Updated: Jun 14, 2021
There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend... source: National Park Service
Adventure Rating: Epic
Trip Length: 188 miles, 3-5 days
Season: October - May (while the park is open during the summer, summer time temps often exceed triple digits, and many park facilities are closed).
Technical Rating: Mostly green, some blue sections along Black Gap Road
Typical Terrain: Mostly wide dirt and gravel roads. Black Gap Rd is a jeep trail with ruts, rocks, and whoops.
Adventure Vans: Yes! Consider taking Talley Road instead of the more technical Black Gap Road. All terrain tires and short wheel base vans are recommended.
Alternative Routes: n/a
Permits: Big Bend National Park requires permits for day use as well as for backcountry camping and developed camping. You may only camp in designated sites. Permits must be obtained in person at the visitor center no more than 24 hours before your trip.
Big Bend is a place filled with wide open vistas, towering mesas, volcanic spires, and arid prairies, and perhaps, proves that locals weren't bloviating when they claimed everything is bigger in Texas. Those that are unacquainted to the Chihuahuan desert landscape tend to assume it's place of sweltering heat (certainly true during the summer months) and parched landscapes devoid of plant and animal life. Luckily, the uninformed are just that. Renowned for its splendid isolation and varied geological landscape, the center of the park is dominated by the Chisos mountains. Sitting at 7,832 feet, Emory peak is the high point of the park. A wide variety of plant life is supported in Big Bend, likely due to the microclimates created from the 6,000 feet of elevation change. The park also provides a window into the past as visitors can check out abandoned ruins and mines, the dinosaur fossils exhibit, and explore ancient seabeds. Most visitors begin their journey in the town of Alpine, which is a great place to grab a bite to eat and fill up the fuel tank. As you make your way south down the paved highway, before turning into the park consider topping off your tank at at the Big Bend resort. Within no time, you'll leave the pavement behind as you make your way south towards the Rio Grande on Old Maverick Road, which is a mostly flat and wide dirt road. Be sure to checkout Luna's Jacal, and historic adobe once inhabited by Gilberto Luna, a Mexican pioneer and farmer. Before long you'll find yourself above the banks of the Rio Grande and back on pavement for a relatively short period of mileage. Turning onto River Road West, the road returns to a wide dirt path.
Most visitors to Big Bend don't make it this far out, and as you make your way towards the Chisos mountains, the road turns into a jeep trail (Black Gap Rd), which is the most technical trail in the park with its rocks, ruts, and ledges. The trail can be managed in a stock 4x4 with decent tires, but leads to some of the most remote and best camping within the park. At just under 4,000 feet, the route turns around at Juniper Canyon Trail, a great place to explore the slopes of Emory and Casa Grande Peak on foot. The route heads south once again and follows along the banks of the meandering Casa Grande. There are a number of great swimming spots along the river and even a few well known hot springs that are frequented by the park's visitors. The final leg of the journey departs from the Rio Grande and heads to the northern boundaries of the park along another relatively mellow dirt road. If dinosaurs are you thing, be sure to make a stop at the fossil bone exhibit. From the northern boundary, the route makes it way west, eventually leaving the park and terminating at TX State Hwy 118. Before heading back to the highway, considering treating yourself to the rustic luxuries provided by the Terlingua Ranch Lodge (lodging, showers, pool, and laundry)
Camping Recommendations You may only camp in designated sites. Permits must be obtained in person at the visitor center no more than 24 hours before your trip.
Twisted Shoe (any any camp in its viscinity)
Recommended Points of Interest
Terlingua ghost town
Downtown Alpine, TX (food, gas, shopping)
Dinosaur fossil bone exhibit
Langford's hot spring
Mule Ears viewpoint
Maps + Navigation
>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.
Gaia GPS (NatGeo trails illustrated, NPS Visitor, base map layer)
GPX, KMZ files and Google Map