12 Amazing Things to Do in Big Bend National Park: Must-See Attractions

by Jen
Amazing Things to Do in Big Bend National Park
This post may have affiliate links, where I may receive a commission if you purchase through them. Here's our Disclosure and Privacy Policy for more info.

Big Bend National Park in Texas is a place that might not be on every traveler’s radar, but it should be. It’s a park where the landscapes are vast and the crowds are few, offering a unique blend of desert, mountain, and river environments. This is the kind of place where you can truly disconnect from the hustle and bustle and immerse yourself in nature.

What makes Big Bend stand out is its incredible diversity. You can hike through the Chisos Mountains in the morning and soak in the natural hot springs by the Rio Grande in the evening. Wildlife sightings are common, from roadrunners darting across the trails to the occasional black bear in the distance.

For those who love stargazing, Big Bend is a gold mine. With some of the darkest night skies in the United States, the Milky Way is visible in all its glory. And let’s not forget the scenic drives – each bend in the road reveals a new, breathtaking view.

In this guide, I’ll take you through the top experiences in Big Bend National Park, from the must-see spots to some hidden gems. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or just looking for a peaceful retreat, Big Bend has something for everyone. To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 12 things to see and do in Big Bend National Park.

Best Places to Visit in Big Bend National Park

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Big Bend National Park? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this majestic vacation spot in Texas. So keep reading to discover all these unique Big Bend National Park places to visit.

Are you looking to go hiking through diverse desert landscapes and canyons, as well as to go stargazing in one of the darkest night skies in the United States? Or would you prefer to experience bird watching, river rafting, and explore the rich cultural history of the region? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Big Bend National Park can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Big Bend National Park that you should know about.

1. Chisos Mountains

One of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park is to explore the Chisos Mountains. This range, unique for its location entirely within a national park, offers some of the most spectacular hiking trails in Texas. The trails here cater to all levels of hikers. From the leisurely Window Trail with its stunning canyon views to the challenging Emory Peak Trail, each offers a unique experience. The Emory Peak Trail leads you to the highest point in the park. This trail offers a rewarding challenge for those who undertake it.

As you hike, the landscape changes dramatically, from dense woodlands to rugged, rocky terrain. The South Rim Trail is a highlight, offering panoramic views that are particularly breathtaking at sunrise or sunset. Wildlife is abundant; you might spot deer, black bears, or the elusive mountain lion.

What makes hiking in the Chisos Mountains stand out is the sense of solitude and immersion in nature. The trails are well-marked and maintained, but they never feel crowded. It’s a place where you can connect with the natural world. As you traverse the mountain paths, you’ll feel a sense of peace and awe.

Whether you’re looking for a full-day hike or a short nature walk, the Chisos Mountains provide a memorable experience, showcasing the diverse beauty of Big Bend National Park.

Exploring Chisos Mountains is one of the amazing things to do in Big Bend National Park
Discover the Chisos Mountains, which showcase varied trails for all levels.

2. Santa Elena Canyon

Kayaking through the Santa Elena Canyon is an adventure that showcases the dramatic landscapes of Big Bend National Park from a unique perspective. The Rio Grande river forms the natural border between the USA and Mexico. It cuts through this imposing canyon, creating a striking setting for a day on the water.

The journey begins with a serene paddle on the calm parts of the river.

online pharmacy purchase norvasc online with best prices today in the USA

This allows you to take in the towering canyon walls that rise over 1,500 feet on either side. As you navigate the gentle currents, keep an eye out for local wildlife, including various bird species that call this area home.

For the more adventurous, certain sections of the river offer mild rapids, adding a bit of excitement to the experience. Don’t worry if you’re a beginner.

online pharmacy purchase bactroban online with best prices today in the USA

Local outfitters provide guided tours that cater to all skill levels, ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip.

What makes kayaking in Santa Elena Canyon a must-do is the blend of tranquility and adventure it offers. It’s a chance to see Big Bend’s rugged beauty up close, feeling a connection to the natural world that’s both humbling and exhilarating. Whether you’re paddling quietly or navigating the rapids, this experience leaves you with a deeper appreciation for the park’s diverse landscapes.

Santa Elena Canyon reveals the park's dramatic landscapes along the USA-Mexico border.
Santa Elena Canyon reveals the park’s dramatic landscapes along the USA-Mexico border.

3. Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive offers one of the most accessible yet rewarding experiences in Big Bend National Park. This drive is perfect for those who want to explore the park’s beauty without venturing too far from the comfort of their car. The route is about 30 miles long and takes you through some of the park’s most stunning landscapes.

Starting from the Panther Junction Visitor Center, the drive meanders through the desert, showcasing a variety of plants and geological formations. Along the way, there are numerous pull-offs and short trails. These lead to historic sites, like the Sam Nail Ranch, and natural features, such as the Mule Ears Viewpoint. These spots offer quick hikes and photo opportunities.

One of the coolest things to do in Big Bend National Park is visiting the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. This overlook is located at the end of the drive. The viewpoint provides a breathtaking perspective of the canyon, where the Rio Grande has carved a deep chasm between the cliffs. It’s a perfect spot for sunset, where the play of light and shadows on the canyon walls creates a spectacular display.

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is more than just a road. It’s a journey through the heart of Big Bend’s diverse landscape, offering glimpses of its rich history and stunning natural beauty. It’s ideal for visitors of all ages and abilities, making it a must-do when in the park.

Explore the stunning landscapes along the 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
Explore the stunning landscapes along the 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

4. Rio Grande Village

Experiencing the night skies at the Rio Grande Village in is a must-do for any visitor. This area, known for its exceptionally dark skies, offers one of the best stargazing experiences in North America. The lack of light pollution near the Rio Grande Village means the stars and Milky Way are visible in incredible detail.

The village is situated at a lower elevation, providing a wide, open horizon that’s perfect for astronomical observation. On a clear night, you can see constellations in stunning clarity, spot planets, and even catch glimpses of meteor showers. It’s a popular spot for both amateur astronomers and those who simply love to gaze at the stars.

What sets stargazing at the Rio Grande Village apart is the serene backdrop of the Rio Grande River and the distant mountains. This setting not only offers a spectacular view of the cosmos but also adds a sense of tranquility to the experience. The sound of the gentle river coupled with the starlit sky creates a peaceful and awe-inspiring atmosphere.

Whether you bring a telescope or just lie back, spending a night under the stars at the Rio Grande Village is unforgettable. Enjoying the view there is an experience like no other. It’s a chance to disconnect from the world. You can immerse yourself in the natural beauty and wonder of the universe, right in the heart of Big Bend.

Rio Grande Village boasts the best views of the stars due to its remarkably dark skies.
Rio Grande Village boasts the best views of the stars due to its remarkably dark skies.

5. Cottonwood Campground

Bird watching at Cottonwood Campground is a serene and rewarding activity, often overlooked by visitors to Big Bend National Park. This area, with its lush vegetation and proximity to the Rio Grande, creates a perfect habitat for a variety of bird species. It makes it a paradise for bird enthusiasts.

The campground is especially known for its population of Colima Warblers, which are rarely seen elsewhere in the United States. Spring and early summer are the best times to spot these elusive birds, along with other species like Vermilion Flycatchers, Painted Buntings, and Black Hawks. The peaceful environment of the Cottonwood area, with its large, shady trees, provides a tranquil setting for bird watching.

What makes this activity so enjoyable is the combination of the natural beauty of the area and the thrill of spotting rare birds. Even those new to bird watching will find it easy to get started. Many birds are visible from the campground itself or from nearby walking trails.

Among the unique things to do in Big Bend National Park, bird watching at Cottonwood Campground stands out. It offers a chance to slow down, connect with nature, and appreciate the diverse wildlife of the park. Whether you’re an experienced birder or just looking to enjoy a quiet morning surrounded by nature, this spot is a must-visit.

Cottonwood Campground offers a serene haven and diverse bird species thriving amid lush vegetation.
Cottonwood Campground offers a serene haven and diverse bird species thriving amid lush vegetation.

6. Boquillas Hot Springs

A visit to the Boquillas Hot Springs is a must when you’re in Big Bend National Park. Tucked away near the Rio Grande, these natural hot springs offer a unique and relaxing experience amidst the rugged desert landscape. The springs are easily accessible, with a short hike leading to this Texas hidden gem.

The hot springs themselves are remnants of an old bathhouse, now a natural pool with temperatures hovering around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Soaking in these therapeutic waters while looking out at the Rio Grande and the Mexican mountains in the distance is an experience like no other. It’s a perfect way to unwind after a day of hiking or exploring the park.

What makes the Boquillas Hot Springs particularly appealing is the contrast between the hot, soothing waters and the cool river nearby. You can alternate between the warm pool and the refreshing river, enjoying the best of both worlds. The area around the springs also offers great spots for picnicking and relaxing.

Visiting these hot springs is not just about the soak; it’s about the journey and the destination. The path to the springs takes you through some beautiful scenery, and the springs themselves provide a peaceful retreat. It’s a chance to relax and rejuvenate in a setting that’s both natural and extraordinary.

Experience Boquillas Hot Springs is one of the amazing things to do in Big Bend National Park.
Experience the tranquility of Boquillas Hot Springs for a unique desert oasis. | Source: https://www.ultimatehotspringsguide.com/

7. Lost Mine Trail

The Lost Mine Trail offers one of the most rewarding hiking experiences in Big Bend National Park. This moderately challenging trail is ideal for those looking to immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty. It offers an experience without the commitment of a full-day hike. The trail is about 4.8 miles round trip and provides stunning views and diverse landscapes.

As you ascend the trail, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The path winds through pine forests, meadows filled with wildflowers, and rocky outcrops, offering a variety of scenery. It’s a great place to spot wildlife, including birds and occasionally deer.

Among the Big Bend National Park things to do, hiking the Lost Mine Trail is a must for any nature lover. The trail’s highest point offers breathtaking views of the Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon, making the hike well worth the effort. It’s a popular trail, so starting early in the morning is recommended to avoid crowds and to enjoy the tranquility of the park.

The Lost Mine Trail is more than just a hike; it’s an opportunity to connect with the natural world. The trail’s manageable distance and moderate difficulty make it accessible for most hikers. This ensures a memorable and enjoyable experience in the heart of Big Bend.

The Lost Mine Trail is a 4.8-mile hike with stunning views and diverse landscapes.
The Lost Mine Trail is a 4.8-mile hike with stunning views and diverse landscapes.

8. Fossil Discovery Exhibit

The Fossil Discovery Exhibit in Big Bend National Park offers a fascinating journey into the park’s ancient past. This modern exhibit, located near the Persimmon Gap entrance, showcases the rich fossil history of the region. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in paleontology or natural history.

As you explore the exhibit, you’ll encounter displays of fossils that date back millions of years. These include sea creatures, dinosaurs, and the ancestors of modern mammals. The detailed information provided helps paint a vivid picture of the park’s prehistoric landscape, once home to a vast array of life forms.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is the outdoor trail. Here, you can see replicas of dinosaur bones and learn about the geological changes that have shaped the region. The exhibit not only educates but also inspires a sense of wonder about the natural world and its long history.

Visiting the Fossil Discovery Exhibit is a unique way to enhance your understanding of Big Bend’s diverse environment. It’s not just about the fossils themselves; it’s about gaining a deeper appreciation for the park’s geological and biological history. This exhibit adds a rich, educational layer to your Big Bend adventure. It makes it a worthwhile stop for families, educators, and anyone curious about the ancient world.

Discover Big Bend's ancient past at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit.
Discover Big Bend’s ancient past at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

9. Terlingua Ghost Town

A visit to the Terlingua Ghost Town, located near Big Bend National Park, offers a unique glimpse into the region’s mining history. Once a thriving mercury mining town, Terlingua is now a captivating ghost town. It attracts visitors with its rustic charm and intriguing past.

Strolling through the town, you’ll see remnants of its mining era. This includes old buildings, mining equipment, and the ruins of miners’ homes. The town’s cemetery features simple and weathered graves. It serves as a poignant reminder of the harsh life and history of the miners who lived here.

Terlingua isn’t just about its past; it’s also a vibrant community with quirky local businesses, including a few restaurants and gift shops. The town is famous for its annual chili cook-off, which draws a lively crowd every November. This event, along with the town’s unique atmosphere, makes Terlingua a fascinating side trip when visiting Big Bend.

Exploring Terlingua offers a different perspective on the Big Bend area. It’s a place where history and present-day life intersect, creating a unique and memorable experience. Whether you’re a history buff, a photographer, or just curious about Texas’s past, Terlingua is a place that shouldn’t be missed.

Terlingua Ghost Town is a captivating glimpse into the region's mining history.
Terlingua Ghost Town is a captivating glimpse into the region’s mining history.

10. Old Ore Road

For an adventurous way to explore Big Bend National Park, consider biking along the Old Ore Road. This historic route, once used for mining operations, now serves as a challenging and scenic biking trail. Stretching over 26 miles, it offers an exhilarating ride through some of the park’s most stunning landscapes.

Biking on the Old Ore Road is frequently recommended as one of the best activities in Big Bend National Park for active adventurers. It offers a thrilling experience through diverse landscapes. The trail winds through rocky paths and sandy washes. This variety demands a decent level of fitness and proficient biking skills. Along the way, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the Chihuahuan Desert and the distant mountains.

The road also provides access to several points of interest, including historic sites and natural features. You can stop to explore old mine ruins or take a break at one of the many scenic overlooks. The sense of isolation and the raw beauty of the landscape make this ride a truly unique experience.

Whether you’re an experienced mountain biker or just looking for a new way to see the park, biking the Old Ore Road offers a memorable adventure. It’s a chance to challenge yourself and connect with the rugged beauty of Big Bend in a way that few other activities can match.

Old Ore Road is a challenging trail through stunning landscapes, once a route for mining operations.
Old Ore Road is a challenging trail through stunning landscapes, once a route for mining operations.

11. Panther Junction

One of the most mesmerizing experiences in Big Bend National Park is stargazing at Panther Junction. This area, known for its exceptionally dark skies, offers an unparalleled view of the cosmos. The absence of light pollution here allows for a night sky so clear that the Milky Way casts a visible shadow on the ground.

Panther Junction is not just a spot for casual observation; it’s a gateway to the universe. The area is recognized as a prime location for stargazing due to its high elevation and clear, dry air. On a moonless night, countless stars, planets, and even distant galaxies become visible to the naked eye.

The park often organizes night sky programs at Panther Junction, where rangers guide visitors through the celestial wonders. These sessions are both informative and inspiring, making astronomy accessible to everyone. For those who prefer solitude, simply laying a blanket on the ground and looking up can be a profound personal experience.

Stargazing at Panther Junction in Big Bend offers more than just a view of the stars. It’s an opportunity to connect with the natural world in its most primal and unspoiled state. This junction is a reminder of the beauty and mystery of the universe, offering a peaceful escape from the modern world. This experience is a must-do for anyone visiting Big Bend, providing a unique perspective on our place in the cosmos.

Visit Panther Junction, which offers stargazing lessons for celestial appreciation.
Visit Panther Junction, which offers stargazing lessons for celestial appreciation.

12. Rio Grande Village Nature Trail

For nature enthusiasts, one of the coolest things to do in Big Bend National Park is bird watching along the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. This serene trail offers a unique opportunity to observe a diverse array of bird species in their natural habitat.

The trail winds through a lush wetland area near the Rio Grande, creating an ideal environment for birdlife. Here, you can spot various species, from the vibrant Painted Bunting to the elusive Colima Warbler. The trail’s proximity to the river also attracts migratory birds, making it a prime spot for birdwatching year-round.

Equipped with your binoculars and a bird guide, you can spend hours in this tranquil setting. Observing the birds as they go about their daily routines is a serene experience. The peaceful atmosphere of the trail, combined with the excitement of spotting rare and beautiful birds, makes for a truly rewarding experience.

Bird watching at the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail offers more than just observing avian life. It’s an immersion into the natural beauty of Big Bend. It’s a chance to slow down, be present, and appreciate the smaller wonders of the park. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a curious visitor, this trail offers a delightful and educational experience in one of the park’s most picturesque settings.

Exploring Rio Grande Village Nature Trail is one of the amazing things to do in Big Bend National Park.
Birdwatching at Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, a serene spot for diverse species.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Amazing Things to Do in Big Bend National Park

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Big Bend National Park? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Big Bend National Park:

What is Big Bend National Park best known for?

Big Bend National Park is renowned for its stunning desert landscapes, diverse wildlife, and the majestic Rio Grande. It’s a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering everything from challenging hikes to peaceful stargazing. The park’s remote location contributes to its unspoiled beauty, making it a perfect escape for those seeking adventure and tranquility in nature.

Is Big Bend National Park worth a visit?

Absolutely! Big Bend National Park is a must-visit for anyone who loves the outdoors. Its unique combination of desert, mountain, and river environments provides a variety of activities, from hiking and bird watching to river rafting and stargazing. The park’s vast, unspoiled landscapes offer a sense of solitude and adventure that’s hard to find elsewhere.

The scenic landscape showcases rugged mountains and vast desert terrain.
The scenic landscape showcases rugged mountains and vast desert terrain.

What’s the best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park?

The best time to visit Big Bend National Park is during spring (March to May) or fall (September to November). These seasons offer pleasant temperatures, making outdoor activities more enjoyable. Spring brings wildflowers, while fall offers cooler hiking weather. Summer can be extremely hot, and winter may have cold nights.

Are there any family-friendly activities in Big Bend National Park?

Yes, Big Bend National Park offers several family-friendly activities. The Junior Ranger Program is great for kids, teaching them about the park’s ecology. Easy trails like the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail are perfect for family hikes. Scenic drives and the Fossil Discovery Exhibit also provide educational and enjoyable experiences for all ages.

Can you camp in Big Bend National Park?

Yes, camping is a popular activity in Big Bend National Park. The park offers a range of camping options, from developed campgrounds with amenities to backcountry sites for a more rugged experience. Reservations are recommended for developed campgrounds, especially during peak seasons. Backcountry camping requires a permit.

What wildlife might I see in Big Bend National Park?

Big Bend National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife. You might see roadrunners, jackrabbits, and various bird species. The park is also home to larger animals like black bears and mountain lions, although they are more elusive. Always view wildlife from a safe distance and follow park guidelines.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Big Bend National Park

Exploring Big Bend National Park is an adventure that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re trekking through the rugged desert, kayaking down the Rio Grande, or simply enjoying the serene beauty of the night sky, this park is a treasure trove of natural wonders.

Big Bend’s diverse landscapes and rich wildlife create a backdrop for unforgettable experiences. It’s a place where each trail leads to a new discovery and every sunrise brings a different kind of beauty. The park’s vastness encourages exploration and its tranquility invites reflection.

For those seeking adventure, connection with nature, or a peaceful retreat, flying to Texas and heading to Big Bend National Park is a journey that delivers. It’s a reminder of the raw beauty of the natural world, waiting to be explored.

The amazing things to do in Big Bend National Park for all types of travelers
Enjoyed reading about the amazing things to do in Big Bend National Park? Pin it!

You may also like

Leave a Comment