas and Mexico. The closest airport is Midland, which is about 3 hours from the park entrance. Alternatively, you could drive 6.5 hours from Austin or 8 hours from Dallas. There is a small town near Big Bend National Park called Terlingua, with a few lodging and dining options.
Big Bend National Park Lodging
Glamping Near Big Bend National Park
Want to sleep under the stars but still want some of the comforts of home? Glamping is a great option! One of the best places to stay near Big Bend National Park is Buzzard’s Roost in Terlingua. I absolutely loved staying here. There are only 3 tipis on the property, so you get to enjoy solitude while also being only a short walk to town. We stayed in the Estrella Tipi, which has a queen bed, a couch, and a fridge! All tipis also come with two fluffy white robes, which is a nice touch. The bathroom on the property is super nice, as is the AMAZING outdoor shower.
If you’re looking to go even more off-the-grid, try Tin Valley Retro Rentals. This property features some eclectic Big Bend lodging options, such as converted school busses and even a yacht in the middle of the desert! The only downside is that it’s a bit further from town (about 45 minutes) but there are fire pits at each site if you want to cook your own meal instead of going into town for dinner.
Another good option is this cute southwestern house near town in Terlingua!
Hotels Near Big Bend National Park
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, try the Lajitas Golf Resort. This 4-star resort has great reviews and has a nice pool and restaurant on-site!
Lodging In Big Bend National Park
If you’re looking to stay inside Big Bend National Park, you can reserve a spot at one of the 4 campgrounds or get a permit for a backcountry site.
Otherwise, the only lodging in the park is Chisos Mountain Lodge, which has beautiful views! If you aren’t able to stay here, definitely stop by their restaurant to enjoy the view.
When to Visit Big Bend National Park
You can visit Big Bend National Park year-round, but the best time to visit is Fall or Spring when temperatures are mild. I visited in October – it still got pretty hot during the day, but was around 60 at night which was nice!
Big Bend National Park Packing List
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- Nano Puff Jacket (packs up small and keeps you warm when it gets chilly at night!)
- The COLDEST Water Bottle (seriously – it stays colder than Hydroflask!)
- Hiking Boots (these are my fave)
- REI Soft Cooler (I have this and love it!)
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (great to give you a boost of energy on hikes!)
- Sony A6000 (I’m just starting to learn photography, but this is the camera I’ve been using! I love it)
- Day Pack
- SmartWool Hiking Socks
Big Bend Itinerary
Grapevine Hills Trail (Balanced Rock)
- Miles: 1.9
- Elevation Gain: 232 ft
- Trailhead: Grapevine Hills Trail
- Route Type: Out & Back
Since Big Bend National Park requires some drive time no matter where you are coming from, you will likely not arrive to the park before about noon. Since your first day is shorter, I recommend kicking it off with one of the shorter (but still awesome!) hikes: Grapevine Hills Trail.
This 1.9 mile trail meanders through a flat, sandy wash, but then the last .25 miles requires a bit of rock scrambling to reach the Balanced Rock at the end of the trail. The Balanced Rock makes for a great photo-op!
Note that even though this trail is short and relatively easy, you should definitely bring more than enough water, especially if you are hiking mid-day. Also, the last 6 miles of the drive to the trailhead are on a bumpy, gravel road, so drive carefully!
Boquillas Hot Spring
One of the most unique things to do in Big Bend National Park is to soak in the natural hot spring along the Rio Grande river. The Rio Grande is the border of Texas and Mexico, so when you are soaking in the hot spring, you are literally able to see Mexico right next to you!
The trail to the hot spring is only about 1 mile round trip. The trail is located off of Hot Springs Road (gravel road) and there is a parking lot at the end.
After your hot spring soak, checkout the nearby Rio Grande Nature Trail for some great sunset views!
Dinner and Drinks at Chisos Mountain Lodge
Chisos Mountain Lodge is a great place to have dinner and drinks with a view inside the park! They have a lot of local beers on tap, and an upstairs patio overlooking the Chisos Mountains.
Big Bend Itinerary: Day 2
Lost Mine Trail
- Miles: 4.2
- Elevation Gain: 1,099 ft
- Trailhead: Lost Mine Trail
- Route Type: Out & Back
If you only have time to do one hike in Big Bend National Park, this one is it! It’s definitely one of the best hikes in Big Bend. I highly recommend starting this hike at sunrise, not only to beat the heat but also because the sun rising over the mountains is an incredible sight!
The trail meanders through Juniper and Pine trees, opening up with views of Juniper Canyon and Casa Grande before making its way up switchbacks to the ridge line. The views from the top are incredible! You can even see Mexico from the top.
Breakfast at Espresso y Poco Mas
After your hike, fuel up with breakfast (or lunch) at Espresso y Poco Mas – one of the best restaurants in Terlingua. This order-at-the-counter spot has a great breakfast burrito and Eggs Benedict, with a cute outdoor seating area!
Kayak the Rio Grande
One of the best things to do in Big Bend is to kayak the Rio Grande! I highly recommend booking your kayak tour through Far Flung Outdoor Center. The guides were knowledgable and fun, and the experience was unforgettable!
You’ll start out by meeting them at the Far Flung Outdoor Center office in town (less than 10 minutes away from the breakfast spot mentioned above) to meet your guide and caravan to the kayak drop-in point. I did the half-day tour just to get a feel for the experience (and because I only had 3 days in Big Bend!) but if you have more time, they also offer full-day tours AND overnight tours!
The half-day tour is actually in neighboring Big Bend State Park. You’ll kayak about 7 miles or so down the flowing Rio Grande and cross through a few minor rapids which makes it even more exciting. Halfway through, you stop at a sandy beach for a snack and water break!
One of the coolest parts about kayaking the Rio Grande is that you’re literally kayaking on the border of Texas and Mexico. The right half of the river is the Mexico side!
Note: I definitely recommend packing some Keen waterproof sandals for the kayak tour!
Dinner at Starlight Theatre
Starlight Theatre is definitely one of the best and most popular restaurants/bars in the town of Terlingua for both locals and visitors. Featuring Texas/Mexica cuisine, there is often live music inside, and a lively crowd on the front porch. It’s a fun hangout spot with a great view from the porch. Make sure you try the prickly pear margarita!
Big Bend Itinerary: Day 3
- Miles: 10
- Elevation Gain: 2,513 ft
- Trailhead: Basin Trailhead
- Route Type: Out & Back
Get another early start to your day and arrive at Emory Peak trailhead at sunrise to beat the heat! This 10-mile hike takes you to the highest peak in Big Bend National Park, at 7,832′. It will take about 5 hours to complete the hike. It’s definitely one of the most intense but rewarding hikes in Big Bend!
Park in the Chisos Mountain Lodge parking lot and start at the Basin Trailhead, taking Pinnacles Trail up to Emory Peak Trail. The views along this trail area amazing. Once you get to the last 1.5 miles, you’ll reach a spot with a bathroom and a bear box in case you want to store any of your stuff while you make the final climb to the top.
The last .2 miles to the summit you’ll have to scramble up some fairly vertical rocks to the top. If you are scared of heights, this last part might be a bit difficult, but I found it to be quite fun!
Once you get to the top, you’re rewarded with 360 degree views of the whole park. It’s incredible! Who knew Texas had mountains like this??
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
One of the most dramatic and iconic drives in the park, the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive meanders 30 miles through the park. Take this road after your hike from Chisos Basin to Santa Elena Canyon. There are several great lookout spots along the way, including Sotol Vista and Mule Ears Lookout.
Santa Elena Canyon
Exploring Santa Elena Canyon is definitely one of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park. Here, the Rio Grande river is nestled between two towering rock walls, with a shaded trail on the side where you can hike 1.5 miles to get up-close views of the river.
Don’t just stop at the Santa Elena Canyon Lookout! Head to the Santa Elena Canyon Trail and complete the. 1.5 mile round trip hike for the best views. Although short, this was one of my favorite hikes in Big Bend!
There’s one spot on the trail where you can veer off to the waters edge where there is a rock jutting out into the water. This is the best spot to photograph the canyon. We also went for a swim here!
Watch the Sunset
There are plenty of awesome places to watch the sunset in the park. My favorite spot was the place we were staying – Buzzards Roost. Can’t beat hanging out in fluffy robes drinking wine, chilling in the hammock and watching the sunset!
Check out the Stars
Big Bend National Park is one of the best places in the US to view the stars, and is a registered “Dark Sky” park (aka epic star viewing). I’ve never seen more stars in my life! Someday I will learn night photography and can share some starry-sky shots with you guys, but for now – you’ll just have to take my word for it and go see it for yourself!
If You Have More than 3 Days in Big Bend
If you have more time on your Big Bend itinerary, see below for some other awesome things to do in Big Bend!
- Windows Trail
- Closed Canyon Trail (slot canyon in Big Bend State Park)
- Visit Marfa (the tiny town about 2 hours from the park that has the “Prada” building you’ve probably seen on Instagram)
- Overnight Santa Elena Canyon rafting trip with Far Flung Outdoor Center
Thank you to Buzzards Roost and Far Flung Outdoor Center for hosting me during my stay. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.