1. Do Check Out the Chisos Mountain Lodge Area
You might be looking for a break from the heat during your stay in Big Bend National Park. We highly recommend heading up to the area near the Chisos Mountains Lodge for a welcome reprieve from the heat. In November, we definitely needed long sleeves up there, but the next day it was even colder. You will feel a major change in temperature. The view all around the area is extraordinary! See the picture above! Be sure to plan for several pictures in this area. You will get a great sneak peak of The Window Trail which every one raves about. It is two miles of elevation so plan for more time than you think. It is absolutely gorgeous here! The lodge is very quaint and well-maintained but only offers basic amenities. It is the only restaurant inside the whole park, so many people figure in a stop at this famous spot. Traffic can be quite bad, so you might schedule a less busy time of day if you are there in peak season.
2. Do plan a hike!
This is the quintessential Window Trail picture. You can see the gorgeous rock formation in the background. You will also get hundreds of perfect moments along the way. The trail descends over 800 feet in a fairly short distance, so the hike is a little challenging. If you are going to head that way, you should plan for about 2.5 hours for the hike. However, there is plenty to see around the Chisos Mountain Lodge area if not everyone in your party is able to make the hike. The picture above was snapped right off the roadway before hitting the trails.
3. Don’t be afraid to head to Boquillas, Mexico!
Our favorite experience in all of Big Bend National Park was our day trip to Boquillas, Mexico, a small village just over the border. Bring your passport for adults or valid ID for children. We brought their birth certificates. Then, you will head down to the river where you can pay $5 round trip per person for a boat ride across the river. Be careful getting in that canoe! You can also hike the river, but it was flowing very swiftly when we there. Definitely not an option! Then, you can also pay $5 for a roundtrip burro ride to the town. Of course, it is only a short walk of about half a mile, but the burro ride is fun especially for kids. Once in the village of Boquillas, there are a few small shops for tourists and two restaurants. A local guide might offer to take you around for which they will expect a tip.
One restaurant is more authentic and quiet, and then on the river side of town there is Jose Falcon’s, which was more commercialized but still had a great atmosphere and served local foods. We especially enjoyed the sangria and margaritas. There is a better view and live music at Jose Falcon’s, but the food at both restaurants is great. At either place, you can easily get lunch for about $8 and the drinks are well-priced at $2-$3 per beer and around $5 for fresh cocktail.
You can walk around the town a bit to see local life, but be sure that you are not intrusive. This village has doubled in size since the border crossing here reopened. You will feel very safe, and there is no need to worry. There was a heavy presence of Mexican military there to be sure everyone was safe both locals and travelers. You can also ask a local about the hot springs on this side of the Rio Grande. We heard the hot springs in the national park were packed with the cooler weather, so we took the opportunity and went for the hot springs, which was almost like a swimming pool, right there about half a mile outside Boquillas! There is signage, but we think it is a bit easy to get lost. It is worth asking a local to take you there and offering them a tip. The village lives off the traveler economy, so you will easily find someone to take you. Upon return to the US, you will be interviewed via phone and camera with border security. They were very helpful and kind, but it did take a little longer than expected. There was about 15 people in line, but it took around 30 minutes. The bathrooms are clean, but there are no other amenities at this border crossing area. There is the nearby Boquillas Canyon, which is a beautiful site if you have a little more time. The nearest area for gas, food, and visitor information is another 20-30 minute drive.
4. Don’t skip the visitor center
There are tons of great informational exhibits, but both the knowledge of the park rangers and the video on the history of the park are key experiences in the park. While the Big Bend National Park video is not the best one we have seen, it shares a very unique history and an understanding of what makes the Big Bend region so spectacular. You will hear about the near extinction of the black bear due to farmers poisoning them. You will hear how the land was originally owned by the state park. You will hear how the flora and fauna are among the most diverse of any place on the planet. There are also great interactive things for kids and regular sessions with the park rangers. DOn’t miss the night sky talk! The region is considered one of the best night skies anywhere as there is very, very limited light pollution.
5. Don’t forget to fill up on gas anywhere and everywhere you can!
There are VERY limited options for gas in any direction two hours from the park area. Once you leave I-10, it is very sparse. There is a gas station in both Terlingua and Lajitas, and park map will show locations within the park boundaries where you can get gas. Don’t get caught, especially in the summer heat, on empty. It is not nearly as expensive as we have seen in other parks, but it can still get pricey. You should also always keep water with you for each person in your group. It is, after all, the desert. You need to plan for emergencies and be smart. Big Bend is very remote and rugged. We certainly don’t want to change that. Once you visit the locals, you will better understand keeping the wildness of the Big Bend region.
6. Don’t be afraid of the wildlife!
We saw so many incredible creature. From the javelina pictured above to the family of bears we saw in the state park, it was a great opportunity to see the creatures both great and small. Seeing a tarantula up close and personal for the first time was a huge, unexpected shock! We saw a few more during our week stay at Thanksgiving. We also saw antelope, a variety of fish, goats, lizards, eagles, jackrabbits, ground squirrels, road runners, and even more. (In Terlingua, we visited Starlight Cinema, where we hated the long wait, but enjoyed the antelope.) It was likely the most diverse animal sightings we have experienced at a national park.
7. Don’t miss the state park next door!
We can’t lie, we loved the state park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, even more than the national park. In fact, we chose to stay in the state park because it was more rugged and isolated. It is right next to the national park, and there are a ton of great views and hikes just a short ways past Lajitas. If you are taking river trip, you are likely to drop in somewhere in the state park with river access. The state park is more rugged and wild, and it is also deeply secluded and quiet with canyons entirely to yourself. You can lose yourself in the plentiful stars so easily. We highly recommend the Closed Canyon Trail (pictured below) and the Hoodoos Trail. Check out our other post about Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Keep close to the nature’s heart… and break clear away once in awhile and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. -John Muir