Visit Big Bend National Park in West Texas! This beautiful place is one of my top recommendations for Texas travel.
Now I know why the lyrics are “the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” They left me speechless. Looking up and seeing nothing but stars in all directions, I felt the desert wind blowing, heard the cricket symphony, and felt a deep peace.
I came for the thrill of adventure and the beauty of nature, but it was all better and more than I expected. We need these experiences, these views to ground us. It reminded me that I’m a tiny dot in this world and the life stresses fade away in the grand scheme of things.
Oh, and wear a hat and bring a water bottle. You’re in for a hot hike!
Why Visit Big Bend National Park
The park gets an average of 300,000 visitors a year. From our encounters, many visitors are international! I didn’t expect that since the park is more remote than others but I’m glad it is getting appreciation.
Y’all, the park is HUGE. Not only does it take one hour to drive from one end to the other, but in some parts, you’ll be surrounded by mountains or on top of mountains up to 7,000 feet. The expanse and beauty of the park are incredible. You don’t see anything else like this in Texas!
When to Visit and How Long
Because it’s in the desert, the best time to visit would be fall or spring. We went in the middle of April and the weather was perfect, though the sun was beaming during afternoon hikes. You could see the highlights of the whole park in one day but I recommend a few days if you want to hike more trails. Note that unless you stay in the park, admission will be $25 per car each day.
How to Get to Big Bend National Park
- If you want to fly in, El Paso (330 miles) and Midland/Odessa (235 miles) are your best bets for airport, and you’ll need to rent a car to drive the rest of the way. It’ll take a few hours.
- If you want to take a train or bus, the closest stop is in Alpine, which is 100 miles away.
- Driving distance from Austin: 6 hrs and 45 mins
- Driving distance from Dallas: 7 hrs and 48 mins
- Driving distance from Houston: 8 hrs and 33 mins
- For reference, Big Bend National Park is next to Terlingua, Texas. It’s a small town with lodging and dining options.
What Parts of the Park to Visit
- Driving from the entrance to the other end of the park is about an hour! You can’t miss the main road and there is clear signage throughout the park. You’ll get a handy map at the entrance.
- There are four visitors’ centers in the park, and these locations are also where the easy trails are. Some (Chisos Basin) are even paved!
- You don’t want to miss Chisos Basin where you can see the famed Window View. I also recommend this area because it’s a green oasis in the middle of the desert park. Watch out for bears in the basin!
- Boquillas and Santa Elena Canyon will give you the famous canyon views with the Rio Grande River.
- The Pinnacles Trail will take you to Emory Peak, the highest point in the park at an elevation 7,825 ft.
What to Bring
- When visiting the park, be sure your gas tank is filled up! You’ll likely be doing a lot of driving. There is a gas station inside the park but it’ll be more expensive.
- If you want to hike on the trails, wear comfortable shoes and bring a hat, sunglasses, and a water bottle. There are a few water fountains inside the park at the visitors’ centers.
- Don’t forget sunscreen!
- If you want to cross the border to Mexico (more on this below), remember to bring your passport.
- If you are camping or would like a wide range of snacks, pack them before your trip or stop in Alpine or Fort Stockton. Your options are very limited when you’re there.
Activities at Big Bend National Park
- Hot Spring – Yep, there’s a hot spring in the park!
- Horseback Riding – Bring your cowboy hat. 😉
- River Trips – This would have been fun if we had more days to spare. Some are day trips and others are overnight trips down the Rio Grande.
- Bicycling – It’s allowed on any roads but not off-road and trails.
- Mexico – At the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry, you can cross over to Mexico to explore the town of Boquillas. Bring your passport and cash for souvenirs.
Where to Stay
Chisos Mountains Lodge
This motel is inside the park and surrounded by mountains. Great option if you want to explore the park multiple days. Book early!
Big Bend Resort
We stayed in this motel in Terlingua after our day at Big Bend. It’s about five minutes from the park entrance. No frills but the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot! Our rate was $70 a night.
Tin Valley Retro Rentals
About 40 minutes from Big Bend National Park is this adorable place to stay called Tin Valley Retro Rentals. While we stayed in the Blue Lizard Tipi, there are also airstreams and boats to stay in! Ronda, the owner, is very sweet and helpful. Waking up out in the middle of nowhere was incredible and serene. (See more about our experience here.)
This is how you glamp! With the most comfortable bed and AC. The night we stayed, a big thunderstorm rolled through for a few minutes. Though we had a few drops, we stayed dry even with the big hole in the top. They knew what they were doing when they invented the tipi!
We even made friends with their burro named Sampson. I wish this place was closer because I would definitely stay in it again! We were encouraged to decorate a rock before we left. Can you spot ours below?
If you want to stay in something like Tin Valley Retro Rents but closer to the park. You can try Retro Rents in Terlingua, which rents different trailers.
Camping at Big Bend – Chisos Mountain Campground
If you really want to connect with nature, go camping in the park. There are 60 campsites and 26 are available for advanced reservation at $14 per night. No wood or ground fires are allowed.
The Local Chapter
If you want a luxury stay in Terlingua, check out these beautiful yurts near Big Bend.
This luxury retreat has 12 casitas on 250 acres of private land. The architecture of the casitas is stunning against the backdrop of the mountains.
Tipis, casitas, bubbles, trailers, and more! This place has a lot of options.
Where to Eat
You’ll have a limited selection of food in Terlingua, but don’t settle on a gas station buffet. You can drive around and see all the options in 15 minutes before you make your decision.
We enjoyed dinner and live music here. Brisket tacos and antelope burger, anyone?! You’ll also need to try their special prickly pear margaritas.
Espresso…y Poco Mas
This is the place to get breakfast! Big, delicious burritos are on the menu, along with many popular breakfast items.
La Kiva Restaurant and Bar
This place was recommended to us at our motel. We didn’t make it here, but I hear they have a good bar.
Chili Pepper Cafe
The other big restaurant in town, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner here.
The drive from Austin to West Texas was long, but the views and experiences were unforgettable. You need to make time for Big Bend National Park! It’s definitely a trip I won’t forget.
Where in Texas should I visit next? Let me know in a comment below!
P.S. Passing through Marfa? See my travel guide here.
P.P.S. Want more travel guides? Check out my destinations page to pick your next trip!