In April, my husband and I traveled to Big Bend National Park and since going, we’ve been talking about making it an annual thing. There’s loads to do and today I’m sharing Big Bend travel tips. There’s a few things you definitely need to know before you go.

I’m also giving away a couple of free photos as well to inspire your trip. You can download them on the Journey Junkies page. If you’re not a member, you can sign up here.


Big Bend Travel Tips

It’s Very Popular

The first thing you need to know about Big Bend is that it is very popular and not just with Americans. This means it could be crowded when you go and if you want to stay inn the one hotel there, you’ll need to book it about a year in advance. However, you wouldn’t know it by how secluded you can feel on the hikes. Most of the time there was nary a person.

Experience the Vastness of Big Bend National Park
Experience the Vastness of Big Bend National Park

Most Campsites Don’t Do Online Reservations

So now you know that Big Bend is popular the next of the travel tips is that a lot of the campsites don’t do online bookings. This is especially annoying when you’re traveling in after work on a Friday. You will most likely get there after the Visitor Center closes which means you won’t be able to get a spot at a campsite. I know, it’s truly annoying. What you have to do is get to the Visitor Center as soon as it opens the next day to get in line to find a campsite. We stayed in sites that were nothing more than a piece of ground. The main campground that everyone wants to stay in is Chisos. It’s the most central area and does take a few online bookings. However, it doesn’t take many, and it’s very small. We never stayed there. We did back country camping, which can sometimes mean you’ll need an off-road vehicle.

Drive a 4x4 car to be able to camp off the beaten path
Drive a 4×4 car to be able to camp off the beaten path

It’s Hot… Even in April

I know I should have realized it would be very hot in Big Bend but I definitely didn’t realize that it would already be hitting the 100s. Obviously, the closer you get to Mexico, the hotter it will be. Next time we go, we will certainly be going in the winter or fall. It will be more crowded but I can understand why. The heat is a lot to deal with, even for a Texan.


You Can Swim in the Rio

Now that we’ve established it’s hot at Big Bend, there is an upside. You can swim in the Rio Grande. No, it’s not the cleanest place to swim, but just don’t put your head under :). Take a dip, cool off, swimming to Mexico is not legal unless you do it Boquillas Crossing, but at the Santa Elena Canyon Trail I did see people swimming over there. It’s basically a huge rock cliff so you’re not getting far. Just remember, you could be fined and you better take a Passport.

Swim at the end of the Santa Elena Trail in the Rio
Swim at the end of the Santa Elena Trail in the Rio

There are Bears

A lot of people already know this next Big Bend travel tip but I didn’t. We have bears in Texas! No, we didn’t see any, but apparently it’s pretty common to see them. We did see other critters such as lizards, jack rabbits, and mountain goats. I know, those aren’t as cool.

Find loads of lizards on the hike out to balancing rock
Find loads of lizards on the hike out to balancing rock
Find Mountain Goats in Big Bend
Look for Mountain Goats in Big Bend
Find jack rabbits all over the desert of Big Bend
Find jack rabbits all over the desert of Big Bend

Many Small Towns Nearby are Worth a Visit

Before we went to Big Bend I had heard of the ghost town of Terlingua. I also researched it on TripAdvisor and it had mixed reviews. However, I still had it on list as a possibility and I’m glad we went! It’s a cute little town and there’s a nice restaurant there if you want to grab a bite to eat. We just had drinks but next time, I’d plan for dinner. I also found out about a few other towns for next time as well.

Visit the ghost town of Terilingua
Visit the ghost town of Terlingua
Visit the ghost town of Terilingua
Visit the ghost town of Terlingua
Step into the Starlight Theatre for food or drinks in Terlingua
Step into the Starlight Theatre for food or drinks in Terlingua

You Should Bring Your Passport (even if you’re not going to Mexico)

This is definitely something you need to know if you’re going to Big Bend. Take your passport. We didn’t go to Mexico and didn’t know if we were planning to or not, so obviously we took it in case we wanted to go. Nevertheless, even if you know you are not going to Mexico, take your Passport, as there will be

Stand in the Rio Grande River in between the Texas and Mexico boarder.
Stand in the Rio Grande River in between the Texas and Mexico boarder.

There are a LOT of Hikes Worth Doing

I did a lot of research before we left on what hikes to do, and I feel like we covered a wide variety well. There are still loads I would go back and do but for the first time, I’m happy with how we did it. As I said above, it’s hot, so you’ve got to start early in the morning if you’re there after January. Here’s the hikes I’d recommend for your first time:

  • Lost Mine Trail, 4.8 miles round trip
  • Window Trail (do at Sunset), 5.6 miles round trip
  • Santa Elena Trail (swim in the Rio here), 1.7 miles round trip
  • Grapevine Trail, 2.2 miles round trip
  • Boquillas Overlook Trail, 1.4 miles round trip
  • Hot Springs hike (just a basic walk to the hot springs), .5 mile round trip

We did all of the above over the span of 4 days. We arrived late Thursday night and came home on Monday. That meant we had 3 full days and had plenty of time for the above as well as driving the main scenic road and hitting a couple of the little towns around the park mentioned above.

View the vastness of Big Bend on the Lost Mine Trail
View the vastness of Big Bend on the Lost Mine Trail
Do the Window Trail at Sunset for lovely views. Just remember you'll have to walk back at night
Do the Window Trail at Sunset for lovely views. Just remember you’ll have to walk back at night
View Mexico and Texas at the Santa Elena Lookout
View Mexico and Texas at the Santa Elena Lookout
Hike Grapevine Trail to see the famous "balancing rock"
Hike Grapevine Trail to see the famous “balancing rock”
Take a short hike to the relaxing hot springs. A must do in the early morning!
Take a short hike to the relaxing hot springs. A must do in the early morning!

Camping Will Allow You the Most Flexibility

One of the absolute best Big Bend tips is that it’s large and you may not want to stay in the same place every night. We moved nightly. I highly recommend camping as a way to allow for flexibility. We love our tent that pops off the roof of our car. It’s super easy to pack up and I can’t recommend it enough (and no, they don’t pay me to say that).

Camping in Big Bend National Park will give you more flexibility to move around.
Camping in Big Bend National Park will give you more flexibility to move around.

Freebies

If you loved any of the photos above, you can download a few over on the Journey Junkies page. If you missed the link to sign up, find that here.

Have you been to Big Bend? What was your favorite? Let me know your own Big Bend travel tips in the comments!

Big Bend Travel Tips: What to Know Before You Go

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