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11 Stunning Big Bend National Park Hikes

Clouds roll in above a mountainous desert seen on one of many Big Bend National Park hikes

Unsplash Photo

In the southwest corner of Texas, you’ll find a majestic place on the bend of the Rio Grande: Big Bend National Park. This remote wilderness is ideal for outdoor recreation of all kinds, including backpacking, paddling, camping, and hiking. Big Bend National Park hikes encompass everything from desert hot springs to impressive geologic formations to mountain vistas. The park is truly a gem with unique Big Bend National Park hikes waiting to be explored. Below are some of my absolute favorites.

This post was updated on November 30, 2020. This page may contain affiliate links.

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What to Wear Hiking in Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is located in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert. Long sleeves, long pants, boots, and sun hats are recommended year-round for sun protection. For more suggestions, read my posts on my favorite outdoor gear and the best daypacks for women.

The 10 Hiking Essentials

Every hiker should always carry the ten essentials with them. These include:

A collection of the ten essential items for hiking: shelter, water, food, matches, tools, a light, insulating layers, navigation, sun protection, and first-aid

Big Bend National Park Hikes

The sun rises over a mountainous, desert landscape

NPS/J Jurado

Below are some of my favorite Big Bend National Park hikes, ordered from easiest to most difficult. No matter how much time you have or how much hiking you choose to embark on in the park, choosing a few of these trails for your Big Bend itinerary will not disappoint.

Know Before You Go

  • Bring a lot of water with you! Many of these Big Bend National Park hikes are in trails with limited shade in a relentless desert. It is recommended that each person carry at least 2-3 liters of water on each trail.
  • Big Bend National Park is bear country. While Mexican Black Bears are typically not aggressive, make sure to practice bear safety while hiking in Big Bend.
  • Two popular trails in the park lead to Hot Springs. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, both are closed and therefore not featured on this list. One day, when open again, both are worth a stop.

Window View Trail

The desert landscape meets two sets of mountains with a space in between known as The Window, a famous hike in Big Bend

This short, paved trail is located near the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. Less than a mile, the loop provides a beautiful summary of the Chisos Basin with views of the famous Window, stunning landscapes, and some beautiful Juniper trees and other plants. The easy trail is also wheelchair-accessible. If you can only squeeze in one of these Big Bend National Park hikes, this trail is a spectacular overview that won’t take too much time.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 0.3 mi / 0.5 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 13 ft / 4 m

Type of Trail: Loop

Estimated Time: 15 minutes

Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail

A column-shaped cavern eroded away by cascading water

Pour-offs are something I hadn’t heard of until hiking in Big Bend National Park. Finding these spectacular, unique geologic formations was a treat. In flash floods, impressive waterfalls cascade down the pour-offs, perfectly eroding the rock to form a column-like cavern. In Big Bend, this hike includes hiking through a canyon, which provides some rare and much-appreciated shade before you reach the climactic end.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1 mi / 1.6 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 144 ft / 44 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 45 minutes

Rio Grande Village Nature Trail

A metal boardwalk through a marsh leads to a desert landscape

This trail is unlike any other hike in Big Bend National Park. When you picture Big Bend, you don’t necessarily think of a marsh habitat filled with fish, turtles, and frogs, but that’s what you’ll find on the trail’s boardwalk. Then, stroll through the familiar desert before ascending to an overlook with spectacular views of the Rio Grande Valley and Boquillas, Mexico.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1 mi / 1.6 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 80 ft / 24 m

Type of Trail: Lollipop

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Santa Elena Canyon Trail

A greenish river, the Rio Grande, leads through Santa Elena canyon on one of the most popular Big Bend National Park hikes

One of the most popular hikes in Big Bend National Park is the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. Known for its scenic beauty, the trail features a wonderful variety of vistas and hiking. You’ll cross Terlingua Creek, climb a few switchbacks, then gradually descend to the shores of the famous Rio Grande. Along the way, enjoy multiple ecosystems and terrain types along with a bit of shade. Do not hike this trail during flash floods or storms, which could render Terlingua Creek impassable.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.5 mi / 2.4 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 610 ft / 186 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Grapevine Hills Trail to Balanced Rock

A rock balanced on two other rocks to form a stone window

Commonly referred to as the Balanced Rock Trail due to its ending highlight, the Grapevine Hills Trail leads you through a landscape unlike any other in Big Bend National Park. If you’ve been to the Black Hills in South Dakota, it may remind you of the Cathedral Spires of Custer State Park. After walking through the geologic wonderland, the last 1/4-mile of the maintained trail takes you up a rock scramble to fantastic views of the Chihuahuan Desert through the window created by the famous Balanced Rock.

Note: To reach the trailhead, you’ll need to drive down a gravel road. 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance are recommended.

Difficulty: Moderate (easy if you elect not to do the rock scramble at the end)

Distance: 2.2 mi / 3.5 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 80 ft / 24 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 1.5 hours

Mule Ear Spring Trail

A hiker walks toward a rock formation known as the Mule Ears in Big Bend National Park

The maintained trail leads to an old spring and a historic corral with views of the Mule Ears rock formation. If you continue, the trail is no longer maintained and therefore considered primitive. It will take you through the foothills of the Chisos Mountains as you walk toward the Mule Ears and cattails in the overgrown spring. If the hike sounds too challenging, you can see the Mule Ears formation from the overlook in the trailhead parking area.

Note: This trail has no shade. It is best to hike here in the early afternoon or early evening to avoid the heat of the day.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 3.8 mi / 6.1 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 410 ft / 125 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 2 hours

Boquillas Canyon Trail

A greenish river, the Rio Grande, leads through Boquillas Canyon on one of the most popular Big Bend National Park hikes

From the parking area, you’ll gradually climb a small hill before you descend once again to the shores of the Rio Grande. The trail provides a variety of terrain, including rocks, desert, cattails, and even small trees. One highlight at the end, especially for younger visitors searching for interesting Big Bend National Park hikes, is a small, smooth hill made of sand that you can slide down. If you’d prefer to hike only one canyon, this one is less crowded than Santa Elena.

Along the trail, you’ll find souvenirs for sale left by residents of Boquillas, Mexico (which is just across the river). The National Park Service asks visitors not to purchase items as it encourages illegal border crossings. Due to Covid-19, the nearby legal crossing to Boquillas is closed.

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: 1.2 mi / 2 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 230 ft / 70 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 1 hour

Lost Mine Trail

Panoramic Views from one of my favorite Big Bend National Park hikes, Lost Mine

Lost Mine is one of the best Big Bend National Park hikes for scenic views. Rated as moderate, there is some gradually steep climbing involved after the first mile. If you’re not up for that, hike the first mile to the first scenic viewpoint and then turn back to avoid most of the elevation gain. If you’re up to the challenge, complete the hike by climbing through the forests before reaching the ridge for mind-blowing scenic views.

If you only have time for one hike in the park, I would choose this one. On hot days, this is also a great option. The Chisos Basin area is already cooler due to its high elevation and this trail has more shade than most other Big Bend National Park hikes.

Note: The parking area for this trailhead is extremely small. Arrive early (before 7:30 a.m.) to find a spot. If they’re all taken, consider hiking an alternate trail from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center.

The view after the first mile of the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend

The view after the first mile of the Lost Mine Trail

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 4.2 mi / 6.8 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 1,099 ft / 335 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 3 hours

Window Trail

A Hiking Trail in Big Bend National Park

One of the most popular Big Bend National Park hikes, the Window Trail offers multiple scenic vistas of incredible rock formations and desert canyons. If you can’t find parking at Lost Mine, this trail is a great back up option. It begins near the Chisos Basin Campground, perfect if you’re staying there and hope to get an early start. Beginning at the campground will also shorten your hike by about one mile. You’ll also be treated to a lovely waterfall.

Do not hike this trail during flash floods or storms. Be prepared for little-to-no shade.

Difficulty: Moderate

Distance: 5.2 mi / 8.4 km round-trip (one mile less if you begin at the campground)

Elevation Gain: 948 ft / 289 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 4 hours

Emory Peak Trail

Fog rolls in on the Emory Peak Trail, one of the most popular hikes in Big Bend National Park

NPS/Cookie Ballou

One of the most popular Big Bend National Park hikes takes you to the top of the park, and nearly the top of Texas (for the true high point, visit Guadalupe Mountains National Park). Rising above the park at 7,832 feet, the summit delivers outstanding views. Need a break? There are plenty of backcountry campsites along the route. If you have more time and are up for a challenge, consider the South Rim Trail, detailed below.

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 10 mi / 16.1 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 2,513 ft / 766 m

Type of Trail: Out and back

Estimated Time: 5 hours

Emory Peak via South Rim Trail and Boot Springs Trail

Red flowers bloom above the mountains on the South Rim, one of the most difficult Big Bend National Park hikes

NPS/Reine Wonite

Considered one of the premier Big Bend National Park hikes, this loop is guaranteed to take your breath away (both from the views and the difficulty). If you wish to see Santa Elena and Boquillas Canyon from an eagle’s point of view, look no further than the South Rim Trail. The hike is undoubtedly strenuous, but incredibly rewarding. Make sure to hike the loop counter-clockwise and be diligent about wildlife – bears have been reported in this area.

Difficulty: Strenuous

Distance: 14.9 mi / 24 km round-trip

Elevation Gain: 3,166 ft / 965 m

Type of Trail: Loop

Estimated Time: 8 hours

Pin Our Favorite Big Bend National Park Hikes

Whether you want to see desert, mountains, or rivers, Big Bend has it all. Here are our favorite Big Bend National Park hikes from easy to strenuous. | Big Bend National Park Hikes | Hikes in Big Bend | #bigbend #bigbendnationalpark Whether you want to see desert, mountains, or rivers, Big Bend has it all. Here are our favorite Big Bend National Park hikes from easy to strenuous. | Big Bend National Park Hikes | Hikes in Big Bend | #bigbend #bigbendnationalpark Whether you want to see desert, mountains, or rivers, Big Bend has it all. Here are our favorite Big Bend National Park hikes from easy to strenuous. | Big Bend National Park Hikes | Hikes in Big Bend | #bigbend #bigbendnationalpark Whether you want to see desert, mountains, or rivers, Big Bend has it all. Here are our favorite Big Bend National Park hikes from easy to strenuous. | Big Bend National Park Hikes | Hikes in Big Bend | #bigbend #bigbendnationalpark

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