Bring plenty of water, hiking shoes, and a constellation guide. From birded forests to orange-sand cactus-littered desert, Big Bend National Park is bigger than Rhode Island and a favorite national park for many. Traverse the Mexican border through tumbleweeds, world-class canyons, the Rio Grande River and Old West folklore in the still-wild West. And don’t forget about those Big Bend bright starry nights.
10. Viva Big Bend Music Festival
Each July, Viva Big Bend brings talent such as Sarah Jaffe and The O’s to West Texas desert lands. Local bands, such as the Doodlin’ Hogwallops, are featured as well. The venues, from Padre’s in Marfa to Railroad Blues, match the talent. The natural beauty of West Texas towns and the 55 bands/musicians create a rustic spirit worth experiencing. Stay in a teepee while you’re there.
9. Terlingua Ghost Town
Though not as much of a “ghost town” as it used to be, the ambiance of abandoned buildings from silver mining days and the timeworn cemetery create an eerie feel worth exploring. Imagine scenes played out on those Old West dusty streets as you read the tombstones.
8.Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife
Big Bend is a birding hotspot for species found only in the Chisos Mountains, such as the Mexican mallard, Lucifer hummingbird, Mexican jay, black-capped and gray vireos and Colima warbler. Keep your eyes peeled for javelinas, a black bear with cubs, gray foxes, coyotes, mountain lions or a roadrunner chasing its lizard prey. There are 650 species of vertebrates and 3,600 species of insects hosted by Big Bend National Park.
7. Desert Road Bicycling
Trade in your saddle for a bike seat: All Big Bend roads are open to cyclists. Score panoramic views not offered from a car window on lightly traveled roads and moderate-to-challenging terrains: Big Bend summons bikers from near and far with its 100 miles of paved roads and 160 miles of backcountry dirt roads. Hit the Grapevine Hills Road for a moderate, 15-mile unpaved ride to Big Bend’s natural wonder of the balancing rock.
6. Outer Loop Trail
Not too many backpacking trips in Texas rival the Outer Mountain Loop trail. Try this 29.6-mile haul, but first make sure to cache some water at the Homer Wilson trailhead for the second half of your trek. From Emory Peak to Juniper Canyon Trail to Dodson Trail to Blue Creek Canyon to Bryce Canyon, you’ll see it all. And you’ll probably have the blisters to prove it.
5. Santa Elena Canyon
Take the scenic Ross Maxwell Drive to the Santa Elena Canyon. Ford the Terlingua Creek—about ankle deep most times of year—and catch a canyon-framed vista of the idling Rio Grande. Look up for hawks. And don’t forget to scream: The canyon echo carries on and on and on and on.
4. Big Bend River Tours
Visit Big Bend River Tours, the oldest outfitter for canoe, raft, kayak, jeep and horseback adventures—an ultimate frontier journey through the Big Bend region. The “TEX Combo” includes a 2-4 day horseback riding and river running combination. Sleep under the stars on the banks of the Rio Grande and ride among ancient Indian sites, including Comanche Creek on the Texas side. Highlight: The hearty cowboy-style breakfast.
3. Hot Springs Historic District
Several historic buildings and a primitive restroom mark the parking spot for the 105-degree hot spring outside Big Bend National Park. Hike .25 miles from the building alongside rock formations and pictographs on the rugged walls. You’ll find the hot spring nestled beside the Rio Grande, less than 100 yards from Mexico across the idling river. Hike a few miles further down the path to Rio Grande Village for Mexican crafts and a look at the region’s past. Unfortunately, there is no longer easy access to Mexico.
2. The Stars
With gold-tier certification from the International Dark-Sky Association, Big Bend has the least light pollution of any other National Park in the lower 48. It’s one of the best places to fall sleep under the stars in North America, easy. The sparse human population in conjunction with the long haul it took you to get out to Big Bend has created an environment conducive for star gazing brilliance—get ready for the Milky Way in its full glory.
Lace those hiking boots up tight, and pick from the 14-mile South Rim trail, 5-mile Lost Mine trail, or the 5-mile Window Trail—all starting from the lodge. Or drive out to Blue Creek Canyon trail, for some solitude and rock formations. Want a challenge? Summit 7,385-foot Emery Peak, a 9-mile hike with over 2,000 feet of elevation gain.