Texas's Big Bend National Park is quite an interesting park to consider. It's burning hot, it's bone dry, it's in the middle of nowhere, and it's absolutely amazing. Seriously, forget Yellowstone, Big Bend is a land filled with enchanting secrets that are just waiting to be explored. There's no better place to go to get away from normal life and experience the unparalleled beauty of West Texas! Here's what you should see and do at Big Bend-- and why you should go:
Some tips for visiting Big Bend National Park:
-Big Bend is one of the most remote and least visited parks in the country-- it usually sees between 325,000 tourists a year. Compared to the 10 million people who visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the 4.8 million who visited The Grand Canyon National Park, that's basically nothing. There are pros and cons to visiting a park this remote: there less amenities, sure, but there are also fewer people. Just come prepared with extra supplies and plenty of knowledge.
-Big Bend is an International Dark Sky Park, one of only 10 in the whole world-- it's the best park in the lower 48 for astronomers to check out the Milky Way. There's barely any light pollution, and you can see over 2,000 stars on any given night (compared to a few hundred in most small cities).
-You still need to reserve campsites and rooms in advance at Big Bend... there are less spots to stay here compared to most other parks!
-The wildlife in Big Bend is incredibly unique. Prepare to experience it! wear good shoes and keep your eyes peeled for snakes. Also, if you're camping, make sure to secure food and valuables, as pig-like collared peccaries (also known as javalenas) roam the campgrounds in search of stuff to eat.
There are plenty of great hikes near Big Bend, and the Closed Canyon Trail is one. This slot canyon in nearby Big Bend Ranch takes you down to the Rio Grande and back. It's only 1.4 miles round trip, so it's a quick and easy journey. If it's rained recently, prepared to be walking and wading through puddles in the canyon on your way down.
The closest major town to Big Bend is the funky, artsy little community of Marfa, TX. One of the most Marfa places you can eat is Food Shark, a collection of trucks, converted school buses and outdoor seating that serves up Mediterranean-style grub... perfectly light and healthy and won't weigh you down in the heat or before a hike.
Pro tips: they're cash only (and give change with dollar coins) although they've been known to barter on occasion. Also, they serve food until they run out, and since this is a super popular joint, get there early enough. Plus, the plan is for them to re-open their famed Food Shark Museum of Electronic Wonders and Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour sometime soon as well!
Big Bend is famed for its hiking... and it's also pretty notorious for its extreme heat, which frequently tops out at around 100 degrees. You'll probably want a place to relax and unwind after hiking and luckily, Big Bend has the perfect spot... a Hot Spring! The primitive springs are perfect for soaking after a long hike through the scenic desert, and the water is always at a perfectly relaxing 105 degrees. Ahhh!
Back in Marfa, you can add a bit of the unexplained to your adventure. The Marfa Lights have been an unsolved mystery for decades. The unexplained phenomenon is most often described as an orb or serval orbs that glow intensely and can either remain stationary, dart around, or even split into multiple orbs-- they're often white or yellow but have been seen as green, blue, and red. They often are first mistaken for car headlights... until they start moving in unnatural ways.
There's an official viewing center off Highway 90 where you have a good chance of seeing it for yourself.
The Gage Hotel in Marathon, TX is home to the White Buffalo Bar, which, with its saloon-like ambiance, is a great place to grab dinner or drinks. Their menu isn't extensive (think burgers, enchiladas, nachos, and not much else) but it's solid, and they make some killer cocktails that really speak to the bar's setting.
La Posada Milagro oozes rustic, Old World Mexican charm. The "understated, elegant" casitas and rooms feature white stucco walls, colorful tiles, and more, plus the place has free wifi and is pet friendly. They have a great coffee shop onsite and a wonderful open-air kitchen for those who want to cook their own meal.
In true Texas fashion, you can find Wild West ghost towns dotted in the region around the park. The main one is called Terlingua, a former mining community. You can see the abandoned Chisos Mining Company buildings, where they dug up cinnabar to extract mercury in the late 19th century. Terlingua is most known for the chili-cooking competition they hold each year!
One of the shortest but most impactful hikes at Big Bend is the trail to The Window. Rocks frame a stunning overlook providing an epic view of the desert landscape. It's a great photo op, and an easy trail to hike during sunrise or sunset, when soft, colorful light paints the desert in stunning beauty.
The hike to Balanced Rock is pretty easy, although there is some rock scrambling towards the end, and the payoff is incredible. You get views of the surreal landscape, dotted with strange rock formations, culminating with the utterly massive balanced rock. Best taken in the morning or late afternoon since there's little shade, it's good for kids and adults alike.
Marfa is known for being weird and artsy, and the best representation of its culture is Prada Marfa. The abandoned Prada store in the middle of nowhere is a strange art installation that has intrigued many... and inspired several robbery attempts, some successful. It's a must-see photo op!
For kayakers, Santa Elena Canyon is another must. Overnight and multi-night backcountry camping trips are popular with kayakers looking to spend time exploring the river as it winds through the canyon, with its incredibly huge 1,500 foot walls. You can also paddle upstream to Fern Canyon and then float back to the put-in for a day trip.
El Cosmico has furnished trailers, tents, yurts, and teepees that you can stay in, plus a hammock grove and hot tubs for rent. To make it even better, the people there are amazing-- you never know what event they'll be hosting or what they'll have up their sleeves.
The best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park is the spring or the fall. The desert is a land of extremes: summer brings heat that often reaches 100 degrees, and winter brings snow and temperatures that dip into the 30s. That being said, whether you choose to brave the heat or the crowds, Big Bend is absolutely worth visiting.