05 February, 2023

2 Days in Big Bend National Park - Day 1 Itinerary #WriteAPageADay

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Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is South-Western Texas's most underrated and isolated national park. Due to its remoteness, it is not easily accessible. But, trust me when I say, it is as beautiful as the other national parks we visited.

There are some great places to hike, with beautiful scenery of rivers, mountains, and canyons. The park is vast and it takes a minimum of 2 days to cover the best places. We couldn't spend more than 2 days. It's on my plan for a second trip someday.

Desert Landscape, mountains, Hotsprings, and remote ruggedness of the place make this park unique. You can even visit Mexico by crossing the river at Boquillas.

The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is fall or spring. But, we visited in Winter in December month. It is very cold but manageable. I heard, visiting in summer is not suggestible due to the heat. 

Spotted this bird in Fort Stockton on the way.

Where to Stay, How to reach?

The nearest town is Alpine or the ghost town Terlingua. Alpine is 1hr drive to Big Bend National park and Terilingua is 15 mins. The nearest airport is Midland / Odessa which is 3 hrs from Big Bend or Elpaso airport which is 4.5 hrs.

Flights to Austin / San Antonio might be economical.

Here are some cheap flight options:

On the first day, we stayed in Alpine. On the second day, we stayed in The Summit at Big Bend near Terilingua.

Other accommodation options here:

The drive to Alpine is beautiful after it crosses Sonora. We drove to Alpine from Austin, TX. 

On the way to Alpine

Places to see:

The entrance fee is $30 / vehicle. The nearest gas stations are at Panther Junction visitor center and Rio Grande village. 

There are 3 important regions to cover: Maxwell Scenic drive, Chisos Basin, and Rio Grande village.

To travel from Santa Elena Canyon to Rio Grande village it takes around 1 hr. So, it's better to plan to visit the Chisos basin and Santa Elena canyon on the first day and drive to Rio Grande village on the second day.

In the morning, we drove to the Castelon visitor center after collecting the map from the entrance station. We started the scenic Ross Maxwell drive. You can collect junior ranger booklets at the Castelon visitor center if you have kids.

Ross Maxwell Scenic drive:

The scenic drive is 30 miles and it takes 45 mins to reach the last point - the Santa Elena canyon parking lot. 

Sam Nell Ranch - It's a 0.5-mile out-and-back trail leading to an old ranch site. The trail is well-shaded and maintained well. This is also a great spot for bird and wildlife viewing.

Lower Burro Mesa Pour off - This is an easy 1 mile out and back trail. Do it if time permits.

Sotol Vista Overlook: At mile 7.9 of the scenic drive, don't miss this overlook. This was the most beautiful overlook of the drive. We were there around Sunset and the beauty is beyond words. My photos couldn't capture the majestic mountains and different layers entirely. 

Sotol Vista overlook

Mule Ears Overlook: We stopped here and had our picnic lunch. There is an easy hike to view mule ears like rock formations.  

Mule Ears Overlook

Tuff Canyon Trail: This easy desert trail is to the south of mule ear springs and Chimney's trail. It's 0.75 miles. 

This whitish canyon is made of Tuff, a welded volcanic ash. The trail will lead to the canyon. During the rainy season, the canyon may fill with pools of water. 


Santa Elena Canyon:

This is the best hike in Big Bend National park and one that shouldn't be missed at all.

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

This is the last stop of Maxwell scenic drive. It's a moderate hike of 1.7 miles round trip but it requires a lot of climbing. 

Our Day 1 Itinerary:

We reached Castalon Visitor center after breakfast and started our drive through Maxwell scenic drive. We stopped at Mule ears overlook and Sotol vista overlook. 

Since there are some little kids on our trip with us, we couldn't do a lot of hikes. But, I planned to take Lower burro mesa pour off trail. 

We drove to the Santa Elena Canyon trail parking lot. Restrooms are available at the parking lot. We started hiking the Santa Elena canyon trail (1.7 miles out and back) at noon. There is one place where we have to cross the river. The trail is rocky and it's a bit difficult there with slippery rocks and dirt. But, once we cross that part, the hike is marked and clear.

It takes to an elevation of 610 ft. There are magnificent views along the trail and the ending view of the canyon is wonderful. 

We drove back to the Sotol Vista viewpoint to view the Sunset. It's beautiful.

We couldn't hike more as it was becoming dark, but if time permits, we would have covered Chisos Basin.

Chisos Basin

It takes around 1 hr to reach the Chisos Basin Visitor center. A few fantastic hikes in the Chisos mountain range are Window view trail, Window trail, Lost mine peak trail, and Emory peak trail. You can stay at Chisos mountain lodge but they fill up quick.

Here are some great hikes and spots to cover in Chisos Basin.

Window View Trail :

This easy trail of 0.3 miles round trip is a must-stop.

Balanced Rock (Grapevine hills trail) :

Grapevine spring road is a dirt road, it is graded but most of the vehicles can go. When it rains though, it's better to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. You have to drive around 6.4 miles on this road to reach the trailhead. 

The destination of Grapevine hills drive is Balanced rock. This 2.2 miles out and back trail is easy but has some steep inclines in some areas. 

We definitely would have done this hike on day 1 if we had enough time.

Lost Mine Trail:

This moderate hike is recommended by many as a must-do. But, with kids, we couldn't opt for this 4.8-mile hike. It takes around 3 hrs to complete this hike and parking is limited. 

Window Trail:

This 5.6-mile round-trip mountain hike is also recommended by many, but we couldn't opt for kids. This trail gives panoramic desert views but there are a few spots without any railings. The return of the hike is uphill.

On Day 2, our plan is to cover the Rio Grande village region. Here is our day 2 trip. 

Until next time,

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  1. Anonymous6:24 PM

    So why does no one talk about the Fossil exhibit? If you have kids it's the #1 place to go!

    1. Completely agree. I have that fossil exhibit on my list which we couldn't go due to lack of time.

  2. Anonymous1:31 PM



Thanks for dropping by! please share your opinion :)