General Info for Big Bend National Park
Big Bend is located in the the southwest part of the big ol’ state of Texas. It’s remote so you’ll need to do a little planning in order to have fun, but it’s totally worth the drive. (Marfa and Marathon, where this tiny Target are located, are good places to stop the night before your Big Bend adventure.)
What’s so great about it? Well, for starters, it has both desert, mountains, the Rio Grande and over 800,000 acres (801,163 to be exact) for you to explore. In addition, it’s the 15th largest park in the NPS system!
There are 5 visitor centers in Big Bend:
This visitor center is located at the northern most entrance to Big Bend.
Castolon is located on the west side near the Rio Grande but is closed in the summer (the store is open all year.)
Chisos Basin is centrally located and is one of two visitor centers with wifi. It’s also where the lodge is.
Panther Junction is also home to Park Headquarters.
Rio Grande Village is the eastern-most closed in the summer but like Castolon, the store is open all year. There is also wifi at this site.
There are bears and mountain lions in this park so store your food safely! For more info on bear safety, head here.
A fishing license is not required but a free permit is. They can be obtained at any ranger station.
Pets are not allowed on the trails or or on the river. They must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet long.
Drones are not allowed.
Though this area is rich with fossils and artifacts, you are not allowed to take or collects plants, animals, rocks or arrowheads. In addition, you may not dig to look for these items.
Did you know that the deepest channel of the Rio Grande river acts was the international border between the US and Mexico? You don’t need a passport to go out on the river. Here’s what the NPS newspaper, the Paisano has to say:
“Passports are not currently required for river trips, but stepping onto the Mexican bank of the river, then returning to the U.S., constitutes an illegal border crossing. U.S. Border Patrol allows for exceptions to be made under emergency situations only, i.e., scouting, portaging or lining.”
To go across the border into Mexico
ou can use the Boquillas Port of Entry. It is open Wednesdays to Sundays from 9:00am – 6:00pm in the summer and 8:00am to 5:00pm in the winter. Passports are required for everyone however kids under 16 with US and Canadian citizenship can get across with just a birth certificate or another form of citizenship.
After going through the Port of Entry you can either take a ferry for a small fee or walk across. From there, you can walk to the nearby village which is about a quarter of a mile away or get a ride for another fee on a horse or in a car. Upon arriving in Boquillas you must check in with Mexican immigration. If you want to stay overnight you will need to apply for a temporary visa.
Big Bend National Park Phone Number
Best Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
Float the river!
There are 245 miles of the Rio Grande that are available for recreation. Be sure to get a river float permit before getting on the water.
Check out a canyon!
We love Dog Canyon Trail in particular which is located at the northern end of the park.
Bring a pair of binoculars and get still. There are over 450 birds species in this park to see!
Visit the new Fossil Bone exhibit.
There are all kinds of dinosaur bones and fossils, posters and life size replicas at this exhibit. We think this is a great place to visit at the beginning of your adventures because it gave us an entirely new appreciation for all that we were about to see in the park! It’s also self-guided which means you can go as fast or as slow as you want. In addition to having information with which to learn more about the park, there are also picnic tables, a vault toilet and a short trail that leads to an overlook as well as a small fossil-like playground for kids.
Hike to Balanced Rock
There are so many great trails in this park. In fact, there are over 200 miles of trails in Big Bend. One of our favorites hikes (and most instagrammed) is Balanced Rock. Though you’ll have to drive down a dirt road for about 45 minutes to access the trailhead, it’s worth it! The view from the top is amazing and the rock itself is really cool.
Visit the Hot Springs
The trail to the hot spring is only a quarter mile long. It’s totally worth it! The hot spring is semi-contained in some rocks but the entire spring and sitting area is actually in the Rio Grande! Use caution at all times, especially when the river is high.
Look at petroglyphs!
A 2.4 mile hike (4.8 miles roundtrip) to the Chimneys will lead you to some petroglyphs. They are located on the southern most chimney, about 3 feet high on the rock and visible (with some squinting) from the trail. If you go up close to see them, be sure not to touch them since the oils from your fingers can damage them.
See a sunrise or sunset at The Window.
This is an incredible place to see the day begin or end. The mountains literally create a picture window that frames the landscape behind it (and in front of it) so beautifully. The light is just magnificent as well. It was one of the best places we’ve ever seen a sunset. Don’t forget your camera!
Stay up, look up and stargaze.
I saw four shooting stars while in Texas. The light pollution in Big Bend is very minimal so your chances are good!
Take a scenic drive.
In addition to 200 miles of trails, there are also over 200 miles of dirt roads to explore. Be sure to check the map and/or ask a park ranger about current road conditions before setting out. In general, improved dirt roads are typically accessible to regular vehicles (except during rainstorms). Don’t want to go off-road? No worries. There are many miles to explore on paved roads. We love the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive!
Best Places to Stay in Big Bend National Park
Campgrounds at Big Bend
There are four campgrounds to choose from in Big Bend.
Rio Grande Village RV
25 RV sites at $36 a night and $3 per additional person.
Water, electric, sewer, picnic table.
We camped at the campground in the Rio Grande Village. From the center of the park, (The Window), it’s about a 45 minute drive to camp. In addition, the site was level and made of concrete. We had access to a sewer and water hookup right at our site even though we didn’t need them. There were 3 showers inside the main building that cost $2.00 for 5 minutes of hot water. In addition, there were coin laundry facilities. The Rio Grande Village RV campground is open year round.
Rio Grande Village
This campground is located near the Rio Grande and the Rio Grande Village RV park.
100 campsites at $14 a night.
Flush toilets, water, picnic tables, grills.
There are also 4 group campsites available. You must reserve these ahead of time.
All campgrounds at the Rio Grande Village are open year round.
This campground is a great base camp if you are looking to stay near the Santa Elena Canyon.
There are 24 campsites at $14 a night. None of these can be reserved.
There’s also only one group campground which must be reserved in advanced.
This is an awesome campground for those who want to be centrally located and near some of the best trails including the Window. It’s also one of the most desirable campgrounds in the park.
There are 60 campsites at $14 a night.
There are 7 group campsites which must be reserved in advance.
Backcountry Camping in Big Bend
There are also numerous backcountry campsites that you have to hike to but that are free. You need a permit for them but they can easily be obtained at a visitor center. They range anywhere from a 1 mile hike to an 8 mile hike.
There are also several sites that you can drive to that are basically an open rock/gravel lot for you to park in. Campsites can be reserved from November 15 to April 15 by phone at 877-444-6777 or by going online to www.recreation.gov
The rest of the year, outside of November 15 – April 15, the campsites are first-come, first-serve.
Lodging in Big Bend
In addition to camping, you can also stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge. There are 72 rooms. The rooms are a mixture of hotel-style, motel-style and cottages. All of the rooms are non-smoking. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Top Tips For Visiting Big Bend National Park
Carry a detailed, topographic with you as well as a compass if you are going hiking or camping in the backcountry. The map they give you at the entrance is not detailed enough.
In addition to carrying the proper navigational tools, also be sure to bring enough water with you. Though many maps show springs on them, carry your own with you in case they happen to be dry. There is free water at each of the visitor centers but there is a 5 gallon limit per person per day.
Bring your passport if you want to cross the border into Mexico.
The wind knocked the power out one night while we were visiting. We were told it wasn’t uncommon for this to happen. As a result, the gas stations weren’t pumping. Moral of the story: top off your tank and bring headlamps and extra batteries.
In addition to bears and mountain lions, there are also poisonous snakes in this park! Make sure you look before putting your hands and feet in places where you can’t see them.
Each person is limited to 5 gallons of water a day at the fill-up stations (visitor centers). Be sure to bring your own if you are worried about not having enough.
Cell Phone Service and Wifi in Big Bend National Park
We lost a cell phone signal miles before we even reached the park. We were able to get a clear signal in Marfa and even a pretty good signal in Marathon, Texas but after that it was 3G, 1x and non existent. Believe it or not, however, there’s wifi in Big Bend National Park.
For a wifi signal in Big Bend National Park, drive to the Chisos Mountains Visitor Center and the Rio Grande Village (it’s closed in summer).
Big Bend National Park Recap
If you’re planning on visiting Big Bend National Park feel free to pin or share this post for reference. There are so many unique things to do in this national park!
Have you been to Big Bend? If so, what’s your favorite things to see, do and eat? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!
Like this? Check out our 20 gift ideas for under $50 for the van life adventurer or traveler in your life.
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The holidays are here and so is the stress of gift giving. Enter our gift ideas. Check out our top picks which have been hand-selected and are geared for the adventurer in your life. Want to treat yourself this holiday season? Below is our holiday gift guide for the van lifer or adventurer in your life. It’s our top picks of not only cool things that they’ll be stoked to see but things they’ll get a lot of use out of.
Stanley Growler ($43.95)
LAMURO Campsite Storage Strap ($16.99)
This strap is built for the neat-freak in all of us. It comes with 19 loops on which to hang things and 8 carabiners. No more messy campsite or van.
GSI Drip Coffee Filters ($9.95)
Nothing starts the day off better than an excellent cup of coffee. Life is short, why waste it on bad coffee. These little filters really do the trick. Not convinced? Head on over to this post about how to make great camp coffee and see for yourself.
Van Life: Your Home on the Road ($16.99)
We found this book at the famous Powell’s bookstore in Portland. It sort of just jumped out at us. It’s the perfect book for that #vanlife lover in your life. Warning: upon reading you might have the urge to quit your job and go on a very long adventure.
My brother introduced us to this little tool. It’s guaranteed to spark, every single time. Plus it’s small enough to keep in the smallest corner of even the smallest adventure mobiles.
A paper map? Hell yeah. This thing is one of our road trip MVP’s. There’s plenty of times when we can’t get a signal or just want to explore without cellphones. This is our favorite version of road atlas because it shows you where all the camping spots are located. It’s put us on some really cool spots a number of times and we do not leave home without it. Ever.
Headlamp by Black Diamond ($37.50)
We don’t realize how important our headlamp is until we can’t find it. We run with this one (wear a trucker hat to support it’s weight), use it to read at night and also to help us get around camp at night. It’s been dropped numerous times, endured lots of sweat and has held up to the test of time.
Eye mask by Eagle Creek ($10.95)
After you’ve slept in a certain number of Wal-Mart parking lots, you will want this mask. Trust us. It keeps out the light, is comfortable and can be machine-washed. We broke the rubberband head piece thing on the other “beauty mask” the first night we wore it.
JOBY GorillaPod Compact Tripod 1K Stand and Ballhead Compact Mirrorless Cameras or Devices up to 2.2 Pounds ($29.99)
My mom and dad gave me this tripod a couple years ago and it gets the job done. It’s lightweight, compact and bends in all sorts of ways to help you get a shot from places you never thought you could.
Water Bottle by BKR ($38.00)
BLACKRAPID Camera Wrist Strap ($39.95)
There’s a ton of camera straps to choose from but our personal favorites are those coming from BLACKRAPID. In particular, we love the Wrist Strap Breathe, Curve Breathe and the Backpack Breathe.
5 Liter Dry Bag by SealLine ($19.95)
This bag is waterproof and holds more than enough stuff for a day on the water whether you’re tubing, rafting or stand up paddle boarding.
We wear these day in and day out on trail runs and road runs. They’re guaranteed to stand the test of time.
SUUNTO Compass ($20.40)
Surprisingly enough, cell phones still don’t work everywhere. Make sure that your loved ones know where they’re headed with this compass. Especially if they have a love for the backcountry.
We’ve gone through a couple of these notebooks. They help us keep track of our adventures when we’re in the field and, just like the name suggests, you can write in the rain or get the pages wet. (Bonus: Your notes will survive coffee spills as well).
Got a surfer in your life? You can never go wrong with getting them wax because they’ll go through a lot of it. Not sure what water temp they’ll be surfing in and therefore not sure what to buy? Shoot for base wax since a lot of people will scrape all of the wax off last year’s and start fresh the first time they paddle out in the new year.
Crazy Creek Fold Up Chair ($27.99)
These chairs fold up compact enough to fit between the chairs and our storage boxes in the van. They’re durable, add cushioning to any picnic table and give you an extra layer of comfort when sitting on the ground.
GSI Enamelware 12 oz Camp Mug ($7.00)
Holds 12 ounces of coffee as it does a drink on ice. Not to mention it takes a licking and keeps on ticking AND it looks good in photographs.
First Aid Kit with a Soft Case ($11.55)
Band-Aids, q-tips, tweezers, a cold compress, butterfly wound closures, knuckle bandages, aspirin, ibuprofen, alcohol pads, gauze, antibiotic ointment, etc. This little kit is great to have on handy for minor wounds and injuries. The case is great for keeping it all together and it’s flexible enough that it can be stored in small places.
Buff Unisex Multifunctional Headwear ($22.78)
We wear these on our head as a headband, sometimes to cover our mouths in dusty places and almost every day to wipe the moisture off the inside of the windshield. In addition, if it’s super hot out, they’re great to soak in water and then wear around your neck.
Van Life Gift Guide Recap
Feel free to pin or share this outdoor gift guide, especially if it helped you pick a gift for the van lifer, road-tripper, camper or adventurer in your life.
Got an item that you think should be on this list? We’d love to hear from you.