Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is one of the lesser known national parks in Texas, and indeed in the US, but its pristine beauty will reward those who explore the parks many trails and paths. Big Bend National Park is located in the southwestern corner of Texas and is the largest protected reserve of the Chihuahuan desert in the US. Its boundaries also include 244 miles of the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border between the US and Mexico.
Visitors to Big Bend Texas are usually attracted mostly by the hiking trails and opportunities to go backpacking, and they are more than satisfied by the miles of desert, canyons, and backcountry with nary a tourist to be found; the nearest major city in Texas is San Antonio, which is several hundred miles away. There are few sights as majestic as watching the sun rise over the crags and cliffs of Big Bend's canyons and geologic formations, and the bloom of desert wildflowers will charm visitors in the spring.
Big Bend Texas is one of the most remotely located national parks in Texas and is only accessible by car. If you want to fly to Texas to visit Big Bend, the closest airport is located in Midland, about three hours’ drive from Big Bend. From there, you can rent a car to take you the rest of the way to the park. Fortunately, there are plenty of choices for accommodations once you get to Big Bend National Park, such as budget lodges like the Chiso Mountain Lodge right in the park, campsites, and bed and breakfasts including the Ten Bits Ranch. There is a large range of hotel choices near the entrances to the park, with some large hotel chains among the options.
Big Bend is named for its location in the bend of the Rio Grande, and its biggest attraction is the Santa Elena Canyon, a canyon carved 1,500 feet deep in the rock by the river. You can get to the trailhead by car and then follow the nature trail down into the canyon for an awesome view of the sheer cliffs and river below. Beware of weather conditions, however, as the river can sometimes flood; it’s best to check with park rangers before heading to the canyon. It is also possible to explore the canyon by canoe, though it is best to contact a local outfitter company to arrange a tour, as some parts of the river are very challenging to navigate. Boquillas Canyon is another popular attraction at Big Bend Texas. This canyon is the longest and deepest in the park—it’s even deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona!
For hikers and backpackers, the heart of the Big Bend experience is the Chisos Mountains. The Chisos mountain range is the only mountain range completely contained within the boundaries of a park, making Big Bend unique among the national parks in Texas. You can access the mountains by car and then go on foot to experience some of the best hiking in the country, surrounded by forests of Douglas fir, aspen, maples, and many other kinds of trees. Backpackers who wish to make multiple-day trips in the backcountry must obtain a permit and reserve a backcountry campsite before heading out.
If you've had your fill of Big Bend National Park, head over to the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park for an entirely different experience of nature. Big Bend Ranch State Park features a geological landscape of volcanic rock, some of it millions of years old. This park has much more primitive facilities than Big Bend National Park, so be prepared for unpaved roads, bunkhouses, or camping outdoors if you wish to stay overnight. This is an unusual destination for a Texas getaway, but it's one that's well worth checking out if you're looking to spend time in a truly remote part of the state.
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