Contrary to the state slogan, we do encourage you to mess with Texas. Specifically, go mess with Big Bend National Park in the far west corner of the Lone Star State. Big Bend is one of our least visited national parks, but that is not in any way a reflection of how beautiful it is. We were blown away and want to share 5 things you must do when you visit Big Bend.
1. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Once you get your permit at Panther Junction, you might want to roll down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It’s about 30 miles (will take you about an hour), and will allow you to acclimate yourself among the mountains, plus you’ll still have access to awesome views and overlooks like the Mule Ears Overlook. The drive actually takes you to our next thing to do: Hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.
2. Hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Unless you brought a boat (you should), don’t bother stopping at the boat drop or the overlook, go all the way down to the trail – you’ll get the same views, plus more. You can take the 1.7 mile trail very deep into the Santa Elena Canyon, which rises up 1,500 feet above, offers incredible views and echoes like crazy. You can actually get in the water with your boat (check their rules & regulations if you’re interested), but if you’re more the hiking type like us, you’ve got to make it to this corner of the park.
3. Stay up late to stargaze
Big Bend has the least amount of light pollution out of all of the national parks in the lower 48 due to it’s remote location. You can typically see around 2,000 stars at night in the park, opposed to a few hundred in your hometown, and it will change the way you look at the sky. Even if it’s cloudy and lightning like it was when we were there, you will still get an incredible light show from the storm.
4. Climb to the top of Emory Peak
What really makes Big Bend so beautiful are the incredible mountain vistas that the Chisos Mountains provide. So you’re going to want to take advantage of that and take the Emory Peak Trail to the top of Emory Peak – the highest point in the park at 7,825 feet. There is a moderately challenging scramble at the end, but the 360 view of the park below you is worth it.
5. Camp overnight at site TM1
If you’re camping in the mountains (you should), then you owe it to yourself to camp at site TM1 – the highest campsite in the park. The hike up it is going to be challenging, but the further you get, the better the views are. You get to see the Chisos Basin, ‘The Boot’, ‘The Window’ and so much more! Most importantly, you get the perfect view of the sunset. We’re convinced this is a top 5 spot to watch the sunset in the entire world. The site’s also huge and provides a great spot to relax & watch the stars. Keep in mind that it still gets chilly in the desert, even though it’s Texas, so pack accordingly.
There are so many more things to do, but we’re convinced that if you at least do these 5 things when you visit Big Bend National Park, you will have a new love for desert camping.
The National Park Service turns 100 this year, we hope y’all are getting out and celebrating too! See you out there!