15 Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park, TX

Big Bend National Park, TX
Paul Leong / shutterstock.com

The Big Bend region lies in the Trans-Pecos area in southwest Texas along Mexico’s border.

People named the region after the vast prominent bend of the Rio Grande in the middle of  Texas' Chisos Mountains and Mexico's Sierra Madre.

Big Bend covers the counties of Presidio on the west, Brewster on the east, Jeff Davis on the north, Pecos, and Terrell, and it also includes the large towns of Alpine, Marathon, Marfa, Presidio, Sanderson, and Terlingua.

The arid and rugged area is scarcely populated, with more than a million acres of public lands, including Big Bend National Park and Big Ben Ranch State Park.

These parks make the wild natural region perfect for hiking, camping, touring, river rafting, and sightseeing.

Big Bend is a distinct region that offers its visitors endless possibilities of unique adventure experiences.

Check the best things to do in Big Bend, TX.

Have an Ultimate Outdoor Adventure at Big Bend National Park

Entrance road sign of Big Bend National Park
William Silver / Shutterstock.com

The Big Bend National Park is the country’s largest protected area in the Chihuahuan Desert.

The park is home to more than a thousand species of plants, over 400 species of birds, and various species of reptiles and mammals.

The park area has a rich history dating back to prehistoric times to the period of pioneers and ranchers.

View the magnificent Chisos Mountains, which is also the only mountain range in the country located in a national park.

Big Ben is so huge an area to discover in a day, but there are things you can do on a day trip.

For example, drive around to see a fantastic view of the Chihuahuan Desert area ending at the Rio Grande and Chisos Basin banks.

Scenic view of Big Bend National Park
Dean Fikar / Shutterstock.com

Drop by the exhibits to learn about Big Bend’s history at the Castolon Historic District and visit scenic outlooks like the Sam Nail Ranch and Homer Wilson Ranch.

You can walk along the forest of the Chisos Mountains through the Window View Trail.

The park has four campgrounds in Big Bend Park, with three front-country campgrounds operated by the National Park Service.

The NPS Grounds include the Rio Grande Village Campground, Chisos Basin Campground, the Cottonwood Campground, and Concession Campground, and an RV Park, the Rio Grande Village.

You can have a backcountry camping, but you need a permit.

River under a canyon at Big Bend National Park
Bill Kennedy / Shutterstock.com

Take a Day Hike at the Lost Mine Trail

Daytime view of the Lost Mine Trail
EliteCustomAdventures.com / Shutterstock.com

Take a day hike at the 7.7km outback trek by the Lost Mine Trail, where legend says that a secret mine existed.

The leaders brought blindfolded miners to the mine so they would not disclose the location.

However, the Comanche killed the miners, closing the mine.

The trail is moderately challenging, rising 1,100 feet, spanning 2.4 miles, and taking about 2 hours to complete.

A backpack and a hat on Lost Mine Trail's peak
Tina Vander Molen / Shutterstock.com

Lost Mine Trail is open year-round and is a trendy hiking area.

The view this trail offers leads hikers to a different world of scenic woodlands, deserts, and the best views of Big Bend National Park.

Take extra care as the trail becomes steep until you reach the waypoint “Peak,” where you will see the rocks bulging upwards.

You can rest, have lunch at the peak or enjoy the view of the Juniper Canyon and South Rim.

Hiking trail of Lost Mine Trail
drewthehobbit / Shutterstock.com

Enjoy a Relaxing Stroll at the Gage Gardens

Stroll down the 27-acre gorgeous Gage Gardens in Marathon, Texas.

Have a relaxing view of local flora in a landscaped garden that’s genuinely charming and offers a different escape to Big Bend’s rugged setting.

You can relax and enjoy the view of blossoms and trees, read a book for some downtime, and let your pets wander about.

Don’t miss this secluded botanical gem that will get you in touch with nature.

It’s a short walk from Gage Hotel, but you don’t have to check in at the hotel to visit the lovely place.

Take snapshots or try the small putting green, or meditate and breathe the garden’s fresh air.

Trek to Magnificent Sights at Santa Elena Canyon Trail

Sign of the Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Kelly vanDellen / Shutterstock.com

The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is a short popular trail with moderate difficulty and measures 1.7 miles on a round trip.

The trail starts at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and gives you a stunning view of the Santa Elena Canyon aperture.

The eight-mile-long Santa Elena Canyon is one of the major canyons along the Rio Grande.

It is the most beautiful among the three major canyons, with more than 1,000 feet of limestone cliffs towering above the canyon floor.

Scenic view of the Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Paul Leong / Shutterstock.com

You’ll descend towards the southwest area from the trailhead, which leads to the sand trail to the north shores of Terlingua Creek, coming together with the Rio Grande.

Don't cross the river if the water runs too fast or is too high, and bring the proper footwear because you’ll surely get muddy and wet.

There will be a series of lush vegetation, constructed bends, paved paths, and dirt tracks you will encounter on the trek.

At the trail's end is a small beach that offers a great view of the flowing river between the sharp cliffs.

Trail leading to Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Kelly vanDellen / Shutterstock.com

Marvel at the Magnificent Mariscal Canyon

Spend a remote or overnight river trip at the Mariscal Canyon.

It is the shortest canyon in the park, spanning ten miles with a view of stunning limestone cliffs.

Grab a backcountry permit issued for overnight trips and high clearance vehicles to reach the canyon area.

The Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail is remote but rewarding, stretching 6.5 miles for the whole round trip, approximately two hours from the trailhead from the paved road.

The route goes through open desert, steep rims but with well-placed rock cairns, and a breathtaking view of Mariscal Mountain’s western slopes, the low deserts, and Mexico’s mountains.

If you’re a seasoned hiker, you’ll find yourself thrilled, having conquered the narrowest and steepest canyon among the three canyons in Big Bend.

Take an Exciting Hike at Emory Peak Trail

Gorgeous view of the Emory Peak Trail
Scott Biales DitchTheMap / Shutterstock.com

Emory Peak is the highest peak in the Chisos Mountain range, named after William H. Emory, the U.S. Boundary Survey chief surveyor, in 1852.

You can see Emory Peak clearly from the western part, slightly taller than most mountain ranges.

The Emory Peak Trail is about 10.5 miles long on roundtrip, reachable with a moderate level hike, with well-marked trekking paths across the steep terrains.

Trees along Emory Peak Trail
William Silver / Shutterstock.com

You can reach the peak for about 6-8 hours and need to pass the forested Pinnacles Trail to Emory Peak’s trail junction.

Expect a steep climb at the last 0.25 miles of the trail and 25 feet of rock scrambling to the peak.

The climb is worth it because you'll see the superb 360-degree view of the Big Bend National Park.

View on Emory Peak Trail
FrankShirley / Shutterstock.com

Visit the Botanical Gardens at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center

Tour the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens at the grounds of the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute on State Highway 118, 4 miles south of Fort Davis.

Tour the grasslands, and see oaks lining the hillsides, mountains originating from volcanic material, canyon springs, and wetland pools.

You can also drop by the visitors’ center, placed at more than 5,000 feet.

Check out the geologic history of the Davis Mountains and its significance to the local culture and history.

Davis Mountain is magnificent, and you can take the 5-mile hiking trails that feature springs, fascinating geology, and scenic mountain views.

Enjoy Scenic Views at Boquillas Canyon Trail

The pathway of Boquillas Canyon Trail
Stella the Giant / Shutterstock.com

The Boquillas Canyon, one of the major canyons in Big Bend National Park, is in the easternmost area of Rio Grande’s narrow sections, beginning at the east of Rio Grande Village, where the river becomes wild but stunningly beautiful.

Trekkers can explore the canyons on foot when water levels are low, but you might need a boat when the water gets deep and runs fast.

You can get to the mouth of the canyon through a maintained trail that leads to a wetland area and ends on a stony beach beside the Rio Grande.

You can continue to hike downstream by walking and wading on the sandbanks for a different adventure.

Daytime view of the Boquillas Canyon Trail
William Silver / Shutterstock.com

Visitors can trek the 33-mile river area for two to four days of river tour and camp by the riverside to view the great canyon walls.

Make sure to secure a backcountry permit for overnight river tours.

Walk along the Rio Grande towards the limestone canyon that separates the Sierra del Carmen Mountain range.

You will surely encounter ancient fossils and prehistoric grinding holes significant to indigenous peoples.

The location is also fantastic for scenic photography, especially the sunsets at Sierra del Carmen.

Rocks and cacti along Boquillas Canyon Trail
William Silver / Shutterstock.com

View the Skies at the McDonald Observatory

Daytime view of the McDonald Observatory
Jeffery Edwards / Shutterstock.com

The McDonald Observatory is an astronomical facility located at Mount Locke in West Texas’ Davis Mountains, with an added facility at Mount Fowlkes.

The observatory is an organized research unit of the University of Texas College of Natural Science and produces a daily radio program called StarDate, featuring segments about astronomy.

Experience solar viewing with specialized telescope camera equipment that provides live views of the Sun and know about this solar body's history, formation, and activities.

Stars over McDonald Observatory
Fairooz Imaging / Shutterstock.com

You’ll be mesmerized by the 360-degree view at Mt. Locke Summit, and you can also watch short videos on the 107” dome ground floor lobby.

At Mt. Fowlkes peak, you’ll see the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), North America’s largest telescope and the 2nd largest worldwide, and get some facts about the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment at the George T Abell Gallery.

Join the Constellation Tour and Star Party to view the astonishing constellation patterns on the telescope and learn facts and the science behind the night sky patterns.

You might also catch the special viewing programs held throughout the year and see large telescopes like the 36-inch or the Otto Struve 82-inch telescope.

The domes of McDonald Observatory
Jo Hunter / Shutterstock.com

Learn about Historical Events at the Museum of Big Bend

Check out Big Bend’s historical highlights and cultures at the Museum of Big Bend.

Learn about the life of Native Americans who first lived in the area before the arrival of European settlers, the establishment of the presidios by the Spanish, and the expansion of US western culture.

See the interesting Yana and Marty Davis Map Collection, containing the largest and most diversified maps in the Texas state, displayed in the map room.

View the collection of the retablos and ex-votos created during the mid-1800s and early 1900s, like the Betty Byerley Collection, which contains 25 retablos that include the Holy Family, the Trinity, and numerous saints.

See the Livermore Cache on display with the cache of arrowheads collected by Susan Janes on Mount Livermore in 1906 that have intrigued archeologists for years.

Check out the Trappings of Texas paintings that present the life of the wild west.

Discover the Hot Springs Canyon Trail

Sunny day at Hot Springs Canyon Trail
jodylenderman / Shutterstock.com

The three-mile Hot Springs Canyon Trail is an excellent desert hike at the southeast corner of the Big Bend National Park.

The hike level is moderate and starts near the Rio Grande campsite and includes areas with steep hills, paths around hills, and plateaus, leading to several branches of canyons, a half-mile river path, and finally ending at the spring.

As you walk through the route, you’ll discover fascinating desert plant species like opuntia, echinocactus, and mammillaria.

A few yards from the river edge are the springs enclosed with brick walls that serve as bathing pools.

These springs also accommodate guests at the Hot Springs Village.

You can also drop by the old village along the riverside, where you can see a general store, some living quarters, and a circle of enormous palm trees.

Try the Langford Hot Springs

The waters of Langford Hot Springs
Andy Wilcock / Shutterstock.com

The remains of J.O. Langford’s bathhouse on the north bank of Rio Grande contain the spring waters that visitors enjoy.

The area has a stretch of thermal springs, believed to be connected with normal Basin and Range type faults, so groundwater gets heated and turned into hot springs.

One of the famous thermal springs is the Langford Hot Springs, located where Tornillo Creek runs to the Rio Grande.

The water emerges at 105° F and carries dissolved mineral salts like calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, and lithium, known to have therapeutic value.

You can bathe at the hot springs but take caution as it can burn or scald the skin, especially if your skin is sensitive to the water chemistry.

Appreciate Unique Modern Art at the Chinati Foundation

Exterior of The Chinati Foundation
John Cummings, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Chinati Foundation, or La Fundación Chinati, is a modern art museum located in Marfa, Texas, founded by artist Donald Judd.

The concept and emphasis of the artworks and the surrounding land complement the displays.

The contemporary museum offers guided tours of its indoor and outdoor collections from Thursday to Saturday.

You can catch a glimpse of the newly-restored John Chamberlain Building.

Rectangular sculptures on the grounds of The Chinati Foundation
John Cummings, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See the significant installations of contemporary artists placed on the buildings and surrounding land areas.

You will see permanent exhibits by Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Ingólfur Arnarsson, Ilya Kabakov, John Chamberlain, Richard Long, Dan Flavin, Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, Roni Horn, David Rabinowitch, Robert Irwin, and John Wesley.

Catch the Chinati Weekend, where the museum opens to the local community and visitors to view collections and special exhibitions and listen to talks and music.

Side facade of The Chinati Foundation
John Cummings, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover Prehistoric Treasures at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Exterior of Fossil Discovery Exhibit
Kelly vanDellen / Shutterstock.com

View extensive prehistoric collection and artifacts at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit, located at Panther Junction on the entrance road of Persimmon Gap.

Experience the evolution of Big Bend’s flora and fauna through the 130 million years of the geologic timeline.

View the specimens and remarkable fossil preserve and records, the lively artwork, and the history of Big Bend’s ancient setting.

Visit the short trail that leads to significant geologic finds and sediments that protect the fossils.

Fossil exhibit in Fossil Discovery Exhibit
Tricia Daniel / Shutterstock.com

See the displays on different timelines from the Early Cretaceous, where Mosasaurs roam Big Bend's shallow seas.

View the fossil remains of the Trionyx soft-shelled turtle and the Dryadissector of the Coastal Floodplain Environment era.

See the fantastic Gallery of Giants and life-sized bronze skulls of Deinosuchus, and Tyrannosaurus rex greet you as you enter the exhibit area.

See the dynamic displays of the Inland Floodplain Environment and Volcanic Highlands Environment.

Zoom Your Way with Lajitas Zipline Tours

The world-class zipline of Lajitas Zipline Tours is something to try if you want a memorable adventure.

The stretch of steep elevation from Quiet Canyon’s upper canyon to the canyon floor will give you a one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush.

The sight of fantastic rock formations, petrified wood, and a host of desert plants like Prickly Pear, Ocotillo Cactus, and Creosote Bush abound in the area, along with various wildlife like Road Runners, Aoudad Sheep, and Javelina.

Try Lajitas Flying Goat Tour for an easy and quick zip tour with three zip lines, the Road Runner, and a gentle slope at moderate speed.

A bit higher than the first, the Flying Goat offers a fantastic Mesa de Anguilla view, ending with the Crystal Canyon Cross.

The Clay Henry Tour is the most popular starting with the Rock Slide and ending at a maximum thrill of the Longhorns Leap, a sure thrill seeker satisfaction.

Go as extreme as you can and try the QuickSilver Tour, which sums up all the height, speed, and hang-time you want to experience with these four zip-lines – Pancho Pass, Commanche Revenge, Desert Dash, and Longhorns Leap.

Final Thoughts

The region of Big Bend has so much for travelers to experience and discover, especially if you are fond of the rugged outdoors.

The vast area has countless trails, mountain areas, and even fascinating attractions to keep you excited on your trip.

Visit this wild and beautiful region and pack your bags for some outdoor adventures at Big Bend.