Updated: Feb 12, 2021
Big Bend National Park is located in Southwest Texas, among the Chisos mountain and Chihuahuan desert. The park sits on the Rio Grande River, where Texas and Mexico meet. Here is my guide to exploring Big Bend National Park in one-day.
Closest major airport is in Midland-Odessa.
We flew Southwest Airlines to El Paso International Airport, in Texas. We rented an automobile and drove 4 ½ hours to Big Bend. We flew to shave off some time for our visit, but driving the whole way instead of flying is just as nice.
I recommend renting a truck, because the roads can be muddy and bumpy. My “go to” rental car company is Dollar Rental Car. We rented this truck for $24 a day. Score! It’s hard to beat their prices.
Where to stay/eat
The onsite camp grounds are comprised of: the Rio Grande Village Campground, Chisos Basin Campground, and Cottonwood Campground. You can reserve the first two camp grounds listed up to 6 months in advance.
The Chisos Mountains Lodge is situated inside Big Bend National Park. It is essential that you book at least 6-12 months in advance. Rooms sell out fast.
Also, any hotel in the city of Terlingua. It’s about a 10 minute drive from Big Bend.
The restaurants located around Big Bend are a bunch of tourist traps with long waits due to being under staffed. The surrounding cities do not have enough people to handle the tourist loads. The food is mediocre to horrible.
If you love amazing food, I suggest staying in Marfa. It’s about 1 1/2 hour drive, but it’s worth it for the food. Here is my guide to Marfa.
The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle and $25 per motorcycle. It is valid for a full 7 days. The camp site cost is $16 per night, per site ($8 per night with a Senior or Access pass).
Alpine, TX 79830
Stop for a quick photo opportunity at the world’s smallest Target store. This art exhibit is located off of U.S. Highway 90 on your way to Big Bend.
Big Bend is massive and tough to see in a single day. I suggest 3 to 4 days to really appreciate the park. However, if you are pressed for time here are my suggestions.
Where to start:
Ask the Park Ranger for map at the Visitor Center.
Fossil Discovery Exhibit
After entering Big Bend, this was our first stop. This is a brief history lesson on the animals and dinosaurs that once occupied the area. It takes about 30 minutes to complete and is open during regular park hours. A must see for dinosaur lovers.
The drive to the hot springs is exhilarating. The road is extremely narrow and rough. Let’s just say, I have no desire to do that drive again. Motor homes and oversize vehicles are prohibited on the one-way section.
Go early before the hot springs gets crowded. Also, there is no changing room at the bottom of the trail by the hot springs. Change in your car or the bathroom in the parking lot.
Soak in the natural hot springs at Big Bend. The trail is a short/easy 1/2 mile walk to the hot spring and is on the edge of the Rio Grande River.
On the trail you will encounter some historical buildings.
The hot springs is heated by geothermal processes at 105 degrees. The dissolved mineral salt is believed to have holistic healing powers. The best part is you can sit in the hot springs and hop into the Rio Grande River to cool down. The view from the hot springs is breathtaking. Use caution when it comes to children and limit exposure.
My husband was able extract the natural water by sticking his arm down the hole to the mouth of the spring. He is a firm believer in the hot spring’s holistic powers and he was beyond thrilled to drink from the springs.
Is the most popular hiking trail at Big Bend. It is a moderate 5.2-mile hike within the Chisos mountains. It took us about 4 hours to complete. They recommend keeping children close due to mountain lions on this trail.
At the end of the trail, you can peer through the window and see spectacular views of Big Bend National Park.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
The sun was setting at the park, so we were able to squeeze in a quick 30-minute scenic drive starting at the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend. The drive was 100% worth it. You coast to the top, where you are able to see the magnificent views of Sotol Vista. Then you end up at the beautiful Santa Elena Canyon.
If you have the time, there are several stops with easy hiking trails along this scenic drive.
Although, we only had a day in the national park, it was more than enough time for us to fall in love. We are beyond eager to return and spend 3 to 4 days at, this bigger than Texas, national park.
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National Parks Free Days in 2021
- Jan. 18, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday
- April 17, the first day of National Park Week
- Aug. 4, one-year anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- Aug. 25, NPS birthday
- Sept. 25, National Public Lands Day
Nov. 11, Veterans Day