Visiting Big Bend National Park

In late September my family and I did a road trip from DFW down to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend is one of the largest National Parks at 1,252 sq miles, and also one of the least visited, likely because it’s pretty remote.   To put the size into perspective, Bryce Canyon National Park is only 56 sq miles. In total our trip lasted 6 days, two of which were spent driving there and back (about 8-hour drive from Dallas without stops). If you live in Texas, I would recommend you drive there, but if you are coming from out of state the nearest major airport is in Midland.

We split our stay between Lajitas Golf Resort and the Gage Hotel.

  • Lajitas – We are not a family of golfers but we still had a great time staying at Lajitas.  The resort is owned by billionaire Kelcy Warren, the same “Warren” of Klyde Warren Park in Dallas. The Resort has a mix of standard hotel rooms, condos, and houses that you can stay in, all of which have great Texas décor. If you ask nicely at the front desk they’ll even take you on a free golf cart tour of the property. The resort has a restaurant, bar, and a place that serves as a bakery in the morning and a pizza shop at night. I highly recommend you eat dinner at the main restaurant one night even if you don’t stay at the resort.  Drink a prickly pear margarita or a blood orange jalapeno margarita and order the goat cheese appetizer to share. For dessert, don’t miss the Pecan Pie! Prices were surprisingly affordable, and the view is amazing with floor to ceiling windows on three walls.
  • Gage Hotel – A beautiful property with great attention to detail.  They have a pool, spa, restaurant, bar, and coffee shop. Order the chicken fried steak from the 12 Gage Restaurant, you won’t be disappointed. While you are here take time to check out the Gage Gardens, a 27 acre park with a rose garden, vineyard, firepit, and jogging trail.  For breakfast head to the V6 Coffee Shop for avocado toast and your favorite caffeinated beverage. From the Gage, drive about 15 minutes away to see the “tiny Target” art installation, shopping cart included!

It was about a 20-30 minute drive from Lajitas to the west entrance of Big Bend and from the Gage to the north entrance of Big Bend. When we visited some hiking trails, roads, and exhibits were closed due to COVID, so I can’t speak to the full experience. I did not complete all of the hikes below, but they ones I missed are on my list for next time. One thing to know is that Big Bend has 3 different types of terrain – mountains, river, and desert so try to see all of them.

Hikes & Things To Do in the Park:

  • Drive the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive – there are lots of scenic overlooks you can pull off for pictures
  • Visit the Fossil Discovery Exhibit – go back in time to learn about the animals that roamed Big Bend over the past 130 million years. It’s a free, open air exhibit that you can walk through at your own pace.
  • Go on a trail ride! Ok, this is technically just outside the park, but the views are equally awesome. We had a wonderful experience at the Lajitas Resort Equestrian Center. It ended up just being our group of 5 with a guide, and it was clear the horses were well cared for.
  • Mountain hike – Lost Mine Trail. 4.8 miles, moderate difficulty. It’s a steady uphill climb with wonderful panoramic views at the top
  • Mountain hike – Window Trail. 5.6 miles, moderate difficulty. If you are wiped out or have older people in your group, you can do the Window View Trail instead which is an easy 0.3 mile paved trail with an excellent view of “the window”.
  • River hike – Boquillas Canyon Trail. 1.4 miles, moderate difficulty. The trail goes to the top of a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande, then you can continue to the river’s edge and into the canyon.
  • River hike – The Hot Springs Historic Trail. 1 mile, easy difficulty. The trail passes the remains of a resort, pictographs, homestead, and leads to a natural hot spring you can get in.  
  • River hike – Santa Elena Canyon. 1.7 miles, easy. Gives the best up-close experience with the Rio Grande, you walk along the edge of the water and there is a small switch-back section.
  • Desert hike – Balance Rock (officially called Grapevine Hills trail). 2.2 miles, easy except for the last ¼ mile which gets steep and involves some rock scrambling. Awesome photo opp!

Miscellaneous Tips:

  • Bring a cooler with you and have it in the car each day. Fill it with ice, extra drinks and sandwiches for lunch. With how huge the park is there aren’t a ton of places to fill up waters or buy new water bottles.
  • Keep an eye on your gas tank, gas stations in west Texas are few and far between.
  • Beware that you may lose cell service entirely driving between small towns and in most of the National Park. Because of that I would recommend you screenshot some maps in advance.
  • Because of the limited cell service and low number of visitors, don’t hike alone.  If something bad were to happen to you, like getting bitten by a poisonous snake, it could take hours or even days for someone to find you.
  • If you are going to Marfa, beware that many restaurants are only open Thursday- Saturday. We went on a Tuesday and only had three places to choose from for lunch. That also meant most of the art galleries were closed, so plan to visit Thur-Sat if you want the full Marfa experience.
  • Temperatures can vary dramatically in West Texas, during our trip (late September) we had two afternoons that hit 104F and we had a morning that was only 50F where I wished I had packed a sweatshirt.
  • The last two hours of driving south to Terlingua/Lajitas the roading is winding and not lit at night. Try to arrive before nightfall to reduce the chance that you’ll hit wildlife crossing the road.

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